Location: Refugio, Texas
Date: August 2, 1991
On August 2, 1991, eight-year-old Brandon Hughes and his five-year-old sister, Ashley, were visiting their aunt, Vernell Waldrop, in rural Refugio, Texas. That afternoon, the children decided to swim in the Mission River, which flows behind Vernell's house, something they'd done countless times before.
Ashley played on the dock, while Brandon swam across the river in his life vest, anxious to show off his swimming ability to his aunt. Next door, Chris and Bob Stapleton's dog barked at Brandon from the back porch. Chris walked outside to hush her dog and noticed a log floating in the river toward Brandon. It took another second for Chris to realize that the log was actually an alligator. "Bob, get your gun!," yelled Chris to her husband who was indoors. "There's a gator got a kid out here!"
Chris hollered to Vernell that there was an alligator in the water near Brandon. When Vernell looked up from the dock where she was playing with Ashley, she saw Brandon thrashing around in the water. The alligator had clamped his massive jaw on Brandon's arm. Brandon screamed for help, hit the alligator with his free hand, and kicked him with his feet, but he couldn't free himself. Vernell dove into the water and swam toward Brandon. "If the gator was going to take Brandon," recalls Vernell, "he was going to have to take me with him, because I wasn't going to give up."
Meanwhile, Bob ran down to the riverbank and aimed his rifle. He could not shoot the alligator yet without risking hitting Brandon. "All I could do was aim, get ready, and set," recalls Bob.
As Vernell swam across the river, the alligator released Brandon's arm. Brandon swam away, but the alligator attacked again, this time locking its jaw onto his leg. Brandon kicked and fought, but the alligator repeatedly dragged him underwater. Suddenly, the gator released Brandon for the second time. Brandon swam toward Vernell. Bob fired and the alligator sank out of sight. Vernell reached Brandon, grabbed his life vest, and pulled him to the bank. Bob kept a watchful eye on the water and saw the alligator resurface. He fired again and the gator disappeared for good.
"Aunt Vern, am I gonna die?" asked Brandon as his aunt took off his life vest. Vernell explained that he was going to live and that she was going to take him to the hospital. Vernell called the hospital to alert them she would be arriving with a victim of an alligator bite.
The report of an alligator attack surprised the local game warden because as a rule, alligators are non-aggressive animals who do not attack unless they are cornered or are protecting their nest.
Brandon was treated at the hospital for multiple puncture wounds to his leg and arm and was released the same night. "I'm proud of myself," says Brandon, "because I beat up an alligator." Chris believes that Brandon's life vest played a major role in his survival by keeping him from being dragged under the water. "If he hadn't had that life jacket on," says Chris, "he would have been in a world full of trouble." Says Brandon, "I will never, ever, in my whole life get back in that river till I'm thirty-eight."