TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Beaches reopened Sunday with extra lifeguards along a stretch of the Florida Panhandle (search) coast where a shark killed a 14-year-old girl, as coastal residents reported seeing at least one shark hunting fish close to shore.
Jamie Marie Daigle (search) of Gonzales, La., was swimming on a boogie board with a friend at least 100 yards from shore when she was attacked Saturday in the Gulf of Mexico (search), said Walton County sheriff's Capt. Danny Glidewell. Daigle was vacationing with friends while the rest of her family was home.
One of the men who tried to rescue Daigle said he heard screams for help and saw her boogie board — but no rider. He rushed into the water and found the unconscious girl being towed to shore by a surfer on his board.
"He was screaming and hollering," said Chris White, 23, of Carrollton, Ga. "He was yelling `There's a shark, there's a shark.'"
"I looked down and he was swimming at my feet," he added. "We stopped swimming, just went limp vertical in the water, just dangled my legs, tried not to look like any kind of food or anything."
Daigle was in an area not protected by sandbars or lifeguards when she was bitten, said the surfer, Tim Dicus. He said the shark, which he estimated was 8 feet long, followed them all the way to the shore.
"The beach is the beach. Once you get past that second sandbar, you're in the gulf," he said. "And when you're in the gulf, that's where big fish are. You go way down on the food chain."
An autopsy was planned for Monday, and a shark expert was invited to attend to help determine the type and size of the shark involved, Glidewell said Sunday.
After the attack Saturday, a 20-mile stretch of shore was closed to swimmers, with twin red flags warning people to stay out of the water, but beaches reopened Sunday with a double staff of sheriff's beach patrol officers, Glidewell said.
A makeshift memorial of painted sand dollars, a boogie board and a magnolia was created on the beach where Daigle was brought to shore. Someone had written in the sand, "Bless U."
Residents of a condominium complex next to the beach where the girl was attacked said they spotted a shark that looked about 6 feet long Sunday morning.
"It was just right at the shoreline," said Jason Miller, who took pictures of the shark chasing fish while people stood in the white surf.
Although Jamie and her friend were farther from shore than recommended, it is common for boogie-boarders, surfers and people on personal watercraft to go beyond the two sandbars that separate the shallow beach area from the open gulf, Glidewell said.
"Our pilots who fly our helicopters have always reported to us that if you look offshore, there's always a large number of sharks — always has been because that's their natural habitat," Glidewell said.
Florida averaged more than 30 shark attacks a year from 2000 to 2003, but there were only 12 attacks off the state's coast last year, according to statistics compiled by the American Elasmobranch Society and the Florida Museum of Natural History.
George Burgess, curator of the International Shark Attack File at University of Florida, said Sunday that bull sharks are common in the area, are aggressive and can be found in shallow water. He said that of 500 documented attacks in Florida, the fatality rate was 2.4 percent.
"Sharks are one of many hazards that one may encounter when entering the sea," he said. "There is no reason to think that this is the beginning of a trend."