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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

Toddler's Body Recovered After Alligator Attack; Egypt: Flight 804 Wreckage Located; Sheriff: Toddler's Body Found After Gator Attack. Aired 4-4:30p ET

Aired June 15, 2016 - 16:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


[16:00:01]

BORIS SANCHEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: They were still holding out hope that they could that the child would be found.

Sadly, as the day and the hours passed, we realized the reality ,the odds were against this child from the beginning, not only because he was attacked by an alligator, but also we don't know the child's swimming capacity. We know the area that it may have been in. The temperature of the water is another factor.

So the odds, as everyone moment passed, were stacked against this child. And, sadly, now, as you said, we have confirmed the worst, that its body was discovered after it was dragged down by the alligator.

In the afternoon press briefing, the sheriff said that this was now about trying to bring comfort for the family, trying to console them, trying to bring them some kind of closure. And, hopefully, this will get them along that process.

But, as you said, this is horrifying. How do you move forward from something like this? The sheriff also said that Disney is doing everything that it can to comfort the family. There were a lot of questions in that press briefing, fair questions about what Disney could have done perhaps to prevent this kind of thing.

The sheriff essentially said that, you know, they have been in Central Florida for more than 47 years. And they have handled situations not like this before, but they have handled situations where there's been wildlife on their property before.

They actually an entire wildlife management division within Disney to handle these kinds of situations. Typically, they observe these kind of animals when they're in their natural habitat. And when they get to a certain size, they are removed and moved to an area that is obviously better for the animal and better for people in general.

But in this case, obviously, this was something that was un -- it was almost impossible to foresee in this situation, from what we have heard from officials. There were questions about potentially putting a fence around this lagoon. Officials quickly said that would not have been feasible because obviously alligators are amphibious. They could have gone around the fence by going underwater, by going on

land as well. The other thing to consider about the search area, this is a huge lagoon where there are several hotel properties on the shore of this lagoon aside from the Magic Kingdom itself. And it's also connected through canals to other large bodies of freshwater.

So, it's not just officials were just looking in this one area for the child. They had to scan really an enormous chunk of land and water, rather, to look for this 2-year-old. And, sadly, again, as we mentioned at the top of the hour, the saddest news you can imagine. The 2-year-old's body was discovered by officials.

Now we hope to get some perspective on perhaps what can be done to move forward. We know that today Disney closed down all of the beaches in it is property just to be sure that this kind of thing couldn't happen again. Even though it's a freakish accident, they wanted to make sure that their patrons and guests felt safe and that was the one recourse that they could have taken.

Right now, I can tell you this press briefing it set to begin at any minute. Hopefully, we will get some more clarity on what Disney can do moving forward and what this family can do potentially to make the best of this and find some kind of closure in all of this, Jake.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: And we are awaiting -- if you're just tuning in, we are awaiting a press conference from the Orange County, Florida, sheriff to give an update and we're expecting deliver the bad news. We have been told that the toddler's body has been recovered after the alligator attack.

I want to bring in Dino Ferri.

And, Dino, you will forgive me if I interrupt you when the press conference starts. Dino is the director at the Central Florida Zoo and has a strong background in reptile behavior.

Dino, how common is an attack like this, an alligator going after a child or a human?

DINO FERRI, DIRECTOR, CENTRAL FLORIDA ZOO: Since they have been keeping records, since 1948, there's only been around 300 attacks, which comes out to be about five a year.

TAPPER: Another family in the U.K. is telling media there that an alligator chased them off the same beach area a few weeks ago. Do you know anything about that, and should tourists expect, if they go to a water area in Florida, that this might happen?

FERRI: The biggest -- I have not heard anything about that, but the biggest thing to remember, it is Florida. We do have alligators. They inhabit water.

Just things to -- you know, if you're going to be near the water, going to be swimming in the water, alligators are most active from dusk to dawn. So, do it during the day, not in the evenings, not early, early morning. Don't feed alligators. A lot of people habituate alligators to come close to humans by

tossing food to them on their little golf course lakes, et cetera, and that just habituates the alligators to not fear humans. So, there's just several things that people can do to just be wise and be wary of where you are.

TAPPER: To be completely candid, I'm not a reptile expert and I don't live in Florida, so alligators are not on my mind. I know that there are signs on that lagoon about no swimming and I think some of them even have a picture of an alligator, but is there -- we're holding up a picture.

[16:05:05]

OK. So, it's just a no swimming sign. There's no alligator on there. But here's the question. Do you think most people who visit Central and South Florida, who are not reptile experts, who don't know necessarily how prevalent alligators are in the waters of Florida, do you think that there need to be more warning signs?

