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Pensacola Shark Attack - The 'Untold Story'
Part 2: Eyewitness testimony
 More of this Feature
• Part 1: The 'Untold Story'
 Elsewhere on the Web
• Shark Attacks Increasing
• Uncle Details Gulf Coast Shark Attack

Eight-year-old Jessie Arbogast was attacked on July 6 by a 7-foot shark while swimming in shallow water at a Pensacola, Florida beach. He was rescued by his uncle, Vance Flosenzier, who not only whisked the boy to safety but managed to drag the shark — which still had Jessie's severed arm in its mouth — onto the beach, where it was killed by a park ranger. Flosenzier is a hero by all accounts.

Though surgeons successfully reattached Jessie's arm, as of this writing he is still listed in serious condition due to severe internal injuries, massive blood loss and possible brain damage.

No eyewitness accounts implicate Flosenzier in the attack. No one has reported he was fishing at the time, let alone shark fishing. According to a National Park Service report summarized in the Pensacola News Journal on July 19, Flosenzier was wading at the water's edge with another family member just before the attack occurred. Photos taken at the scene confirm this.

The Park Service interviewed all available eyewitnesses on the night of the incident. "Some noted," reads a summary, "that people may have been fishing nearby; however, no one reported seeing anyone shark fishing."

Flosenzier has never expressed "guilt" over the incident (nor has he any reason to), nor have there been reports from any source that he has attempted to commit suicide.

In short, nearly everything alleged in this email contradicts the testimony of eyewitnesses, not to mention press coverage locally and internationally. The conspiracy theory claiming there has been a media cover-up is farcical. Too many different news bureaus have reported on this story for contradictory evidence not to have emerged. It's absurd to assume the media would publish lies for fear that the truth would "effect [sic] the contributions for Jessie."  As the email itself notes, "The money, in my opinion, would still come in."  Who would assume otherwise?

Update 07/26/01:  The Pensacola News Journal reported on Thursday, July 26 that the National Park Service is re-interviewing witnesses to the Arbogast incident to verify its initial conclusion that no one was shark fishing at the scene. "An unsigned e-mail, sent to media outlets, posted in chat rooms and distributed through mailing lists, accuses Flosenzier [the victim's uncle] of doing just that," said reporter Brett Norman. A park ranger called the rumor "absolutely ridiculous" and Flosenzier is on record as saying he doesn't even fish. A supplemental Park Service report will be issued soon.

Update 07/27/01:  "The rumors are not true," reads the headline of an editorial in the July 27 edition of the Pensacola News Journal.  Said rumors began circulating just a few days after the attack occurred, writes Executive Editor Randy Hammer, and newspaper staffers checked them out. "There was no truth to any of it," they concluded. "The park ranger didn't see a hook. The 14-year-old who supposedly saw everything didn't see anything. And he certainly wasn't surfing that day because the Gulf of Mexico was as flat as a pond. The newspaper tracked down tourists in Colorado and Missouri who witnessed the attack, and all of them said the uncle wasn't fishing."  National Park Service computer technicians are attempting to identify the source of the rumor-bearing email.

Sources and further reading:

  • "Jessie's Story Inspires Flood of Gifts, Letters." Pensacola News Journal, 20 July 2001.
  • "Park Report: Shark Victim's Uncle Waged Heroic Rescue." Pensacola News Journal, 19 July 2001.
  • "The Rumors Are Not True: Jessie's Uncle Was Not Shark Fishing." Pensacola News Journal, 27 July 2001.
  • "Shark Expert Makes Visit to Find Answers in Attack." Pensacola News Journal, 14 July 2001.
  • "Shark Fishing Rumor Reopens Accident Probe." Pensacola News Journal, 26 July 2001.
  • "Shark Probe Hunts Source of Bad Email." Pensacola News Journal, 27 July 2001.
  • "Uncle Details Gulf Coast Shark Attack." CNN, 19 July 2001.
  • "Witnesses Recall Fla. Shark Attack." Associated Press, 12 July 2001.

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