DAVIE, Fla. — A woman who disappeared while walking her dogs near a Florida lake Friday was bitten and likely killed by an alligator that was later captured, wildlife officials said.
A necropsy confirmed the gator bit Shizuka Matsuki, 47, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission officials said in a statement. The statement said officials believe Matsuki was killed and were searching for her body. Commission spokesman Rob Klepper said they were able to positively identify the woman from evidence collected from the necropsy of the alligator, but he wouldn’t specifically say what that evidence was.
A witness told authorities he saw the woman walking two dogs and then noticed the dogs alone, barking near the water. One of the dogs had a fresh injury, a gash on its side, said Davie Police Detective Viviana Gallinal.
The witness called police when he couldn’t find the woman, Gallinal said. Earlier news media reports indicated the witness reported seeing the gator drag the woman into the water. Police did not immediately clarify the discrepancy.
Trappers have spotted a 12-foot alligator in the pond in Silver Lakes Rotary Nature Park, she said.
Jim Borrelli, a friend of Matsuki, said she and her husband have walked their dogs in the park previously. The couple did not live in the neighborhood, but he said she liked to find different places to walk the dogs. Residents said they often saw her walking them in the area.
Borrelli said Matsuki’s husband, who is out of town and trying to fly home, sent him to the park to get more information after being contacted by Davie Police. Borrelli said he was also asked to break the news to the couple’s son, who is in his 20s and lives in New York.
“I’m praying that nothing happened to her,” Borrelli said.
A man who identified himself as Matsuki’s brother and several other family friends gathered at the scene. He declined to talk but friends described the missing woman as a great friend who loved to cook.
Alligators are opportunistic feeders that will eat what is readily available and easily overpowered. Feeding wild alligators is illegal because they could lose their fear of humans.
Fatal attacks on humans remain rare, however. According to the wildlife commission, the likelihood of a Florida resident being seriously injured during an unprovoked alligator incident in Florida is roughly only 1 in 3.2 million.
From 1948 to 2017, the commission has documented 401 people bitten by alligators, including 24 fatalities. The most recent death occurred in 2016, when a 2-year-old boy playing near the water’s edge at a Walt Disney World resort was killed.
The park where Matsuki disappeared Friday is near the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino, a major Miami-area tourist and entertainment attraction.
Authorities closed the park Friday, but passers-by said they were not surprised to hear about an alligator lurking in the water.
“Any body of water in Florida, you’ve got to know at some point or another there’s an alligator,” said Heather Porrata, who lives nearby.
Sharon Estupinan said a park ranger warned her to walk her dogs farther away from the water’s edge after she saw a 10-foot gator in the pond three days ago.
“I was afraid,” she said. “Every time I walked the dogs during the day, I was like, ‘Oh, my God, I’ve gotta keep away from there. I have to call my dogs,’ so they wouldn’t get close to the water or any of the trees near there because he could be hiding. Although, he’s really big. I don’t think he could really hide.”
Alligators and humans frequently cross paths in Florida, as people increasingly seek waterfront homes and recreation.
The large reptiles can be found in fresh and brackish bodies of water — including lakes, rivers, canals and golf course ponds — and there is roughly 6.7 million acres of suitable habitat statewide. They are particularly active during their mating season in May and June.
Associated Press writers Jennifer Kay and Freida Frisaro in Miami contributed to this report.