A 62-year-old man is dead, possibly after being attacked by an alligator, after disappearing for a short time while swimming Monday morning at Blue Spring State Park.
If a gator was, indeed, the culprit, it would be the park's first recorded alligator attack in recent history.
James Okkerse, of Orange City, was known to frequently come to Blue Spring for a morning swim with two other people.
The couple said they saw Okkerse face down in the spring Monday morning and went to help him. But in an instant, he vanished under the water.
"I saw him floating around and thought he was diving," said Carol Anen. "When I got there, he totally disappeared — totally, completely disappeared."
Anen said she and her husband lost sight of Okkerse around 9 a.m. The three would get together three times a week to swim about a mile each in the spring. According to Anen, Okkerse was the best swimmer of the three of them.
A dive team with the Volusia County Sheriff's Office located Okkerse's body shortly after noon several yards from the group's starting point. They also found the victim's snorkeling equipment.
(Saul Saenz, Staff)
Anen said her greatest fear is this may have been a gator attack.
"My husband said he saw a 9-foot gator," Anen said. "I saw a lot of disturbance in the water, and my husband yelled at me to get out."
"We don't even know at this point if there's a gator involved for the cause of death," said Florida Fish and Wildlife Officer Lenny Salberg.
Though wildlife officers would not confirm this was a gator attack, they and sheriff's deputies started searching for a gator fitting the Anens' description. A professional trapper captured a 12-foot alligator near the area where Okkerse's body was found.
Salberg said an autopsy on Okkerse will determine if he was the victim of a gator attack.
Anen said Okkerse leaves behind his 90-year-old mother, whom he was caring for before his death Monday.
Several agencies searched for the missing swimmer at Blue Spring State Park on Monday, Oct. 19, 2015. (Saul Saenz, Staff)