Florida wildlife officials and police were called to a gruesome scene after witnesses in Lakeland say they saw an alligator carrying a man’s body in its mouth on Tuesday. The 9-foot-long alligator was first spotted in Lake Hunter by a passerby, who called 911.
“I’ve got a dead body over here in the lake,” the witness said in the record of the call. “Uh, it looks like an alligator is trying to pull it down under.”
The Lakeland Police Department acknowledge that there have been reports of an aggressive alligator in the area, particularly near a local boat ramp, just days before. However, there have been no indications that any of the alligators in the lake have attacked or killed someone recently. Witnesses say the body appeared to be in an advanced state of decay, and it is not known if the alligator was the cause of death. Arriving police officers, however, did note that the alligator was reluctant to let go of the body and showed signs of aggression when they confronted it.
“Uniform patrol officers responded to the scene and observed what appeared to be a body in the alligator’s mouth just off of the shoreline at Lake Hunter Drive and Cresap Avenue,” said a statement from the Lakeland Police Department. “The alligator let go of the body and swam off, circling the area for approximately 1 hour.”
Before it dropped the body, officers said the alligator attempted a roll with the man still in its mouth. Commonly known as a “death roll,” alligators and crocodiles will roll violently in an attempt to sever body parts from their prey for easier consumption. It is also commonly used to dispatch live prey, and can easily tear off a limb in a mere instant. According to Sgt. Gary Gross with the Lakeland police, the responding officers were taking extra precautions.
“The officers immediately got their firearms out in case the gator comes up. Once he left, they didn’t want him coming back and pull the body back out. That did not happen,” Gross told WFLA.
Officials examined the body and determined that it had been in the water for at least a day. The identity of the man has not been released, nor have the cause of death. The Orlando Sentinel reports that the autopsy report will not be released until a toxicology test has been completed.
As for the alligator, the arduous task of catching it was turned over to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC), who sent a professional trapper to the lake. On late Tuesday night, the trapper reported that he did trap and euthanize an alligator, but will have to send the carcass to the FWC to determine whether it was the same animal that tried to consume the man’s body.
Lake Hunter is also located near a senior living community, which was cause for concern when the news was first reported. However, employees have since confirmed that all residents of the community have been safely accounted for.
Image courtesy Lakeland Police Department