The family of the toddler killed last June by an alligator at Walt Disney World celebrated what would have been the boy’s third birthday this weekend, telling supporters at an Omaha high school football stadium that they wanted to celebrate the boy’s "first birthday in heaven."
"You'll always be Mommy's loving, sweet, baby boy,” Melissa Graves said of her son Lane. “We miss you, buddy, and we miss those hugs and kisses."
Melissa and Matt Graves spoke to a group of several hundred people on Saturday, The Omaha World-Herald reported.
Lane Graves died June 14 at Disney's Grand Floridian Resort after an alligator pulled him into a lagoon. An Aug. 22 report on his death from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission found that Lane was standing in ankle-deep water at the time of the attack, but neither the boy nor his family did anything to provoke the alligator.
The agency classified the attack as “predatory,” saying the alligator grabbed the boy in a manner consistent with hunting. It also said the alligator may have lost its fear of humans because it lived in close proximity to large numbers of people.
The report said several other visitors to the park alerted Disney employees about the presence of alligators minutes before the attack.
After Lane's death, Disney made changes to restrict visitor contact with alligators on the property. Though "No Swimming" signs had been posted on the resort beach before the boy was taken, fences and other barriers were built around some of the lakes in the aftermath and "No Fishing" signs were installed around waterfront areas. Disney World also limited fishing to excursions.
Neighbors Brandi and Mike Miller organized Saturday’s event at the Elkhorn South High School football field, where hundreds of friends, relatives and supporters stood in a huge heart shape and released nearly 5,000 balloons as a drone snapped an aerial photograph.
Brandi Miller said she wanted to pay tribute to Lane and his family. “I really saw an opportunity for the community to come together and wrap their arms around the family on this day,” she said.
Speaking to supporters, Matt Graves said Lane's life brought joy to the family.
"My wife will tell you those are the happiest days of her life, and I couldn't agree with her more," he said. "Happy birthday, buddy."
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