FERRI: You know, I don't know more -- it never -- it couldn't hurt. I don't know if that's going to be the answer. In the zoo business, we always say, we put up signs, but a lot of the info out there shows people don't read signs. They just don't.

There are signs everywhere. It doesn't mean that they are going to read them. I don't know what more can be done. You know, if it's pamphlets that go out to people coming to the state, whatever it is, you're talking -- it's going to be a major undertaking and some major research to be done to look at what would be the most active and most beneficial.

TAPPER: Dino, when people go to the Everglades, they expect that they might see alligators. When people go to your zoo, they expect that they're going to see wild animals.

I don't know that most people go to a Disney resort and think that it's possible that there are going to be alligators in the manmade lakes there. Since this attack, we have learned that crews have pulled at least five alligators from this specific lake. How many alligators could be in that water?

FERRI: Well, the problem with Florida is, because it's on wetlands, most of the waterways are connected one way or another. So if an alligator is here today, it could be two miles down the road, four creeks, four ponds and a lake over. They just go through the waterway, through the drainage systems. They do have a fairly large range that they can go around. It's tough to say. They could be anywhere where there's water, where there's freshwater here in Florida.

TAPPER: I can't imagine that there's anything one can do if attacked by an alligator. But you're the expert on reptiles. Tell me. Is there?

FERRI: Yes, it doesn't mean it's always going to work, but the best advice is to hit them smack in the nose, in the snout.

And basically what that does, it usually makes a reflex where they open their mouth up, which then you can free yourself. The worst thing to do is pry -- whenever you try to pry an alligator or crocodile's mouth open, it just snaps down tighter and stronger.

TAPPER: All right, Dino Ferri, we thank you for your expertise. We really appreciate it.

Let's go back to Boris Sanchez.

If you're just tuning in, again, we are awaiting the Orange County Florida sheriff giving an update on the search for that 2-year-old little boy that was snatched at a Disney resort by an alligator yesterday evening.

We are expecting him to give the grim news that the boy's body has been recovered and obviously that he has not survived the attack.

Boris, how is Disney responding to this tragedy beyond closing down the beaches at their resort? Is there any sentiment expressed that maybe it should have been labeled better, there should have been more warning signs? What are they saying?

SANCHEZ: They have not given any indication or any answers to the questions about warning signs and that sort of thing, basically saying that the whole thing is still under investigation.

They have said, however, that they are devastated that this took place. And it's very important to point out, Jake, as you said, there were signs that said no swimming, but, in reality, this toddler wasn't exactly swimming. It was wading in the water. It was less than a foot in.

The water was essentially at its ankles. So could there have been more of a warning to make sure that nobody got in the water? That's a question that investigators will certainly ask. And you can bet that the pressure will be put on Disney to explain why, if these manmade beaches were never supposed to be accessible, why were they accessible, Jake?

TAPPER: And, Boris, there is a report in the U.K. in a British newspaper that there was a British couple who now says that they were on that same beach weeks ago, and an alligator chased them off and they told the people at the park.

I don't know how much credence to give that report. Has anybody at Disney acknowledged it? Has there been any comment on it by the sheriff's department?

SANCHEZ: No, no comment on that, Jake. We have not been able to confirm those reports independently ourselves.

What I can tell you is that, again, situations involving alligators in the water are not uncommon in Florida. Over the past two weeks, there have been alligators consuming human bodies in the water, but those were very different situations. After further investigation, officials revealed that in those cases, people had drowned and then the alligators approached them.

Nothing like an alligator coming to the shore to grab someone, again, something that is exceedingly rare, freakish, as it was described before.

TAPPER: Boris, tell us about the scene last night at the Disney park. Were there a lot of people there? Have the parents come forward to talk about the horror they are going through?

[16:10:07]

SANCHEZ: The parents have not come forward, Jake.

We are not sure if they are going to at this point, frankly. From what describe, the area was closed off almost immediately. Authorities were on the scene very quickly, again, with quite a bit of resources out there. From what we understand, there were quite a few people gathered in the lobby of the hotel. They began to ask questions.

This is according to sources, what they told CNN, and Disney essentially told them it's best to move away, it's best to leave the situation alone right now. So there hasn't really been any kind of indication as to how the parents are feeling.

But obviously, with all the beaches closed down and all the bodies of water on the Disney property under what you can expect is very heavy vigilance, they are trying to do what they can at this point to try to prevent something like this from happening again, no matter how small the chance of it actually reoccurring.

