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Woman who lost arm in alligator attack in Wekiva River identified

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SEMINOLE COUNTY, Fla. - Trappers have captured and killed a more than 300-pound alligator that bit off most of a woman's arm Saturday afternoon as she swam in the waters of the Wekiva River, according to wildlife officials.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission said the woman, later identified as Rachael Lilienthal, 37, was bitten shortly before 3:30 p.m.

FWC officials said the animal was about 8 feet, 9 inches long.


Photos: Woman attacked by alligator in Wekiva River


Lilienthal's arm was torn off above her elbow, and she was also bitten on her back and her abdomen, said FWC spokeswoman Karen Parker.

To evade the crowded waters near Wekiva Island, Lilienthal swam to a remote, wooded part of the river and that’s when she felt the alligator pull her under, Parker said.

She told rescuers she felt the alligator sever her arm, but she wasn’t sure how many times it pulled her underwater.

“I saw her in the water swimming, and for her to come back without her arm, that was very scary,” said witness Vonda Payne. “She was in the water for a long time, and where she was, she had to have been really far, because it took them awhile to get up to the ramp to get her out.”

Two kayakers came to Lilienthal’s rescue.

“One of them hit the gator with a paddle and (the gator) released the victim. They got her to safety,” said Parker.

Witnesses rushed to help Lilienthal.

“We (were) under the tent trying to get help, because the girl was going crazy, saying, ‘Call 911.’ We need a boat, because an alligator bit this girl’s arm off,” said Payne.

Lilienthal was rushed to Orlando Regional Medical Center, where she underwent surgery.

Sunday morning, Wekiva Island officials announced that FWC trappers had captured the alligator around midnight after setting bait traps.

Lilienthal’s neighbors were shocked to learn of the attack.

“We didn’t believe it was her. We were completely blown away that something happened to her. It’s crazy,” said Cameron Smothers. “She is always very positive, very spiritual. She has helped us since the day we moved in.”

FWC officials euthanized and disposed of the gator. Officials said they knew they got the right alligator because of evidence that was found in the animal’s stomach.