Shark attack victims are recovering from life-altering injuries in Florida panhandle

Jun 10, 2024, 4:21 PM

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. (AP) — Days after a shark attack in the Florida panhandle cost teenager Lulu Gribbin her left hand and right leg, her mother said the first words she uttered after surgery were “I made it.”

Gribbin was one of three people injured in shark attacks Friday over the course of about 90 minutes in Walton County.

In a post on Caringbridge.org, Lulu Gribbin’s mother, Ann Blair Gribbin, said the attack happened during her first mother-daughter beach trip with Lulu. She recounted the scene as “something out of a movie” and said her daughter was on a sand bar in waist-high water looking for sand dollars when she was bitten.

A man grabbed her uninjured arm, pulled Lulu out and was quickly surrounded by beachgoers, including two doctors and a nurse. The teenager, who is from Mountain Brook, Alabama, was then airlifted to Ascension Sacred Heart Pensacola.

“At this point we will have multiple surgeries in the days to come and our lives will be forever changed,” Ann Blair Gribbin wrote. “Lulu is strong, beautiful, brave and so many more things I can’t count. God has a plan for her, and we will be there to support her every way we can.”

The first victim in Friday’s attacks was Elisabeth Foley, a 45-year-old wife and mother from Virginia who lost her left hand and suffered severe injuries to her midsection. Gribbin, 15, was the second person bitten, and her friend McCray Faust suffered minor injuries to her foot.

Walton County Sheriff’s Office spokeswoman Corey Dobridnia said in a statement Monday that the victims are in stable condition despite “life-altering injuries.” Dobridnia also encouraged beachgoers to watch for beach flags and be aware of their surroundings in the water.

Authorities closed area beaches Friday and posted warning flags indicating high hazards on Saturday. Monday morning, yellow flags flew to indicate moderate surf or currents, according to the Visit South Walton website.

“We are guests in the Gulf,” Dobridnia wrote. “We all must accept some amount of risk when entering the water. That DOES NOT take away from these two ladies whose lives are forever changed.”

Gavin Naylor, director of the Florida Museum of Natural History’s shark research program, said he believed the presence of menhaden fish — bait fish that sharks are attracted to — may have led to the attacks. Globally, about 50 to 80 people are bitten each year and about five die, he said.

In Florida, the victims “just happened to be at the wrong place at the right time,” he said.

Foley’s husband, Ryan Foley, wrote a statement to their church, Winns Baptist Church in Glen Allen, Virginia, saying his wife is “hanging in there and has a super positive attitude.”

“Thank the Lord she is so tough and in great physical condition. Her faith is what’s getting her through, coupled with countless other blessings,” Foley wrote.

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Shark attack victims are recovering from life-altering injuries in Florida panhandle