Ominous warning came days before Florida woman was killed by a 12-foot alligator
One moment, Shizuka Matsuki was out for a walk with her pit bulls, standing next to a pond at Silver Lakes Rotary Nature Park in Davie, Florida, roughly 30 miles north of Miami.
The next moment, she was gone.
The only sign that the 47-year-old woman had ever been there Friday morning, June 8, were the dogs, now alone and barking near the water, refusing to leave. One sported a fresh, bloody wound.
A witness who ultimately called authorities walked toward the dogs and spotted a large alligator in the water, according to Miami ABC-affiliate WPLG. And only one car was in a nearby parking lot - registered to Matsuki and her husband.
Still, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission warned people not to jump to conclusions about what had happened on the side of the pond until they could investigate.
By late Friday, they revealed the grisly news.
A trapper hired by authorities removed a 12-foot-6-inch alligator from the pond and killed it. Inside the animal, authorities found "evidence . . . that indicates that the victim of this incident was bitten by the alligator that was captured."
That evidence was a human arm, the Florida Sun-Sentinel reported, citing authorities. They were able to confirm it was Matsuki's appendage because of a distinctive tattoo.
Authorities located her body a short time later, the FWC announced on Twitter.
Neighbors at the gated Isla del Sol community in Plantation, where Matsuki lived, told the Miami Herald she was a "soccer mom" whom they frequently saw walking her dogs in the morning while wearing workout gear.
Her husband was away in Chicago on Friday, neighbor Peter Limia told the Herald, but had warned Matsuki to be careful - or to possibly avoid walks alone at the nature park altogether.
"He had warned her not to take the dogs over to that place because they had seen gators before and it isn't safe," Limia said, relaying what he had heard from other neighbors.
But people in Matsuki's neighborhood had received other warnings about another body of water where she frequently walked her dogs.
On Wednesday, one of her neighbors snapped a picture of an alligator lounging on a front porch, the Herald reported.
Police were called, and the gator was removed.
According to the Florida Sun-Sentinel, the Isla del Sol Homeowners Association sent an email to its residents shortly after the six-foot gator was trapped.
It urged people to "exercise caution with our families and pets, mindful that alligators, snakes, and other wildlife may be in the area."
It's unclear if Matsuki ever received or read that message, or if it had encouraged her to put her dogs in the car and take them for a walk at a spot farther from home.
She was a frequent visitor to Silver Lakes Rotary Nature Park, but authorities have not said why she opted to go there Friday morning.
Nate Fischer, a neighbor of Matsuki's, wrote on Facebook that Matsuki would frequently let her dogs off their leashes, allowing them to swim in the water. He saw them occasionally when he was fishing in the neighborhood.
The warning from the neighborhood association about alligators in the water may have prompted her to change things up and go to a lake farther away.
"I think she stopped walking her dogs behind our house when one of our neighbor's dogs was taken by [an] alligator," he wrote.
"She probably thought that Lake was [a] safer alternative, after so many gators have been showing up around here lately."
Florida wildlife officials have logged 401 "unprovoked bite incidents" from 1948 to 2017, according to a fact sheet published in 2017. At least 24 of those incidents resulted in fatalities, according to the report.
Before Matsuki's death, the most recent fatality was in June 2016, when a Nebraska boy whose family was visiting the Walt Disney World Resort was snatched by an alligator and pulled into a lake at the Grand Floridian Resort & Spa.
Story by Cleve Wootson. Wootson is a general assignment reporter for The Washington Post. He was previously a reporter for the Charlotte Observer.