1. Archive

Father tells of struggle with gator

A father described Sunday a desperate underwater tug-of-war as he tried futilely to save his 10-year-old son from an 11-foot alligator.

The boy, Bradley Weidenhamer, had been wading near a canoe carrying his parents when the alligator grabbed him by the head and pulled him beneath the Loxahatchee River on Saturday. The attack occurred in a shallow stretch of the river where others were canoeing and wading.

Gary Weidenhamer and his wife, Donna, heard a bystander shout, "Someone has been taken by an alligator." They became frantic when they couldn't find their son.

Weidenhamer jumped into the water to search.

"I saw a white spot. I reached out and grabbed the white spot and it was a shirt," Weidenhamer said. "I pulled and I pulled and I got it up enough to see it was Bradley.

"The alligator pulled him away from me and then I couldn't find him again," said Weidenhamer, his face strained and his voice soft as he spoke at a news conference at his family's West Palm Beach church.

"The alligator pulled him away from me and then I couldn't find him again," he said. "I looked around frantically again. I found that one white spot again. This time, I grabbed a foot and started pulling."

Weidenhamer said others began beating the alligator with canoe paddles, and they were able to free the child. The boy was later pronounced dead at a Jupiter hospital.

"We feel Bradley, as with all children, is part of God," Mrs. Weidenhamer said. "We had Bradley for 10 years, and we feel very honored to have had that child for that time."

The couple, from Lantana, also has a 13-year-old son, Brent.

The bull alligator held Bradley underwater for several minutes, said Lt. Jim Huffstodt of the Florida Game and Fresh Water Fish Commission.

The river was closed temporarily to canoes Saturday evening while a professional trapper found and killed an alligator suspected in the attack.

An examination of the carcass was inconclusive as to whether it was the one that attacked Bradley.

Confirmation could come in the next couple of days by comparing teeth marks on the victim with the alligator's jaws, he said.

Florida's last fatal alligator attack was five years ago, when a 12-foot animal killed a 4-year-old girl in Charlotte County. Bradley's death was the sixth such fatality in the state since the early 1970s, Huffstodt said.

Although relatively few people have been killed by alligators, confrontations are not unusual in urban areas. In September 1986, a mother pulled a 12-year-old boy from the mouth of a gator that attacked as the boy was swimming in a creek near Crystal River in Citrus County.

In 1988, a Palm Harbor woman was bitten on the thumb by an alligator when she dipped a plant into a Lake Tarpon canal to water it.

Reports of dogs being killed by alligators are relatively common in the Tampa Bay area. Alligator experts warn that the animals could show up in any Florida water body.

Dickinson Park Ranger Jon Powers said Sunday that business seemed to be about normal for Father's Day. But he noted some apprehension among visitors.

"They're kind of scared, definitely scared. They've been asking if the alligators are going to attack them."

Christy Ponton, who was visiting the park from Jupiter with two young children, said she was going canoeing and wasn't worried.

"As long as you stay in the channel and stay in the boat, the alligators don't bother you," she said.