On June 14, Matt and Melissa Graves had something happen to them that has changed the course of their lives forever. At around 9 p.m., they found themselves outside the Grand Floridian Hotel at Walt Disney World at movie night, according to CNN, their daughter in a playpen 20 to 30 yards from the water’s edge and their 2-year-old son, Lane, was nearby, wading in less than a foot of water, according to USA TODAY. Suddenly, Lane was snatched by a 4-7 foot alligator.
Matt, along with Melissa and attempted to save Lane. His father suffered minor scratches on his hands as he tried to pry the alligator’s mouth open, but the alligator escaped, Lane with it. Though the search for their son's body began as a "search and rescue" operation, after 17 hours of searching the police shifted their efforts to a "recovery operation," Orange County Sheriff Jerry Demings told reporters. Shortly after, officials recovered Lane's body midday Wednesday, just 10 to 15 feet from where the alligator had first pulled him under, the New York Times notes.
Many on the internet have been blaming the Graves for not watching their children, for allowing their son to wade in a No Swimming area, for "bad parenting." But everyone is the perfect parent when it's not your kid.
Other people have attacked the Florida Wildlife Center for killing alligators in search of Lane, who died, they claim, of negligent parenting. What everyone forgets is that this was a terrible, devastating, tragic accident that could have happened to any parent. In the blink of an eye, their lives changed forever. We could exhaust ourselves running around in circles trying to figure out who's to blame and why, but imagine if it had been someone close to you on June 14 whose child was in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Imagine if it had been your kid.
Every day of their lives, they will go over and over and over and over the accident that killed their son.
What happened on the edge of the Seven Seas Lagoon was a terrible mistake, and the aftermath of this will follow the Graves family for the rest of their lives. And eventually, the Graves family will leave Florida, but not before they make arrangements to have their son's body flown back home. Their 2-year-old son's body. Imagine mourning the death of your 2 year old, who is just learning to talk, just learning to hop, just able to say "I love you, Mommy." Imagine. Imagine. Imagine. The thought alone makes my stomach churn. Steals the breath from my lungs.
Matt and Melissa Graves will travel home to Elkton, Nebraska, where a funeral home awaits them, and they will plan a funeral Mass. Catholics, like the Graves identify themselves as, call this a "Mass of the Angels." They will select readings. They will ask someone to speak a eulogy, or they will give it themselves. They will bury their son. And then they will drive home, and every day of their lives, they will go over and over and over and over the accident that killed their son.
Because of the dark and murky water, Lane's father didn't find him when he jumped in. He must live with the fact that his son drowned 10 to 15 yards away from him. Every day, he must wake up to this. Every parent hates themselves for things they did and didn't do, the mistakes they've made. But imagine if this was yours.
Lane's body was found in tact in 6 feet of murky water 10 to 15 yards from the attack. According to an interview with Jeff Corwin for ABC, Gordon believes that the father likely startled the alligator after he took off with his son, who likely then dropped the body, though officials have yet to speculate on when that happened. Because of the dark and murky water, Lane's father didn't find him when he jumped in. He must live with the fact that his son drowned 10 to 15 yards away from him. Every day, he must wake up to this. Every parent hates themselves for things they did and didn't do, the mistakes they've made. But imagine if this was yours.
Every parent has an accident — mine is the time my son fell down a flight of hardwood stairs. It flashes back over and over, and I replay it in my head. I see baby Blaise tumbling, and me running, taking stairs two at a time, jumping to grab him. I hear his head thunk against the wood. And I berate myself. I was talking; I glanced away. The guilt burns scarlet, shaming. It could have hurt my baby. It feels like my fault — though Blaise's fall was only an accident.
Now imagine the guilt the Graves feel.
Because I'm from South Carolina, I know letting your children wade in freshwater at night, especially in May, June, and July, is something you just don't do. May and June are alligator mating season, when they are particularly active. Florida has more alligators than almost any other state in the US, and consequently more gator attacks. But Matt and Melissa Graves from Elkhorn, Nebraska likely had no way of knowing alligator habits, alligator mating season, or alligator choice of prey. They, like so many of us, probably had no way of nothing that just there, beneath the surface of the water, an alligator was waiting, stalking out its prey.
This is a tragic accident, a tragic circumstance that will haunt the Graves for the rest of their lives. As a parent, it will haunt me, too. Like every other parent, my greatest fear is losing my child, especially in a terrible, flash accident like this, in a way I couldn't foresee, couldn't prevent, couldn't stop. The Graves are unfortunate people to whom something horrible happened. They are comforted, the sheriff says, by the fact that Lane’s body was found intact, and he was certainly drowned by the alligator. When you have to say that about a couple, it’s unfathomable to have anything but sympathy for them. They have a lost a child. Of course they are not perfect. Are you?