An Alligator Snatched a Toddler From a Disney Resort, and People are Already Blaming the Parents

By  | 

disney world signI’m so sorry to continue this endless run of devastating news stories. I’ve been mom-blogging for years now, and this is probably the most horrible week for news that I’ve ever seen. Today, the top news story is the devastating report that a 2-year-old was just snatched by an alligator from a Disney resort in Orlando. Police and rescuers are looking for him and say they are hopeful, but honestly, the outcome does not seem likely to be good.

According to USA Today, the 2-year-old was walking along the shore and splashing his feet in the water with his father along the shore of the man-made lagoon at the Grand Floridian Resort & Spa at around 9:30 p.m. Suddenly an 8-foot alligator snatched the boy right off the shore and dragged him away. His father tried to save him, and his mother ran in to try to save him as well, but they failed.

This is the first alligator attack ever seen in that lagoon. There are signs up that warn people against swimming in the water, but the family wasn’t swimming, and the signs reportedly don’t specify that there might be alligators around. Dragging one’s feet along the water at the shoreline didn’t seem dangerous, especially with the parents right there. Alligators don’t even normally attack people, even small children. Wildlife experts say the alligator probably thought the boy was a dog or raccoon, not that it makes the situation any less horrible.

Of course, people are already blaming the parents for having their son in the water, or for not keeping a close enough eye on him. Some are even blaming the parents for the attack because the child was awake after 9:30. (Really, a bizarre number of the comments are focusing on the idea of, “Why was a child up after 9 p.m.?!” as though that were the problem.)

The parent-blaming is madness, but It’s understandable madness. The world is a dangerous place, and events like this just remind us how tenuous our own children’s safety is. It’s more comforting to tell ourselves that some bad parents fucked up than to admit that we’re all just hovering an eyelash away from tragedy ourselves. So it’s easier to flail one’s hands and ask where the parents were than to admit that the parents were right there, and this happened anyway. The father was reportedly bitten on the hand in his attempt to save his son, but it didn’t work, because even an attentive, present parent can’t do that much against an alligator.

Who hasn’t seen something dangerous happen to a closely watched toddler? Just the other day I saw a mother walking with her small child, and out of nowhere and for no reason the kid suddenly darted into the street. If something had happened to him, people probably would have asked where the mother was.

Events like this are devastating tragedies, and they can scare the most generous of us into fits of victim-blaming in an attempt to make ourselves feel less fragile. But compassion is the only appropriate response, even if it makes us scared to think of all the terrible things that could happen to us.

Update: Searchers found the boy. He didn’t make it. Everything is terrible, and anybody attempting to make this about how toddlers shouldn’t go on vacation or stay up past nine should cease the sanctimony immediately.