A Nebraska community gathered over the weekend to support the family affected by tragedy at Disney World in June when their toddler was taken and killed by an alligator at Disney's Grand Floridian Resort. Saturday would have been the boy's third birthday. In recognition of that, the parents of Lane Graves paid tribute to their baby boy at a high school football stadium, surrounded by more than 600 friends, family, and supporters, the Omaha World-Herald reported. Particularly heartbreaking was the dedication by Melissa Graves, Lane's mother.
Joined by her husband, Matt, Melissa acknowledged that she does not like public speaking, but then went on to address the crowd, as well as Lane:
Anyone who knows me knows I don't like to speak but, my baby, I owe it to him to honor him. So his mommy needed to say, "Happy birthday, Lanie." You're in our hearts today and every second of every other day. You'll always be Mommy's loving, sweet baby boy. When we were apart, you would tell us, "I missed you," as we walked through the door. You would always come running with a big hug and kiss. We miss you buddy, and we miss those hugs and kisses. We all love you so very, very much.
Matt also spoke, thanking their community of Elkhorn for the support the couple have received. "Today, Lane would have turned 3 years old, but we celebrate his first birthday in heaven with the community that has surrounded us with love and support," he said. Then everyone stood in the shape of a heart and released 5,000 blue balloons. Overhead a drone captured photographs. Music including "Somewhere Over The Rainbow" played over the field's PA system.
Blue was the color of the event. In addition to the blue balloons, everyone was dressed in blue too. The Graves' neighbors Brandi and Mike Miller organized the event, and Brandi said that blue was the color they chose to "signify a little boy," she told the World-Herald. The community put up blue ribbons to honor Lane after his death. On Saturday, blue ribbon decals with "Lane" written on them were handed out to those in attendance, as were silver crosses with blue ribbons, prayer cards, and M&M cookies, Lane's favorite treat.
The family decided in July that they would not sue Walt Disney World. Instead they said in a statement that they would work to keep their son's memory alive by starting a foundation in his name, and attempting to heal as a family. "We will solely be focused on the future health of our family and we will not be pursuing a lawsuit against Disney," their statement read. Signs nearby said "no swimming," but there were not warnings about alligators.
In August, the Orange County Sheriff's Office released a report calling the death an accident, the Orlando Sentinel reported. Lane was standing in ankle deep water when he was snatched. Matt fought with the alligator but was unable to free his son. Officials searched for 16 hours before finally finding the boy's body intact. Medical examiners said the cause of death was drowning and traumatic injuries.
The family's pain will surely continue, but the event Saturday shows that they have the support of their community, which as Matt said, will be important in their attempts to heal. "We would not have been able to get through the pain without this community, our friends and family, and for that we say thank you," he said. Consider supporting the family by giving to the Lane Thomas Foundation.