LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- For law enforcement and rescue personnel on scene this morning, it was the proverbial "hope against hope" that a 2-year-old Nebraska boy snatched in the jaws of an alligator near the shore of posh Disney resort lagoon Tuesday night and dragged into the murky waters would be found alive.
"This is still a search and rescue operation," said Jeff Williamson, a spokesman for the Orange County Sheriff's Office, shortly after sunrise outside Disney's Grand Floridian Resort & Spa, near the shore of the Seven Seas Lagoon where the attack was reported at 9:16 p.m. in a 9-1-1 call. "We are very hopeful. We are hoping for the best."
Williamson's tone was in stark contrast to the realization expressed hours earlier by Orange County Sheriff Jerry Demings, of a search and recovery, the realization in the veteran lawman's mind based on the horrific circumstances provided by the parents -- both of whom tried to save the youngest of their two small children -- and other vacationers on the beach.
While the little body was in less than a foot of water in the presence of his parents, and their 4-year-old daughter in playpen further up from the water, the alligator -- described as 4- to 7-feet in length -- clamped its jaws onto the toddle and began pulling him under.
"The father actually went into the water to wrestle his son from the grips of the alligator," Demings said, but to no avail. And the mother sprinted into the water, desperately trying to locate their boy, but the gator was already submerged in the lagoon.
Demings deployed more than 50 sworn personnel in the exhaustive search with a helicopter and two marine boat units and deputies on foot along the banks and marshy areas. Divers entered the lagoon at dawn.
The macabre-like scenario is the latest in a string of major breaking news events in metro Orlando.
A gunman who swore allegiance to ISIS in a 9-1-1 call, committed mass murder early Sunday at the Pulse, a gay night club in downtown Orlando, killing 49 patrons and injuring another 53, in what has been termed the worst mass shooting in modern times and the worst act of domestic terrorism since 9/11. He was killed by the cops after a standoff with hostages.
On Friday night, Christina Grimmie, 22, a contestant on season 6 of NBC's "The Voice," was killed as she signed autographs after a concert in Orlando.
And with a series of vigils for the massacred club patrons playing out throughou Central Florida, the search for the little boy has become a major story now.
So far, Florida Fish and Game wildlife authorities have captured four gators as the parents were being counseled by victim advocates.