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Pet python escapes, kills girl in Fla.

Associated Press / July 2, 2009
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OXFORD, Fla. - An 8-foot pet Burmese python broke out of an aquarium and strangled a 2-year-old girl in her bedroom yesterday at a central Florida home, authorities said.

Shaunnia Hare was already dead when paramedics arrived at the scene about 10 a.m., Lieutenant Bobby Caruthers of the Sumter County sheriff’s office said.

Charles Jason Darnell, the snake’s owner and the boyfriend of Shaunnia’s mother, discovered the snake missing from its aquarium and went to the girl’s room, where he found it on the girl and bite marks on her head, Caruthers said. 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 yesterday afternoon, awaiting a search warrant to remove the snake from the home. It was unclear if it 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.

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

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.