TAPPER: If you're just joining us, I'm Jake Tapper. This is THE LEAD.

We are expecting any minute -- we were told it was going to start at the top of the hour -- the Orange County Florida sheriff, Jerry Demings, giving an update, and we are expecting bad news about that little boy, that 2-year-old who was wading in the water at Disney's Grand Floridian resort in a manmade lake at that resort when his parents were nearby, that he was snatched by an alligator.

The father jumped in the water, tried to rescue his son. Unfortunately, that was a futile task. And the boy was taken away. All night, there has been a recovery operation under way. They have been draining the manmade lake. They have found other alligators.

And we believe that the sheriff is about to give the devastating news that the body of the 2-year-old boy has been found. Obviously, there are a lot of angles to this story in terms of the Disney organization, alligators in Florida, but the center of it all, of course, is the pain being felt by that family and how devastating that is.

I think all of us who are parents can imagine going to a Disney resort and allowing a 2-year-old to just walk in the water, in the shallow end, and not expect something horrible like this to happen.

Boris Sanchez is with us at Lake Buena Vista, Florida, where we're expecting the sheriff to deliver this press conference any moment.

And, Boris, tell us about the lengths to which the sheriff's department and others have been searching this manmade lake and the area to try to rescue this little boy.

SANCHEZ: Well, from what we have heard, this has been more than an 18-hour search for this young boy.

Immediately on the scene, there were several boats sent out equipped with sonar trying to detect anything underwater. There were divers sent in. It was also an alligator trapper that we believe was instrumental in capturing those five alligators that you mentioned before that were examined to see if any evidence may have tied them to the attack on this little boy.

There were also infrared cameras trying to look into the night to see if anything may have been spotted. So it was certainly a definite, strong,, heartfelt effort to try to find this child. But officials told us there were so many challenges facing them, not only the size of the body of water that they had to search, how many canals were connected to it and the other bodies of water that connected to it as well, the marshes that are nearby, the estuaries that are nearby.

Florida is for the most part wetlands. And so there could have been so many places for this alligator to potentially hide for the boy's body, sadly, to be. The other aspect of this, of course, is the fact that they expected the daytime to assist them. So, we were hoping that when we got here in the morning and they called a press briefing that they had better news.

But, sadly, the daylight didn't necessarily change the equation when it came to searching for this young child. And I should tell you, Jake, this has been kind of a rough week for Disney. It's not just this story, but we have also heard that Disney World parks and areas were being scouted out by the Orlando nightclub shooter.

Also, Disney Shanghai opened today, a park that came under a lot of scrutiny. So Disney itself is in the news quite a bit, not necessarily for great reasons, as we have seen in these two cases.

And really it's not just Disney. It's also the city of Orlando. Our crew actually got here on early Saturday morning because a shooting that happened at a concert here early Friday night. A singer, Christina Grimmie, was shot at one of her concerts.

And then you have again the Pulse nightclub shooting.

[16:15:02] And this again, just a few days later, I've personally never seen the sequence of news that we've gotten out of Orlando in such short span of time. It's really something that I think is rattling, eye-opening for people that live here in the city.

TAPPER: Let's bring back Dino Ferri, while we wait for this sheriff of Orange County, Florida, sheriff to come forward and deliver this horrific news. Dino Ferri is the director of the Central Florida zoo and is an expert on reptile behavior.

Dino, this was a 2-year-old. I don't know how big the alligators are in Florida and I don't know if it matters, but would a child make him more of a target than an adult?

FERRI: Yes, sadly it would. You know, most adults -- alligators -- you know, they may not have the biggest brain but they can eyeball enough at what they are looking at prey-wise. If it's an adult, a big adult, it's not worth their energy to try to get it most of the time. So, something smaller definitely could be, you know, unfortunately, more enticing.

TAPPER: And you were talking earlier about the timing of the attack. It was in the evening, at around 8:30 or 9:00. Why is that significant?

FERRI: That's their most active time, you know, in an alligator's life is from does being until dawn. When it's hot, when it's middle of the day, it's secluded and they are avoiding all of the commotion, the heat, et cetera. They come out mainly to feed in the evenings through early morning.

TAPPER: You've lived in Florida for many years. Alligators, of course, are part of the environment here. Florida was built on a swamp. Alligators lived there before humans did.

Does this attack surprise you?

FERRI: It saddens us. I think it saddens everybody. If I may take a moment, obviously, our hearts, thoughts and prayers go out to the family and everybody affected by this. I don't want to say it's surprising. It's very disturbing. Again, roughly, there are five attacks a year that happens.

