James Okkerse, a 62-year-old swimmer, was killed by an alligator at Blue Spring State Park in Florida on Wednesday.
The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission said Okkerse was swimming with his friends shortly before 9:00 a.m. when he decided to swim up and down the spring, NBC affiliate WESH reported. His body was later found at approximately 12:00 p.m. The Volusia County Medical Examiner’s Office later ruled his death as being consistent with an alligator attack. This marks the first fatality from an alligator attack to take place in Florida since 2007.
Several witnesses confirmed seeing a 12-foot-long alligator in the waters near where Okkerse disappeared. The alligator in question was caught and euthanized later that afternoon.
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Russell Anen, one of the friends swimming with James Okkerse, said the wildlife officials did not do enough to warn them about the potential dangers of swimming in the spring. He added that they should have been notified if an alligator, especially one of that size, had been seen in the area.
“There should be more information put out there for keeping the park in control rather than things getting out of hand,” Anen said. “We’re not foolish people. We should have been cautioned, and we probably would have asked for the size of the alligator.”
Anen said he and Okkerse were good friends and typically swam in the spring three times a week for exercise. He said he spotted the alligator first and attempted to swim back to tell his wife and friend about it, but it was simply too late for Okkerse.
“I was watching both of them. But then, while I’m watching, she came down. I warned her, she got on the dock, but Jim was overdue,” Anen said.
Carol Anen, Russell’s wife, said James was the strongest swimmer of the three, and he had decided to swim further ahead of them.
“All of a sudden he just disappeared. Completely gone out of the water, gone. I swam around, looked for him, didn’t see him,” she said. Russell said he hopes James’ tragic death will make the park look into implementing new safety measures to protect the swimmers in the area.
“I just want things done that are right for Jim and the other people that attend the park,” he said. “I just want to make sure safety measures are in place.”
Despite Okkerse’s death, visitors arrived at the Blue Spring State Park, many of them tubing and swimming in the same water where the attack took place, the Orlando Sentinel reported. Jennifer Burroughs was visiting her family from Melbourne. She said she was scared at first when she heard what happened, but she had already booked her cabin and paid the money for her trip.
Officials shoot dead twelve-foot alligator suspected of killing snorkeler, 62, in Florida state park https://t.co/3Brildgb3K
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“We booked it, we’re doing it, we’re committed,” she said. “I feel like I’m going to be on the lookout now. I know what happened, so I’m going to be looking out.”
Many regulars in the area say they are aware of the alligators lurking in the water. Apparently, there is even a sign that reads “large alligators… occasionally attack larger animals such as deer, and may even attack humans.” The smaller alligators, which range from four to six foot, generally don’t approach humans, experts say. However, if people feed them, or throw leftovers into the water, they tend to become more bold.
“It trains them remarkably fast where to get food from,” Jeff Woolfenden, a contract trapper for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, said. “They ambush anything … they will eat anything they can get their grubby little grips on.”
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