A large snake has escaped from a pet shop in Canada and killed two boys sleeping nearby, police said.
The python was able to get out of its enclosure and slither up into the ventilation system of Reptile Ocean Inc. in Campbellton, New Brunswick. Brothers Noah Barthe, 5, and Connor Barthe, 7, were sleeping over at their friend’s apartment above the shop.
The Royal Canadian Mounted Police said they arrived at the building at around 6:30am to find the two boys dead, while their friend was unharmed in another room. Police spokeswoman Const. Julie Rogers-Marsh said the apartment belonged to the owner of the pet shop.
Police said they believed the snake was able to travel through the building using a system of vents, though they did not explain how it escaped its enclosure.
“It's believed the two boys were strangled by the snake,” Const. Rogers-Marsh said.
A statement from the police said that they had captured the reptile, initially thought to be a boa constrictor but later identified as an African rock python, and that it was in their possession.
The victims, who will undergo post mortem examinations today, were reported by local media to be brothers, though police could not confirm they were related.
Const. Rogers-Marsh said: “It's very unusual and very tragic and difficult for everyone involved.”
The town's deputy mayor, Ian Comeau, said Reptile Ocean was licensed to operate and “everything was according to our bylaws, to the provincial guidelines.”
The deaths of the boys have been “a shock” and “unbelievable”, Mr Comeau said on Monday evening. He said he had been on a tour of the shop two years ago with the fire department, and seen they had alligators and crocodiles as well as snakes.
The BBC reported that Reptile Ocean posted a Facebook message saying: “Deepest sympathies go out to the family of the children. A terrible accident without a meaning.”
The store then said it would temporarily suspend the online account because users were posting “demeaning comments”.
David Rogrigue, director of Montreal's Ecomuseum Zoo, told the Agence France-Presse news agency that this attack was “difficult to believe... very, very extraordinary, and very improbable”.
But in Mark O’Shea’s 2007 book Boas and Pythons of the World, the African rock python is described as the continent’s largest snake, Africa’s “giant” equivalent to the anaconda.
They have been confirmed to reach lengths of up to 7.5m (25ft), and Mr O’Shea said: “These are often bad-tempered snakes and large examples not only have the capability of easily killing an adult human but there are also several well-documented cases of their eating people.”