An alligator killed swimmer James Okkerse at Blue Spring State Park. The alligator attack, which occurred in Volusia County, Florida, was the first such fatality since 2007.
James Okkerse was swimming at the popular manatee-watching outdoor attraction two days after sightings of the 12-foot alligator that killed him were reported, MSN explains. The details surrounding the death of Okkerse, 61, are few and far between. Questions about the specific set of circumstances leading up to the fatal alligator attack remain, as Blue Spring State Park officials are reportedly remaining fairly quiet on the matter.
The 12-foot alligator that killed the swimmer has since been captured and killed. Although the park is open again, some visitors have safety concerns, the Daily Mail reports.
Jennifer Burroughs, 30, and her family were visiting the Florida state park from Melbourne. She told the local media that the James Okkerse alligator attack scared her, but since they had already booked a cabin and had incurred travel expenses, the group decided to stay.
— People magazine (@people) October 22, 2015
“We booked it, we’re doing it, we’re committed,” Burroughs said as she placed several small children into an inflatable float and readied them to go into the water. “I feel like I’m going to be on the lookout now. I know what happened, so I’m going to be looking out.”
Okkerse’s body was pulled from the swimming area on the beach on Monday after he was found floating facedown. The wounds to the body immediately alerted Blue Spring State Park officials to a possible alligator attack. His friends had reported him missing not long before the body was found. A full autopsy report will be completed and released in about eight weeks.
Russell Anen, 73, a friend of the deceased, is questioning the park policies, which he feels may have led up to Okkerse’s death. Carol Okkerse, James’ wife, called 911 to report her spouse had not returned to the beach area after taking a swim upstream toward the natural spring where manatees congregate in the winter.
Anen, who had also gone swimming, said he and his friend had not been told about the alligator sighting when they arrived at the Florida state park on Monday. The group, which lives just three miles away, would have turned around and gone home if they had known, according to Anen.
“There should be more information put out there for keeping the park in control rather than things getting out of hand,” Anen added. “We’re not foolish people. We should have been cautioned, and we probably would have asked for the size of the alligator.”
Anen also proposed to “remove” all alligators from the swimming area for safety reasons. Exactly how they gators would be removed from their natural habitat and what would be done with the reptiles was not clarified.
“I just want things done that are right for Jim and the other people that attend the park. I just want to make sure safety measures are in place,” the friend of the swimmer killed in alligator attack said.
The Blue Spring State Park swimming area was closed for approximately one hour after the 12-foot alligator was spotted on Sunday afternoon. Park staffers searched the water by canoe and along the shore but did not see the gator. Around 4 p.m. the same alligator is believed to have been spotted in the same area again.
A sign near the boardwalk of the St. John’s River alerts swimmers and boaters that the massive reptiles could be present in the area.
“Large alligators occasionally attack larger animals such as deer, and may even attack humans,” the sign reportedly reads.
The death of James Okkerse brings to an end the longest time period in the state without a fatal alligator attack. The second longest fatality-free span ran from 1979 to 1983. Since 1948, there have been 22 recorded fatal alligator attacks in Florida and 338 non-fatal attacks.
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