‘What do you do? Do you jump in the water?’ Witness calls 911 during alligator attack
There’s an inviting wooden bench shaded by a tree just a stone’s throw from last week’s tragedy.
Let’s sit on it, here off Governors Lane in Sea Pines on Hilton Head Island, and talk.
Did you see those Facebook comments folks posted after Cassandra Cline died, just a few feet from this bench?
R.I.P. (She was, and is, loved.)
But one person commented it might have ended differently if she’d had a gun and could have shot the alligator that dragged her and her dog into that lagoon right there — where she drowned. Crazy, right? What’s the point of keyboard quarterbacking this freak, terrible thing, opining on Facebook about what she should or shouldn’t have done?
And then there’s this one: “I don’t understand why people are blaming the alligator, it’s her own fault for her death.” (There’s more to the comment — an additional sentence — but it falls flat after the victim-blaming.)
Maybe the worst one, though, was in response to an article written Monday that tells people what Cline’s friends and family are doing to honor her legacy as a teacher, how they’ve organized a school-supplies drive in her hometown New York school district. The article’s headline reads: “Here’s how you can honor the memory of the ... woman killed in gator attack.” Some guy commented: “By not walking your dog too close to a pond known to have alligators...”
That same guy clicked the “Haha” emoji — the animated face with squinting eyes that looks to be in full belly laugh — under the article.
And that guy’s use of the word “known” — it’s like he’s saying, “Shame on you, dummy,” scolding her between laughs. “Don’t be stupid like her, folks!”
I reached out to that guy, sent him a note through Facebook, asked him what, exactly, he intended his comment to mean, and why he posted it — what need did it fulfill?
He didn’t respond — maybe he didn’t get the message.
But I appreciate you sitting with me here, on this bench, talking.
That gently sloping bank over there, that’s where one of her shoes rested just after the incident. State officials said it appeared Cline and her dog were “very near” the edge of the lagoon — something Facebookers like to point out, with varying degrees of officiousness — but it’s hard not to be near the lagoon on this part of Governors Lane. And the bank that borders it, well, it looks like a place (meaning not a neighbor’s yard) where a dog might do its business.
We know people witnessed the alligator attack.
We know from the 911 audio that a caller said “it dragged her in the water.” “I mean, what can you do?” the caller asked.
We know that a neighbor kept her wet, muddy dog in his house in the immediate aftermath, and later saw her body being pulled from the water.
We don’t know everything that happened that day, just that something terrible did. But would knowing every detail of the tragedy change people’s response to it — would more information help them better sympathize or empathize with a husband who lost a wife, a family who lost a sister and a daughter, a group of first-graders who lost the teacher who just shepherded them through kindergarten?
It’s one thing to talk about what we can do to prevent a tragedy in the future; that’s a conversation that can take place with compassion, respect and thoughtfulness.
It’s something entirely different to pile on, to make assumptions about what a victim was doing or thinking, to say what you would have done in that situation.
You weren’t there. Hopefully you never will be.
I wish a lot of folks could have sat on this bench last week.
They would have seen neighbors with pinched brows and tired eyes. The grim faces of officials tasked with fishing a body from a lagoon, identifying it and contacting the next of kin. A group of loved ones sitting on the front deck of a house, keeping watch while a family grieved.
That house — Cline’s and her husband’s — isn’t far from this bench.
The sound of our conversation won’t carry there.
Still, I wonder if the folks who used her death as an opportunity to be snarky or funny or cruel would utter the same words here, on this bench.
Would they step from behind their keyboard shields — could they look a person in the eye, and hurt them?
Maybe they’ll stay quiet next time, after the next tragedy.
What’s that old saying? If you can’t say something nice, say nothing at all.
That’s something most kindergartners know.