TAPPER: Is that five fatal attacks or just five attacks?

FERRI: No, five attacks. I believe in the numbers that FWC, Florida Fish & Wildlife keeps, since 1948, they'd been tracking it and I believe there's been 23 fatalities out of over 300 attacks.

TAPPER: OK. While we're waiting -- thank you, Dino -- while we're waiting for the Orange County sheriff, we're going to bring you some other breaking news.

Right now, we've been told that Egypt says it has indeed found the wreckage of the plane. Of course, you remember, it was 27 days ago when EgyptAir Flight 804 disappeared from radar over the Mediterranean Sea along with 66 passengers and crew on board.

Let's go right to CNN aviation correspondent Rene Marsh.

Rene, where was the plane and how did the investigators finally locate it? RENE MARSH, CNN AVIATION CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jake, we are just

getting this information in real-time as I speak to you. We do know that the Egyptian government is saying that they found several mainly indications of wreckage of EgyptAir 804. As you said, it crashed in the Mediterranean on May 19th.

We don't know exactly what portions of the aircraft have been found but we do know a significant amount of the wreckage has been discovered at this point. Of course, the key is that part of the plane, perhaps the tail where the black box would be located, that's the critical piece that is still missing and they really need to get their hands on. Just a couple of days ago they were saying that the pingers, which is that signal that is emitted to help searchers find it, that is supposed to die, the battery on that is supposed to die in another ten days. It truly has been a race against time but now this breaking news that they have been able to find the wreckage.

Again, we don't know the size of the wreckage, we don't know the part of the plane that was spotted, we don't know which part of the aircraft's body was located. The details are literally just coming in as I speak to you, but this is good news because as you know, they have had assets under water as well as above water searching for significant pieces of this aircraft and wreckage because essentially this investigation is stalled until they get their hands on that.

They need to get their hands on the wreckage as well as those black boxes in order to start filling in the many, many blanks that we have, which is, was it something mechanical? Was it something nefarious that took this passenger plane out of the sky? So, this is the highlight. This is a good news here to hear that at least they have identified some pieces but we are still waiting to see what pieces of the aircraft that is, and how significant they will be in answering so many question. That still remains.

TAPPER: All right. Rene Marsh, we'll come back to you as you learn more. Thank you so much for that breaking news.

Update, just to recap, we are waiting right now for the Orange County, Florida sheriff, to give a statement.

[16:20:04] We were told originally that the statement would be at 4:00 Eastern. It's now 4:20. Obviously, we're waiting for Jerry Demings, the sheriff to come forward. We are expecting him to give bad news, devastating news about that 2-year-old boy that was snatched by an alligator while wading in a manmade lake at the Disney resort in Lake Buena Vista, Florida, specifically at Disney's Grand Floridian resort. The alligator took the child. The father ran into the water, tried to save his boy.

We're looking at live pictures right now. We are waiting for the sheriff to come to the podium to give that news.

And, Boris, you were -- Boris Sanchez, let me bring you back. You were talking about this just a minute ago but what a devastating week it has been in Orlando, not even broadly the state of Florida but specifically Orlando. You and your crew went down to Orlando Saturday morning to cover the horrific shooting of a singer. Sunday morning, there was the worst gun shooting, mass shooting in the United States' history in Orlando, and then last incident of a 2-year-old boy snatched by an alligator, all of these unusual and dramatic events, all of them tragic.

SANCHEZ: All of them absolutely tragic. When we first got word of the nightclub shooting, we didn't know how bad it was going to be. It seemed like it had a potential to be truly something historic and then, obviously, as that unfolded, it was.

And then we got word about this, it seemed hard to believe, it was difficult to believe that in the short span of time, all of this could unfold this way and something so seemingly out of a Hollywood movie.

I'll give you my personal story, Jake. I grew up in south Florida. My parents have a home, it's front of a canal. I grew up seeing alligators and manatees and all these kinds of animals in a canal, and they were never -- you were always cautious around them but they never perceived as a threat.

You called animal patrol right away, somebody came out, they monitored it. If it was a certain size, it was removed, but, you know, it was never something that you thought you were in immediate danger. And then something like this happens and obviously, it rocks your perspective.

You said it best. This family on vacation at the happiest place on earth at a beach and enjoying themselves. Other families were on that beach as well, witnesses tell us. And you look up one second and your child is essentially snatched by this alligator.

The parents did what any parents would do. They immediately sprang into action. The father, we have heard from sheriff official, injured his hands trying to wrestle with the alligator. They couldn't do anything. They tried to run and grab a lifeguard who was at a nearby pool. So, this wasn't a lifeguard for the lagoon but at a nearby pool. It was some distance away from the lagoon, by the time the lifeguard got there, you can imagine, the child was gone.

