'I grabbed a foot': Father recounts gator's killing of son

June 22, 1993|By Lori Rozsa | Lori Rozsa,Knight-Ridder News Service

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- The uncomprehending horror still showing on his face, the father of a 10-year-old boy killed by a bull alligator described how he fought desperately to free his son from the jaws of the 11 1/2 -foot reptile.

"I don't think Bradley even knew what happened," said Gary Weidenhamer of Lantana, tearfully recalling the frantic three-minute struggle. "It all happened so fast. It seemed like forever, but it happened very fast."

Mr. Weidenhamer and his wife, Donna, trembling as she sat by her husband, described what happened Saturday on the Loxahatchee River in Jonathan Dickinson State Park. The Weidenhamers were on the canoe trip with Bradley's Little League team from Lantana.

Mr. Weidenhamer, a chemistry teacher at Lake Worth High School, said they were surrounded by more than two dozen other canoes when they all got out to carry their canoes over fallen tree limbs. Bradley, wearing shorts and a white T-shirt, waded a few yards away.

"I heard someone say, 'A gator has taken somebody,' " recalled Mr. Weidenhamer, his face strained and his voice soft. "I called for my son, and I realized he was missing. Then I saw something white in the water. I went, and I grabbed the white spot. I pulled. I got him up enough to see it was Bradley."

The alligator had the boy by the head. Mr. Weidenhamer said it yanked Bradley under the water again.

"I grabbed a foot and just pulled as hard as I could," he said. "The people around me got their paddles and started beating on the gator."

Mr. Weidenhamer said the alligator finally let Bradley go. He scooped up his son and began giving him CPR.

The father said that even if a rescue helicopter that arrived later "had landed right then and gotten to him, I don't think they could have helped."

Mr. Weidenhamer and another parent put Bradley in the canoe and paddled furiously toward a visitors' stopping point about a mile away.

Florida Game and Fresh Water Fish Commission officers called in an alligator hunter, who found the reptile nearby and killed it.

"We're 95 percent sure we got the right gator," said a game commission spokesman, Jim Huffstodt. "He was right at the same spot."

Mr. Huffstodt said the alligator's teeth would be compared with teeth marks on Bradley's body to confirm that it was the same animal.

"Sometimes a female near a nest will attack, but this was a male," Mr. Huffstodt said. "Other times, the gator will be wounded or blind and having trouble feeding itself. In this case, we didn't get any answers."

Bradley's death was the first by an alligator in Florida in five years. According to the Florida Game and Fresh Water Fish Commission, alligators have killed six people in the state since 1947.

Mr. Huffstodt said Florida has an average of 12 attacks a year. Each one is different, and they're impossible to predict, he said.

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