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Florida beaches open after shark attack

14-year-old girl killed offshore in the Florida Panhandle

Jamie Marie Daigle died Saturday after being attacked by a shark near Destin, Florida.



MIRAMAR BEACH, Florida (CNN) -- The beaches of northwest Florida reopened Sunday, a day after a 14-year-old girl died in a shark attack, but were largely abandoned as visitors shied away from the water.

Jamie Daigle, of Gonzales, Louisiana, and her friend Felicia Venable, also 14, were swimming Saturday morning about 200 yards offshore in the Gulf of Mexico when they saw a dark shadow in the water, according to a statement issued Sunday by the Walton County Sheriff's Office.

Daigle was severely bitten, with bites on "the lower portions of her body," the statement said.

Police said Venable began heading for shore to get help from relatives when she saw her friend had been bitten and was being pulled under.

The attack happened at about 11:15 a.m. in front of a campground near the Sandestin Golf and Beach Resort in the Florida Panhandle between Pensacola and Panama City, eight miles east of Destin.

Emergency personnel were on the scene quickly and attempted to save Daigle, but she died as a result of her wounds, authorities said.

Both girls were using boogie boards, said Lt. Frank Owens of the Walton County Sheriff's Office.

"For a regular swimmer, she was pretty far out," Capt. Danny Glidewell of the sheriff's office said. Usually, only surfers go that far out in the water, he said.

Once swimmers pass the first sandbar and drop-off, "you will experience more sightings of sharks," he said, although the area has never before had a shark attack.

A shark also was spotted in area waters Sunday, closer to shore than where Saturday's attack occurred.

Daigle's family was back in Gonzales, about 60 miles west of New Orleans. Their priest, Father Gary Belsome, said he met with her relatives early Sunday.

"They're doing well," Belsome said. "They're surrounded by friends and family. People are pulling together."

Center of the 'blood pool'

Tim Dicus was surfing near the girls Saturday when he heard a scream.

"I was about 200 yards out, just past the second sandbar," Dicus said. "And when I heard the scream, I turned around and saw one of the girls swimming towards the beach frantically and the other one had disappeared and there was a big dark spot where she used to be in the water."

"She was unconscious when I got to the blood pool," Dicus said.

"So I tried to pull her from the water -- the shark had made an attack when I was trying to get her out of the water. But it gave me enough time to get her on to the board once he had to come back around to make another attack."

Dicus said the shark -- about 8 feet long -- continued to try to attack them on his surfboard as he made his way to shore.

"He was really aggressive," Dicus said. "I've been here a long time and I've never seen a shark get that aggressive."

"She was hurt really bad. It looked like she was going to at least lose her leg," Dicus said.

"The damage on her left leg was really extensive, and I didn't know whether she had just gone into shock -- but she'd pretty much stopped bleeding by the time I got her on to the beach -- so I didn't know how we were going to save her."

Dicus said he had warned other swimmers earlier in the day against going out too far, fearing shark attacks.

Although shark sightings are not uncommon along the coast, no one had seen a shark in the area Saturday before the attack, Owens said.

The area was under green flags, meaning calm surf, Glidewell said. Authorities did not know the kind of shark that attacked the girl.

Deaths from unprovoked shark attacks are rare, according to statistics compiled by the International Shark Attack File.

Seven people were killed in shark attacks worldwide in 2004, including two in the United States. California and Hawaii each recorded one shark attack death last year.

There were 12 shark attacks on Florida beaches in 2004, down sharply from 30 in 2003. Experts credit the busy hurricane season in 2004 for the lower numbers.

Shark scientist Dr. Erich Ritter said he would attend the girl's autopsy Monday morning in Pensacola.

Ritter, who describes himself as a shark behaviorist, said an examination of her wounds would reveal the shark's size, species and likely motivation.

Ritter said it is possible the girl was attacked because she got in the shark's way as it headed toward a meal.

The shark also could have mistaken splashing by the girls as activity by fish, he said. The wounds could show which it was, Ritter said.

CNN's Drew Griffin contributed to this report.

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