The family of the boy killed in a freak alligator attack at Disney World Resort in June have celebrated his life and memory at a public ceremony in their hometown.

Two-year-old Lane Graves was visiting Orlando’s Disney World with the rest of his family in June when he stepped into the waters of the Seven Seas Lagoon at Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort and was taken by an alligator.

Today should have been his third birthday. Instead, his parents were left to hold a memorial celebration in his hometown of Elkton, Nebraska. It marked the first time Lane’s parents have spoken publicly about his death.

“Anybody who knows me knows I don’t like to speak but, my baby, I owe it to him to honour him,” Melissa Graves told the crowd, made up of hundreds of locals who had turned out to pay their respects.

“So his mommy needed to say, ‘Happy birthday, Lanie. You’re in our hearts today and every second of every other day.'”

Lane’s father, Matt Graves, also spoke.

“Today Lane would have turned three 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 are to have spent two years, 11 months and 11 days as a complete family.”

Attendees were asked to wear blue, Lane’s favourite colour. They gathered in the shape of a blue heart to release blue balloons into the air.