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Fighting back helps boy escape gator attack

A 12-year-old boy escaped an alligator that clamped down on his head Wednesday afternoon in Lake Diana by hitting the beast in the snout and swimming to shore, wildlife officials said.
/ Source: News-Journal Online.com

A 12-year-old boy escaped an alligator that clamped down on his head Wednesday afternoon in Lake Diana by hitting the beast in the snout and swimming to shore, wildlife officials said.

"I was scared, but I just punched him and punched him," Malcolm "Jamie" Locke said Wednesday night, hours after the 1 p.m. attack behind his grandmother's house.

Although shook up, the boy escaped with two cuts to his head and a ripped left ear.

Malcolm, who lives in Summerfield in Marion County, was helping his grandmother Linda Schlapper with roofing work when he decided to jump into the lake to rinse off. He was in chest-deep water no more than four or five minutes, Schlapper said, when she heard him scream there was a gator.

By the time she got outside, she saw Malcolm stumbling out of the water.

"He was just dripping blood," Schlapper said. "He came up onto the porch and curled up into a ball. He was trembling."

Schlapper called neighbors, one of whom rushed Malcolm to Florida Hospital Fish Memorial in Orange City. Several stitches and staples were needed to close his head wounds.

Joy Hill of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission said the boy acted perfectly to save himself.

"Malcolm did the right thing," Hill said. "He fought the alligator and it let him go."

By fighting an alligator and creating noise and confusion, Hill said, the animal will usually realize it has made a mistake by attacking something it cannot easily fight off.

Malcolm said he just did what came naturally. He spotted the gator swimming toward him and dived underwater as he tried to escape to shore.

"He (the alligator) just came up and bit me on the head, so I reached around and punched him," Malcolm said. "It took a few minutes, but he finally let go and I swam to shore."

When he got there, he said, he was worried he might have lost a body part.

"I asked my grandma if my ear was still there," he said.

Malcolm's mother, Misty Warren, who drove to the hospital from their home in Marion County, said she was "extremely proud" of Malcolm.

"He's a spunky, outgoing kid," she said. "And he likes to wrestle. He definitely saved himself."

After the attack, the wildlife commission sent out a trapper to catch the alligator that attacked Malcolm and another one spotted along the shore. Shortly after 9 p.m. Wednesday, trapper Jerry Flynn shot and killed an aggressive 7-foot-4-inch bull alligator he believed responsible for the attack, a neighbor said. Malcolm weighs about 120 pounds and is about 5 feet 4 inches tall. Flynn planned to return and trap the other gator this morning.

Neighbor Kristi Chewning, who drove Malcolm and his grandmother to the hospital, said they see alligators in the lake occasionally, but she didn't know of any attacks since she moved there in 1974.

Before her son Seth, 13, goes swimming, she scans the lake with binoculars. She said she will not allow Seth swim in the lake again.

"It's not worth it," she said. "That could have been him today."

Hill said the wildlife commission said it never had a complaint of alligators in Lake Diana before Wednesday.

There have been 333 alligator attacks throughout Florida since the wildlife commission began keeping records in 1948. Thirteen of those have been fatal, Hill said.

The most recent fatality was that of another 12-year-old boy, Brian Griffin, who was attacked by a 10-foot alligator June 18, 2003, while swimming near a boat ramp in the Dead River in Lake County.

jeannine.gage@news-jrnl.com