Ten hungry alligators chowed down on a badly decomposed human body discovered in a mangrove patch in a Florida lake, stunned witnesses said.
A St. Petersburg man and his partner spotted the body at about 8 a.m. Thursday as they ate breakfast at Lake Maggiore, they told the Tampa Bay Times.
“It was hard to tell if it was a person or an animal,” Otis Crawford, 57, told the newspaper. “I got out of the car to make sure I was seeing what I was seeing.”
The alligators then started dragging the body through the lake, Crawford said, before the couple saw something that turned their stomachs.
“I saw an alligator take a chunk out of [the body], throw it up in the air and catch it and eat it,” said Patricia Kays, 60. “I had to go back to the car after that. I couldn’t watch anymore.”
Police confirmed that a death investigation was underway Thursday after the gruesome find in the southeast corner of the 380-acre lake.
“Due to the condition of the body, the medical examiner will determine the cause of death,” police said in a statement.
Messages seeking additional comment from police and the Pinellas County medical examiner’s office were not immediately returned Friday.
“It is badly decomposed,” police spokeswoman Yolanda Fernandez told the Tampa Bay Times. “We’re unable to tell anything about it – gender or race or anything.”
The body was later removed by St. Petersburg Fire Rescue. A search of the lake for other related evidence such as personal items connected to the victim produced no useful leads, according to the newspaper.
But Fernandez stopped short of characterizing the incident an “alligator attack” since it’s unclear if the reptiles had killed the victim or if they were merely scavenging.
“At this time, we cannot call it an alligator attack, simply that there were alligators around the body when we found it and that made it a little more difficult in getting to it,” Fernandez told WFTS. “In cases like this, we definitely want to check the shoreline so we’ve asked fire rescue to go around in the boat to see if maybe there are any personal effects – a backpack, information, a wallet.”