A 6-year-old boy's day off from school Friday left him with a vivid story to tell his classmates, after he was seized — and eventually released — by an alligator in South Florida. The attack occurred at a wildlife refuge near Boynton Beach, Fla., where Joseph Welch had taken his son, Joey, for a canoe ride.
As Welch, a native of Rhode Island who now lives in Pompano Beach, says in a Morning Edition interview airing Tuesday, his idea had been to do "something new and different."
As they waited in line to rent canoes near the headquarters of the Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge, Joey was attracted by the water at the bottom of a boat ramp. Thinking he was looking at solid ground, Joey put his foot down on plants floating in the water — and fell in.
An 8-foot-long alligator had been lurking in the shallows; it clamped onto the boy's right arm. Joey began screaming.
Seeing his son in the grip of a gator's jaws, Joseph Welch rushed over and began punching the animal — something he later compared to hitting a cinder block. And crucially, he resisted the urge to try to pull his son away.
"I didn't want to get into a tug-of-war with the gator," he told The Sun Sentinel Monday. "I didn't want my son's arm ripped off."
Bystanders also ran to help Joey. And standing in waist-deep water, Welch managed to maneuver his son and the animal up and around so that one man, who had been in the same line to rent a canoe, could kick the alligator's underside. Eventually, the animal let go of the boy's arm.
Joey escaped the ordeal with scrapes and bruises on his arm and torso. He went to a Fort Lauderdale hospital, where he received antibiotics. His father was unharmed, except for a bruised right hand.
As for the alligator, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission says that in keeping with its standard policy, trappers were sent to the boat ramp, where they captured and killed the reptile.
"We are extremely relieved the child made it out of this potentially deadly incident with only minor injuries," said Rolf Olson, acting project leader of Loxahatchee and Hobe Sound NWR. "This really could have ended very badly. We thank the members of the public who saw this happening and selflessly rushed in to do the right thing."
Olsen also reminded the public to be very careful when visiting areas where alligators live.
STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
OK. Our next guest wanted to do something new and different when his six year old son had a day off school last week. And they certainly did something different. Joe Welch took Joey to the Everglades to canoeing where Joey was attacked by an alligator. Mr. Welch is in Pompano Beach, Florida. He's on the line to tell us the rest of the story. Welcome to the program, sir.
JOE WELCH: Good morning.
INSKEEP: OK. So you're at a concession stand. You're next to a canal your six-year-old son goes over the water. He falls in. That happens. But what did you see when you looked over to see your son falling into the water?
WELCH: Well, I heard the splash and then I heard this screaming and so I immediately ran over to the water's edge to see what was happening and I could that see this gator had his right arm completely in his mouth. And, you know, it was very hard to even process it but I just immediately ran into the water. It was about waist deep.
WELCH: And I stood behind my son and with my left arm, I wrapped my arm around his chest and with my right hand I was banging as hard as I could on the head of this alligator because, you know, I knew that the gator wanted to pull him into the deeper water.
WELCH: But the gator, he was not releasing. And when I was hitting him on the head, you know, it was as if I was hitting a cinder block because the gator didn't even - he didn't even flinch at all.
INSKEEP: Well, let's talk about that. You may have tried to pull - you could've tried to pull your son away into the shallower water but I guess you don't want to get in tug-of-war with an alligator with your son's arm in the middle.
WELCH: Right. And that was my concern, the gator - that if I do that, the gator's going to rip my son's arm right off.
INSKEEP: So you beat on the alligator. You're in a boxing match now. How did you get the alligator to back down?
WELCH: Well, finally what happened is, you know, I almost broke my hand hitting this thing. And there was another customer there who was there to rent a canoe. And when he saw what happening, he ran over and he was, you know, screaming at me to try to pull my son out of the water. And so I did. And as I was doing that, the gator - as I was pulling away from the gator, the gator was still attached to my son's arm. So he was coming up out of the water...
WELCH: ...at the same time, which exposed the underbelly of the gator such that this guy was able to kick as hard as he could three or four really good shots in the underbelly of the gator while I'm punching him it the head. And then finally the gator released.
INSKEEP: Oh, that's amazing. So it got to the soft underbelly of the creature.
INSKEEP: And that did the job.
INSKEEP: So that gator got away, I trust.
WELCH: Well, no. He was trapped.
INSKEEP: OK. All right.
WELCH: He was trapped and he was caught and he was measured at eight feet in length.
INSKEEP: Eight feet in length. Now, how is your son?
WELCH: He is fine. You know, the kid is so resilient. I mean you would never even know that anything happened. And that's one of the many miracles that occurred that day.
INSKEEP: Wait, wait, wait. You're saying he doesn't even have a bite mark?
WELCH: Oh, no. He does have - oh, yeah. No, he does. I thought you meant emotionally.
WELCH: No, he does have cuts and scrapes and bruises all the way from his shoulder blade down to his wrist.
INSKEEP: Oh. And what a story to tell at school, I guess.
WELCH: Yeah. He's a little bit of a celebrity at school right now.
INSKEEP: Well, Mr. Welch, congratulations on the successful end of that.
WELCH: Thank you. Thank you very much.
INSKEEP: Joe Welch is in Pompano Beach, Florida, and he and another man wrestled an alligator in order to save Mr. Welch's six-year-old son while they were canoeing in the Everglades.
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