OMAHA, Neb. — Parents of the toddler who was killed by an alligator at Walt Disney World in Florida say they will always remember their sweet little boy.
Melissa and Matt Graves spoke to a group of several hundred people gathered at Elkhorn South High School football stadium in Elkton, Nebraska, Saturday to remember Lane Graves on what would have been his third birthday.
This was the first time the parents spoke publicly after the tragic attack.
"Happy birthday Laney," Melissa Graves said to the crowd.
"Anyone who knows me knows I don't like to speak but, my baby, I owe it to him to honor him," she said. "So his mommy needed to say, Happy birthday Laney. You're in our hearts today and every second of every other day."
"You'll always be Mommy's loving, sweet baby boy," she continued.
"When we were apart you would tell us, 'I missed you' as we walked through the door. You would always come running with a big hug and kiss. We miss you buddy and we miss those hugs and kisses. We all love you so very, very much."
Lane Graves was wading in the lagoon at a Walt Disney World resort on June 14 when an alligator snatched him up and pulled him into the water. The boy's body was recovered the next day. Autopsy revealed later that Graves died from drowning and traumatic injuries.
The Omaha World-Herald reported that Melissa Graves said the family wanted to celebrate Lane's "first birthday in heaven."
Matt Graves said Lane's life brought the family so much joy.
"Today Lane would have turned three years old but we celebrate his first birthday in heaven with the community that has surrounded us with love and support," he said. "Melissa and I often speak of how lucky we were to have spent two years, 11 months and 11 days as a complete family."
The crowd wore blue shirts and released blue balloons into the air.
Since the attack, Walt Disney World has built a stone wall around the lake where the toddler was attacked. Alligator warning signs have also been placed around the perimeter.