Crime & Public Safety

Ohio teen: A shark bit me on the first day of my Hilton Head vacation

'I thought it was my brother messing with me:' Teen describes Hilton Head shark attack

Listen as Ohio teen Reagan Readnour describes the moment she was bit by a shark at Burkes Beach on Hilton Head Island. Warning: This video contains graphic photos of Readnour's injuries.
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Listen as Ohio teen Reagan Readnour describes the moment she was bit by a shark at Burkes Beach on Hilton Head Island. Warning: This video contains graphic photos of Readnour's injuries.

A teenager from Ohio said she was bitten by a shark while on a boogie board on a Hilton Head Island beach during her first day of vacation in mid-June.

Reagan Readnour, 14, was on a boogie board with her feet dangling behind her in waist-deep water off Burkes Beach around noon June 18 when she felt something tug at her leg, she said Friday. She said a shark bit her twice. Local authorities did not report the incident at the time.

“I thought it was my brother messing with me when I felt something grab at my leg,” she said. “I felt a terrible sting and didn’t know what it was.”

Readnour was swimming with a few family members and, at first, wasn’t sure what had happened.

“My brother was laughing at me, ... and then he saw blood and realized it was serious,” she said. “His face turned white, then I started screaming, and they all started helping me and calming me down. I think I kind of blacked out at that point.”

A lifeguard who treated Readnour was told by the beachgoer who alerted him to the problem that it was a stingray wound. Beach Shore Services director Mike Wagner said very few Hilton Head lifeguards have seen shark bites, but they are used to treating stingray wounds.

“I knew it wasn’t a stingray, but they called an ambulance, (and EMS) said it was a shark,” Readnour said. “To my memory, they didn’t clear the beach.”

Wagner said his lifeguards treat more than 500 stingray wounds a year, as opposed to fewer than one shark bite a year.

Readnour said she was treated at Hilton Head Hospital for multiple lacerations across her thigh and calf. She said a doctor there told her it was a shark bite. Hospital spokeswoman Lydia Hill previously said the hospital had not seen any shark bites this summer but later confirmed they had treated a patient with a shark bite on June 18.

Readnour is walking with a slight limp but says her leg, which still has slashes and bruises, is very sore. She plays field hockey and hopes she will be healed by the fall.

“I feel lucky that I only had a few lacerations, and I mean, not a lot of people get to say they got bit by a shark,” Readnour said. “You always hear of people getting their arms bit off and losing a limb from shark bites, and mine wasn’t that bad.”

Readnour said the doctor at Hilton Head Hospital said her wounds, with small punctures on her thigh and several slashes and lacerations around her calf area, were consistent with a bull shark.

A scientist at the University of Florida who has studied shark bites for decades disagrees.

George Burgess, the director of the International Shark Attack File, a long-running database of shark attacks at the Florida Museum of Natural History, took a look at photos of the wounds Friday afternoon and said there is “no way” it was a bull shark. Bull sharks are the most dangerous of local shark species and one of the top three species in the world responsible for unprovoked shark attacks.

“Had this been a bull shark, she would have had major lacerations from the point of contact,” he said. “The wounds would have been a lot more severe.”

Burgess said the wounds were consistent with a blacktip shark, a smaller shark that typically lurks close to shore during summer months in South Carolina, or possibly a spinner, because the teeth were more narrow.

The incident has earned Readnour a new nickname. Her friends, family and teammates now call her “Shark Bait.”

“You have to laugh sometimes at these situations. I mean it was the first day of my vacation, and I rarely go in the water, and that happened,” she said.

Readnour said her family vacations on Hilton Head Island every year and the incident “definitely” won’t keep them away from coming back.

“I mean I’m probably not getting in the ocean again, but I still really love Hilton Head, and we will be back next year,” she said.

Burgess said his team is currently investigating another possible shark bite that occured in the last two weeks on Hilton Head. An Indiana news station reported Thursday that an Indiana teenager was also recently attacked by a shark.

Mandy Matney: 843-706-8147, @MandyMatney