So, officials were called in and they put in this great effort. As late as this morning, they were still telling us they had not given up hope. This was still a search and rescue operation. They were going to keep hoping that the child overcame mounting odds against his survival.

And, sadly, as the hours passed, the news came that this was now an effort really to bring closure and comfort to the family, to try to recover the child's body, because again, all of the factors that the child was facing were just -- I mean, they were really hoping for a miracle and sadly, today, we have to report that that miracle didn't happen and in just a few moments, we're expecting that he's going to deliver the tragic news that the 2-year-old did not survive this attack from the alligator.

TAPPER: One thing, Boris, as somebody who has spent time living in Florida, I have to say, as a non-Floridian, I don't know that I would have been on my guard. I don't know that I would have expected or even thought about the possibility of an alligator and I imagine that these parents who have gone through this staying at a resort would -- it would even cross their mind that in a lagoon area, there's a marking that says "no swimming", but the idea that there might be an alligator in there, that might be something that a resident of Florida might think but I don't think a non-Floridian, that it would even cross their mind.

SANCHEZ: Oh, without question. I mean, this family was from Nebraska. It's not like they have experience with swamp life in Nebraska.

Again, I'm not familiar with the family themselves. Maybe they have been to Florida before but, I mean, the other thing about this is, it's not just that they were in a lagoon. But it's also a lagoon on the Walt Disney property where everything is so, you know, manicured and micromanaged.

[16:25:03] It's really one of the safest places you could be.

So, to have something like this happen kind of jars that image and Disney World has had its issue before, people getting hurt on rides and that kind of thing, but this is on a different level altogether. You -- as we heard from the sheriff, Disney is doing all they can to comfort the family but what you say to parents that had to watch their child get snatched away this way, there are few words that you can give to comfort someone in that situation.

Jake, I'm going to send it back to you. It appears that the sheriff is walking over to the podium. We'll hear what he has to say in a moment.

TAPPER: All right. Just updating people up to speed, we're expecting Orange County, Florida Sheriff Jeremy Demings, to come to the microphone to deliver the tragic news that the 2-year-old boy who was snatched while stranding in the water of a manmade lake by an alligator, that his body has been recovered and did not survive the ordeal.

Let's listen.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Good afternoon, everyone. Thank you for joining us once again.

Speaking right now will be Sheriff Jerry Demings from the Orange County Sheriff's Office and followed by Executive Director Nick Wiley from the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission.

Sheriff Demings?

SHERIFF JERRY DEMINGS, ORANGE COUNTY, FLORIDA: OK. We're here this afternoon to give you an update on where we are with this recovery effort. We'll share with you that we just met with the family, spent some time with them and delivered this update.

At about 1:45 today, members of the Orange County sheriff's office dive team located what is believed to be the remains of the deceased, a 2-year-old and I'll identify him in just a few moments. At about 3:30 today, we recovered the remains of the 2-year-old from the water and that body has now been turned over to the Orange County Medical Office for an autopsy.

The family, I'm going to go ahead and identify the parents are Matt and Melissa Graves from Elkhorn, Nebraska. Their 2-year-old is Lane Graves. I will share with you that the child was found, his body was completely intact and so at this time we will go through the formality of making a formal identification. But there's no reason for us to believe that the body that was recovered is not that of Lane Graves. The effort to continue with the wildlife management here at Disney will go forward.

I'm going to turn over at this time to the executive director for FWC who will share with you more details about their efforts.

Director?

NICK WILEY, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, FLORIDA FISH AND WILDLIFE: Yes, sir. Thank you, Sheriff Demings.

Well, first, again, we just want to say that our thoughts and prayers are with this family on behalf of our entire agency and we are terribly heartbroken at this outcome. I want to thank Sheriff Demings and the Orange County Sheriff Department throughout this entire tragedy. They have been great to work with and they are a true benefit to this community.

I want to thank Disney. They have been totally cooperative as we work through this and how we handle this tragedy. So, although we have some sort of closure to this, our investigation is still ongoing and we're going to continue to evaluate the evidence that we have and we're going to try to continue searching. We're going to make certain that we have the alligator that was involved and that we remove it from the lake.

So, we're going to either verify that we've already captured that alligator through forensics work or we're going to continue to look for an alligator until we find the right one. We'll also continue to work with Disney as they work to continue to address alligators in the park and continue that strong partnership.

With that, that concludes my remarks. Thank you.