OXFORD, Fla. – Authorities in central Florida said a pet Burmese python broke out of an aquarium and strangled a two-year-old girl in her bedroom on Wednesday.
Lt. Bobby Caruthers of the Sumter County Sheriff’s Office said the girl, Shaunia Hare, was already dead when paramedics arrived at about 10 a.m.
Charles Jason Darnell, the snake’s owner and the boyfriend of Shaunia’s mother, discovered the snake missing from its aquarium.
He went to the girl’s room, where he found the snake on the girl and bite marks on her head. Darnell, 32, stabbed the snake until he was able to pry the child away.
Authorities remained outside the small, tan home, bordered by cow pastures Wednesday afternoon, awaiting a search warrant to remove the snake from the home.
It was unclear if the python, nearly four metres long, was still alive.
Joy Hill, a spokeswoman with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, said Darnell did not have a permit for the snake.
Darnell has not been charged, but Caruthers said investigators were looking into whether there was child neglect or if any other laws were broken.
The Humane Society of the United States said including 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 eight metres.
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. Scientists also speculate a bevy of Burmese pythons escaped in 1992 from pet shops battered by Hurricane Andrew and have been reproducing since.
Oxford is about 80 kilometres northwest of Orlando.