MIAMI – The bodies of two women, both apparently killed by alligators, were found less than a week after a similar death in a state that had seen just 17 confirmed fatal attacks by the animals in the previous 57 years.
A 23-year-old woman staying at a secluded cabin near a spring that feeds into the Lake George was attacked Sunday at a recreation area, said Marion County Fire-Rescue Capt. Joe Amigliore. The lake is about 50 miles (80 kilometers) southeast of Gainesville.
"The people she was staying with came around and found her inside the gator's mouth," Amigliore said. "They jumped into the water and somehow pulled her out of the gator's mouth."
The woman, whose name was not released, was pronounced dead at the scene. Her stepfather, who had tried to help her, was treated on the scene for a hand injury, said Amigliore.
In Pinellas County, the death of another woman whose body was found early Sunday in a canal 20 miles (30 kilometers) north of St. Petersburg also was blamed on an alligator, authorities said.
The woman's body had been in the water for about three days, authorities said.
She suffered animal bites that were consistent with an alligator, which "did play some part in the victim's death," according to a preliminary autopsy. The cause of death was pending and the medical examiner's final report will not be released for at least four weeks, the sheriff's office said.
"We don't know the condition she was in when this happened," said state wildlife spokesman Gary Morse.
It was not immediately known why Judy W. Cooper, 43, of Dunedin, was in the area where wildlife officials said alligators are frequently spotted.
Authorities were baiting traps in their searches for both gators Sunday.
On Wednesday, construction workers found the dismembered body of a Florida Atlantic University student in a canal near Fort Lauderdale. A medical examiner concluded that the 28-year-old woman was attacked near the canal bank and dragged into the water.
On Saturday, wildlife officers captured an 9-foot, 6-inch (2.85-meter) alligator in Sunrise that they believe fatally attacked Yovy Suarez Jimenez while she was out jogging.
Suarez's death was the 18th confirmed fatal alligator attack in Florida since 1948. Nine other deaths are unconfirmed, mainly because it was not clear whether the person was already dead when the alligator attacked.
What provoked the attacks in three separate Florida counties was unknown, but state wildlife officials said alligators are generally on the move looking for mates and food this time of year.
"As the weather heats up, the alligators' metabolism increases and they have to eat more," Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission spokesman Willie Puz said Sunday. "They might be moving more, but that just shouldn't mean increased alligator attacks."
Florida residents are warned not to swim in heavily vegetated areas, feed wildlife or walk pets near the water, especially between dusk and dawn when gators are more active, Morse said.
"There are some things that can cause alligators to associate people with feeding opportunities," Morse said.