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    Officials confirm alligator killed 2-year-old

    The girl climbed a fence and ended up at a lake. The alligator that attacked probably had lost its fear of people.

    By MELANIE AVE

    © St. Petersburg Times,
    published June 26, 2001


    TAMPA -- Alexandria "Allie" Murphy was a lively little girl who was more apt to run than walk and had been known to scale a fence or two, her relatives said Monday.

    "We were going to put her in gymnastics and swimming lessons," said her paternal grandmother, Marjie Murphy of Tampa. "She was going to bring home the gold."

    But the 2-year-old's unusual athletic ability may have led to her death Saturday. The medical examiner confirmed Monday that an alligator dragged Alexandria into a Polk County lake and drowned her.

    Her father, Brewce Murphy of Tampa, said Alexandria climbed over a 4-foot fence separating a back yard and Lake Cannon, where her body was found about 30 minutes after she was reported missing. A 6-foot-6 alligator was found nearby and later killed.

    Human hair was found in the alligator's mouth.

    The child was left alone in the yard for about 10 minutes by her mother, Jessica J. Lester, and a grandmother when she disappeared, said Polk Sheriff's Capt. W.J. Martin.

    Alexandria, who had moved from Tampa three weeks earlier with her mother and younger sister Destiny, is the 11th person killed by an alligator in the past 53 years. Five of the deaths have been children under age 12.

    Authorities think lake residents fed the 100- to 150-pound alligator, which contributed to the attack on the 32-pound girl.

    "He certainly wasn't shy," said Sterling Ivey, spokesman with the Polk County Sheriff's Office. "He'd almost lost all fear of humans."

    Once people feed alligators, they begin associating food with people, said Henry Cabbage, spokesman for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. It is against state law to feed the reptiles.

    With a brain the size of a thumb, "It doesn't differentiate between the hand that feeds it and the hand," he said.

    Officials warned parents to keep their children away from lakes and ponds, especially between dusk and dawn when alligators can mistake children for prey.

    Polk County medical examiner Stephen J. Nelson said Alexandria had bites on her face and right thigh. She also had a dislocated left shoulder, a left wrist fracture and a right arm fracture.

    Nelson said drowning is an alligator's common method of attack.

    Her family members tried to hold on to their memories of the ever-giggling toddler who loved Barbies and playing with her cousins.

    They pushed back thoughts about Alexandria's suffering.

    "We feel her pain," said her aunt, Marsha Clark. "She was just a baby."

    - Times researcher John Martin and the Ledger of Lakeland contributed to this report.

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