Girl, 9, attacked by shark in St. Lucie
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Paramedics wheel Juliette Shipp, 9, into Lawnwood Regional Medical Center & Heart Institute in Fort Pierce on Tuesday afternoon. The Pennsylvania girl was the victim of an apparent shark bite earlier Tuesday as she played in the surf near Ocean Village on Hutchinson Island. ERIC HASERT email@example.com
"She was in the breakers playing and the mother was about 15 to 20 feet out in the water ... and the screaming just started," said Mary Praslicka, 52, an Ocean Village resident who was on the beach when Juliette apparently was bitten by a shark. "The paramedics came and took her to the hospital. She was a brave little girl, a very brave little girl."
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1882-2005 map of Florida's confirmed unprovoked shark attacks
By DEREK SIMMONSEN
June 28, 2006
HUTCHINSON ISLAND — The water was still and clear as Leslie Shipp idly floated on a raft, watching as her 9-year-old daughter Juliette frolicked nearby on a boogie board in the surf.
When she heard the girl cry out, she thought a crab might have bitten her. Then she saw the wound and the blood and realized it was something much worse.
"She screamed and she lifted her leg up and I could see the huge cut," Shipp said.
The apparent shark attack occurred about 11 a.m. on a stretch of beach in front of Ocean Village. According to police, Juliette said she saw "something gray" in the water just before it bit the calf of her right leg just below the knee.
She was taken to Lawnwood Regional Medical Center & Heart Institute, where she was in good condition Tuesday evening, according to a hospital spokeswoman. Her mother said she has a 2-inch gash on her upper calf and two longer, deeper gouges on the lower part of the calf.
'You just get scared
Shipp has seen the sheriff's office helicopter patrol the beaches in the past looking for sharks and knew about the potential danger, she said. With strong visibility and no apparent signs of the predators, she was caught off guard by what happened, she said.
"The water was so clear. We hadn't seen anything," she said.
The moments after the bite were chaotic, as Shipp tried to pull her daughter out of the water, but found she was surprisingly heavy and their movements were slower than expected.
"I think you just get scared," Shipp said.
A man she didn't know helped pick up her daughter, and the two of them grabbed beach towels to stem the flow of blood. He called 911 on his cell phone, and Shipp was able to get her daughter to the nearby recreation center.
Mary Praslicka, 52, said she came down to the beach for a morning walk when she heard the girl screaming and saw someone pick her up out of the water. While Shipp and the man applied pressure to the wound, Praslicka, who works at the Vero Beach Disney resort, tried to help calm Juliette by talking to her about Mickey Mouse and Disney World.
"She was screaming, 'Am I going to die?' " Praslicka said. "I just wanted to keep her calm until the paramedics got there."
For an active youngster who loves cheerleading, the thought of serious damage to her leg is frightening, Shipp said. Cheerleading camp is coming up soon and Juliette is worried about the attack keeping her from her participating, especially as concerns have been raised about muscle damage.
"She's just not wanting to talk about it or think about it so we're just talking about other things," Shipp said.
A grandmother's fear
Shipp came down last week from Harleysville, Pa., located outside Philadelphia, with Juliette and son George, 11, to stay with her mother Marleen Sherwin at her Ocean Village condo. Sherwin has lived at the complex since 1984 and her grandchildren have been frequent visitors.
"Every day they've gone to the beach," Sherwin said. "We've spent our whole lives at the ocean. We certainly didn't take sharks for granted."
Sherwin and her grandson were out running errands when they returned to Ocean Village and heard the news at the gate. It was the kind of experience every grandmother dreads.
"The first thing I asked was 'Does she have her arms and legs?' " Sherwin said, recalling Bethany Hamilton, the 13-year-old who lost an arm to a shark while surfing in Hawaii in 2003.
They rushed to see her at the hospital, but didn't glimpse the injury firsthand as Juliette didn't want them looking at her badly torn flesh. She was sedated in the afternoon and being prepared for an X-ray, Sherwin said. There is a possibility of surgery to close up the wound.
Her courage in spite of everything impressed her older brother.
"She's doing pretty good," George said. "She didn't really cry or anything."
The family was scheduled to leave next Monday, but Sherwin said she isn't sure how this might change those plans.
"I'm doing better," she said. "We didn't do so good earlier."
Second bite this year
This is the second apparent shark bite in the county this year. On May 4, a Port St. Lucie woman swimming about 500 to 700 yards offshore across from the St. Lucie Nuclear Power Plant was bitten by what experts said was likely a shark.
On Jan. 4, a surfer in Indian River County was bitten on the right wrist and hand by 4-foot shark about 75 yards from shore just south of Round Island Park, and a Miami man was bitten on the left foot by a 2- to 3-foot shark Nov. 21 while surfing just north of Jensen Beach Park.
Sherwin said she heard there were fishermen with lines out for sharks just south of where the attack occurred and she said she worries there might have been a connection between fishing activity and what happened. She said she plans to push for further separation between fishing areas and swim areas.
Two young men were fishing there in the early afternoon, but said they didn't arrive until after the attack occurred. They had one line dedicated to catching a shark, they said.
A sheriff's office helicopter and patrol boat combed the shoreline after the attack and a red flag was posted at the entrance to the beach. The beach has no lifeguard and only a small group of people were out by the water when it happened.
Several residents said they have spotted more sharks in the water lately, including Marie Chase, who said she sees them from her 12th floor condo at Ocean Village.
"They're always out there," she said. "You can see sharks in the morning clear as day."
Bait fish lures sharks close to shoreline
A young and hungry shark likely thought it had found a meal — and was surprised to discover otherwise — when it bit 9-year-old Juliette Shipp, said Dr. Tracey Sutton, a marine scientist at Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institution.
"It was probably a small shark that may have mistaken her leg for a mullet," Sutton said. "It's peak feeding time here because most bait fish are here in the summertime. Sharks follow the bait fish."
The Indian River Lagoon is a prime spot for spawning sharks — including blacktip sharks and spinner sharks — in the spring, Sutton said.
Through the summer, young sharks stay in the area hunting the schools of bait fish that tend to hang out in the surf zone. Sometimes, young sharks get caught at low tide between the beach and sandbars.
"It is highly unusual for someone to get bitten," Sutton said. "(But) if you see bait fish in the water, you want to be extra careful. ... Don't just look for sharks. Look for activity."
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