A state biologist working in a Florida nature preserve on Wednesday spotted something out of the ordinary — what appeared to be a detached human arm in an alligator’s mouth.
The discovery led to an investigation that lasted into Thursday. That’s when another body part — possibly part of a leg — was located on the bank of the gator-infested canal.
The leg, found about a mile and half away from where the arm, no longer inside the reptile’s mouth, was found in the same Martin County preserve, according to Martin County Sheriff William Snyder.
Snyder said investigators from his department and investigators from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission are now trying to piece together how remains ended up in the John C. and Mariana Jones/Hungryland Wildlife and Environmental Area.
The park, which is more than 16,600 acres, covers both Martin and Palm Beach counties and is about seven miles west of Jupiter. The preserve is used for hunting, fishing, hiking and camping, and is unguarded, allowing people access in and out.
“We are treating this as a homicide,” Snyder said. “It’s a challenging scene because it is so overgrown.”
On Thursday, the preserve was closed and yellow crime scene tape blocked a pathway in the park.
According to the sheriff’s office, forensic detectives and FWC officers were “searching a large area” of the preserve. The remains were found about three miles inside the park, the sheriff’s office said.
Snyder said the medical examiner’s office is trying to determine an identity from the recovered arm.
Meanwhile, investigators have been at the preserve, which the sheriff described as “remote” and “unspoiled,” since Wednesday. They have used helicopters, a dive team, cadaver dogs and other tools to see if there are any more clues hidden in the brush.
It is not known whether a person was attacked by a gator or if a person was killed and dumped in the area, Snyder said.
A sniper is on hand in case there are any issues with the gators, Snyder added.
“There is nothing easy with this case,” he said.
While it is not known yet whether the remains are connected to a gator attack, there have been several alligator-involved incidents in Florida:
▪ In July 2021, a bicyclist was seriously injured when he was bit by a gator in Halpatiokee Regional Park in Stuart.
▪ In 2018, a woman walking her dog in Davie was killed by a gator.
▪ And in 2016, a 2-year-old boy was killed at a Disney resort, prompting Disney to post warning signs.