According to staff writer Joy Hirdes Beech:
The victim was identified as Jamie Daigle [age 14] on Saturday night by the Rev. Gary Belsome, pastor of St. Theresa of Avila Catholic Church in Gonzales, where Daigle celebrated her eighth-grade graduation just three weeks ago. Daigle had traveled to Florida with another family for a camping trip. She and a friend were on boogie boards about 250 yards offshore when they noticed a shadow in the water, authorities said.It is the first reported shark attack in Florida this year. It's not likely to be the last.
Daigle was bitten on her lower body, said Walton County Sheriff's Office spokeswoman Donna Shank. Her friend was not injured.
Tim Dicus, a surfer, saw the attack and went to assist Daigle, said Lt. Frank E. Owens of the Sheriff's Office.
Dicus, 54, who had heard a scream from the water, said he found Daigle in the center of a bloody circle of water with a serious injury to her thigh. The girl's friend had begun swimming toward shore.
"I immediately paddled over and found her floating face down in the center of the blood pool," Dicus said. "And right next to her was the shark, about to come up and attack her again."
Dicus said he put the girl on his surfboard and that the shark, which he said appeared to be a bull shark about 8 feet long, went after her hand.
"He just followed us right to the beach," Dicus said, adding that he punched the shark on the nose when it tried to attack him. "He was determined."
Two other swimmers came with a raft and helped tow Daigle to shore. Daigle was taken to Sacred Heart Hospital in Destin, where she was pronounced dead.
According to mutliple news reports, the victim was swimming on a boogie board well off shore and beyond the underwater sand bar that usually lies 100 to 250 yards offshore. That's very risky behavior. Locals know this. It puts you right in the middle of Mother Nature's smorgasbord.
But beach visitors often do not know this. And why should they? Do you know the riskiest streets in St. Louis, Cleveland, or Buffalo to avoid?
Too many Florida Panhandle communities make no effort whatsoever to forewarn the public about natural hazards which experience shows visitors from distant areas do not fully appreciate. Few beaches along the panhandle have prominent warning signs, make a concerted program to broadcast PSAs on radio and television, rope off a few swimming areas for safer public use, distribute leaflets and PSA ads in local papers and tourist brochures, or even hire enough lifeguards to adequately patrol the beaches.
Here's a modest proposal: The state, counties, and every beach community along the Panhandle that feeds off the tourist trade ought to be required to spend at least $1 annually on beach safety warning signs, lifeguards, and safety equipment for every $100 they spend on tourist promotion. That's just 1%.
If we're going to profit off enticing the public to visit and enjoy the beach, we ought to share our local knowledge about the risks and make at least a modest effort to protect them. It's not only the humane thing to do, it's good business.