Friends, family and neighbors gathered Saturday to celebrate what would have been the third birthday of Lane Graves, the boy killed by an alligator at a Walt Disney World resort in June.
"Anybody who knows me knows I don't like to speak but, my baby, I owe it to him to honor him," Melissa Graves, Lane's mother, told the crowd at Elkhorn South High School football field in Elkton, Neb., where the family lives. "So his mommy needed to say, 'Happy birthday, Lanie. You're in our hearts today and every second of every other day.'"
The birthday celebration marks the first time the Graves have spoken publicly since their son's death. The 2-year-old boy was making sand castles near the water's edge at Disney's Grand Floridian Resort on June 14 when an alligator bit the boy's head and dragged him into the water, according to a report from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.
Matt Graves, Lane's father, also spoke at the birthday celebration, thanking everyone who turned out for their support.
"Today Lane would have turned 3 years old, but we celebrate his first birthday in heaven with the community that has surrounded us with love and support," he said. "Melissa and I often speak of how lucky we were to have spent two years, 11 months and 11 days as a complete family."
Attendees were asked to wear blue in Lane's honor, People reported. They gathered in the shape of heart and released blue balloons into the air.