FANNING SPRINGS, FL — A 5-year-old Florida girl riding in a boat has died after a sturgeon leaped from the Suwannee River and struck her.
Wildlife officials said the young girl, Jaylon Rippy, died after being struck Thursday night.
Her mother and 9-year-old brother were also injured and taken to a Gainesville hospital. Both of them will need facial surgery, WTSP-TV reported.
Friends and family have started a fundraising website for the family. In just one day, the site raised nearly $8,000 with a goal of $25,000.
The close-knit community is mourning the loss of the lively young girl, who is seen in many Facebook photos swimming and playing near the Suwannee River.
“Tanya, Waylon, Trevor, our heart breaks for you. I pray you have comfort knowing she’s in our Lords arms waiting to see you again. We will continue praying! Love you,” Buddy & Sandi McGee wrote on social media.
Just 1 month ago, a Florida teenager enjoying a family boat ride was knocked unconscious when a sturgeon leapt out of the water and struck her.
Heavyn Nash, 14, was boating along the Suwanee River south of Manatee Springs with her mother and grandfather when the fish, 4 to 6 feet long, jumped into the boat, according to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.
Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission said this is the first fatality recorded from a sturgeon strike on the Suwannee River. Four people have been injured by jumping sturgeon this year.
No sturgeon strikes were reported last year or in 2013. Because water levels have been dropping, the sturgeon are jumping more often, officials said.
The fish are known for leaping more than 7 feet above the water. They can grow up to 8 feet long and weigh up to 200 pounds and can cause serious injuries.
— The Associated Press and NBC News contributed to this report