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Pet Burmese python strangles 2-year-old in her crib

The reptile had escaped from its enclosure and crawled into the girl's room. The snake's owner did not have a permit for the 8-foot python.

July 02, 2009|Associated Press

OXFORD, FLA. — A pet Burmese python measuring more than 8 feet long broke out of a terrarium and strangled a 2-year-old girl in her bedroom Wednesday, authorities said.

Shaiunna Hare was dead when paramedics arrived about 10 a.m., Lt. Bobby Caruthers of the Sumter County Sheriff's Office said.

Charles Jason Darnell, the snake's owner and the boyfriend of Shaiunna's mother, discovered the terrarium empty and went to the girl's room, where he found the snake on the girl and bite marks on her head, Caruthers said. Darnell, 32, stabbed the snake until he could pry the child away.

"The baby's dead!" a sobbing caller from the house screamed to a 911 dispatcher in a recording. "Our stupid snake got out in the middle of the night and strangled the baby."

Authorities removed the snake from the home Wednesday afternoon after obtaining a search warrant. The python was still alive.

Darnell did not have a permit for the snake, which would be a second-degree misdemeanor, said Joy Hill, a spokeswoman with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. He has not been charged, but Caruthers said investigators were looking into whether there was child neglect or if any other laws were broken.

Hill said the snake will be placed with someone who has a permit, pending an investigation into the girl's death.

George Van Horn, owner of Reptile World Serpentarium in St. Cloud, said the strangulation could have occurred because the snake felt threatened or because it thought the child was food.

The Humane Society of the United States said counting Wednesday's death, at least 12 people have been killed in the U.S. by pet pythons since 1980, including five children.

Burmese pythons are not native to Florida, but they easily survive in the state and can reach a length of 26 feet and weigh more than 200 pounds.

Some owners have freed pythons into the wild, and a population of them has taken hold in the Everglades. One killed an alligator and then burst when it tried to eat it.

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