We woke up to the horrific news this morning of a parent’s worst nightmare: A family, enjoying a dream vacation in Florida, was waiting for a fireworks show at Disney’s Grand Floridian resort when their 2-year-old — who had wandered into the water of a nearby lagoon — was snatched by an alligator and dragged away. The reaction to this news on social media has been predictable. There’s the disbelief, the expression of deep sympathy colored through the lens of horror.
Sadly there’s another kind of reaction that’s also predictable: the rush to condemn the parents of the little boy.
The Nebraskan family was staying at The Grand Floridian Resort, and while reports on exactly what went down vary, the general gist is that authorities believe the attack happened when the child wandered about a foot into the water of a lagoon on resort property while his parents and 4-year-old sister were nearby. The small body of water reportedly had a “No Swimming” sign, and when the boy went under, his father dove in too in an attempt to wrestle the gator and rescue his son before alerting a lifeguard in the distance.
A search-and-rescue operation has been ongoing from 9:15 p.m. last night through to this morning. As it grows more futile, rescuers still hope to find the toddler but are being realistic about the chances of finding him alive.
These are the facts as we are made to understand them in this particular case. Every single person involved says that it is a tragic, unimaginable accident. A family is likely attempting to do the impossible this morning by coming to grips with the fact that they may never see their son and brother again. And what will they wake up to, assuming they’ve managed to sleep at all?
Unbelievable cruelty and judgment spreading like wildfire across the internet… like this:
Sad to hear a kid got taken by a gator but parents need to have some common sense or educate themselves on the environment they are in.
— Cantankerous Chris (@CantankerousCMF) June 15, 2016
So sad for the little kid taken by a gator at Disney. He was being raised by parents that believed warning signs didn’t apply to them.
— J.P. Wing (@ThatJPWing) June 15, 2016
Every single expert in this case has said that this exceedingly rare attack is a horrific accident. Full stop. An accident. There is nothing that these parents could have done differently.
They were at a family resort, a Disney resort, with their children, vigilant and responsible, just as the internet commands them to be. Their toddler son wandered up to the edge of the water, despite the “No Swimming” sign that he very likely couldn’t read because he’s 2 years old.
And in the space of the time it took you to read the headline of this article, he was gone.
The internet experts are a different story. The parents, who have not been identified, two people that it is very unlikely some random strangers on the internet have ever even met, are made out to be entitled, lazy jerks who couldn’t be arsed to watch their child. They’re monsters, they must be, because this would never happen to good parents. Parents like you.
If you think that this could not happen to you, you are right only in the sense that it’s statistically unlikely. You can dream up every scenario in which you, the hero parent, keep your toddler away from the water, despite the fact that if you have a toddler, you probably can’t even get them to keep their pants on. Where your reflexes are lightning quick and the effects of adrenaline and fear don’t apply to you and you execute a clearheaded, super-strength rescue.
But that doesn’t make you any less wrong. That doesn’t make it any less of a fantasy.
This kind of monster-making and widespread condemnation shouldn’t surprise us, especially after Harambe the Gorilla. And it doesn’t, really.
But it does make us deeply, deeply sad. Tragedies like this have become little more than a consumable form of entertainment. Team Alligator. Team Disney. Team Cincinnati Zoo. Team Harambe. We parse and pick at people we’ve never met and judge them wanting. They are unfit parents, they are bad people.
So if you are preparing to type out a long opinion of your own about how this child might still be safely on the shore if he had you as a parent, we want you to consider this: In what way is it morally superior — the act of a good person — to use the probable death of a child as a debate point? To elbow your way past the grief of two people you’ve never met to justify damning them when people who know more than you about it say they are faultless? To identify their “crime” as an overall lack of parenting skills and declare that they have suffered the appropriate punishment for that: a missing, possibly dead child?
If you can’t answer that, step away from the computer and go give your kid a hug instead. There are two people in Florida who would do anything to be you right now.
Update: Orange County, Florida police have announced they’ve recovered the body of the little boy and released his name: Lane Graves. Our hearts go out to his parents, Matt and Melissa Graves, and their entire family.