Alligator may have killed swimmer, officials say

Jim Okkerse, 62, was reported missing Monday morning.

Still frame from NBC News video

ORANGE CITY, FL. — The body of a missing snorkeler was found Monday afternoon at Blue Spring State Park in Orange City, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission said. Officials said Jim Okkerse, 62, was in the water with friends shortly before 9 a.m. when he left to swim up and down the spring.

Several witnesses spotted a 12-foot alligator in the area where the man disappeared. Deputies said they found the victim’s body shortly after 12 p.m.

The alligator was shot and killed at the state park. Officials said it may have killed Okkerse. Investigators have not said what condition the body was in, but said it will be up to the medical examiner to determine if the alligator attacked the victim, or dragged and drowned him, or if something else happened.

On Monday afternoon trappers dragged the alligator out of the spring. Crews will examine the animal.

“This is a gator that’s been seen in the area. Yesterday they told me they closed the park down twice,” said Lenny Salberg, an officer with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

Russ Anen and his wife, Carol, were swimming and snorkeling with the victim Monday morning. Anen and Okkerse are close friends, and go to the spring three times a week for exercise. Anen first spotted the alligator and went to warn his wife and friend.

“I was watching both of them. But then, while I’m watching, she came down. I warned her. She got on the dock, but Jim was overdue,” Anen said.

Carol Anen said the victim was the strongest swimmer of the three and was ahead of the couple. Carol was nearing him when she said she turned to look and he wasn’t there anymore. “All of a sudden he just disappeared, completely gone out of the water, gone. I swam around, looked for him, didn’t see him,” she said.

Divers recovered Okkerse’s body.

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