CAMPBELLTON, N.B. -- Two boys were killed by a python snake as they slept in an apartment above a pet store in northern New Brunswick, the RCMP said Monday.
Reports say the boys, aged five and seven, were visiting the son of Jean-Claude Savoie, owner of Reptile Ocean Inc., in his second-floor apartment over the pet store in Campbellton when the incident occurred.
Const. Jullie Rogers-Marsh said police arrived at the apartment around 6:30 a.m. after a 911 call from Savoie. Officers found the two boys dead while Savoie's son, who slept in another room, was unharmed.
Rogers-Marsh said the working RCMP theory is that the snake escaped its enclosure in the store during the night, got into the ventilation system and into the upstairs apartment. CTV Atlantic reported that the approximately 4.5-metre-long snake crashed through the roof of the living room where the boys were staying and suffocated the two boys.
"It's believed the two boys were strangled by the snake," Rogers-Marsh said.
She said the snake, identified by RCMP as an African rock python, was later captured and is in the possession of police.
The species can grow up to 4.5 metres long and weigh 45 kg.
Rogers-Marsh said autopsies were to be performed on the two victims today. She couldn't confirm whether the two boys were related.
RCMP later confirmed a criminal investigation is underway.
Savoie told CTV Atlantic he had owned the snake since 2001 and rarely handled the dangerous animal, which wasn't for sale.
He also told Global News, "My body is in shock. I don't know what to think" after identifying the boys as the children of his "best friend" who often slept over at his apartment.
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... it is unbelievable," Comeau said Monday.
"Some still don't believe it," said Comeau, who toured the shop with the fire department about two years ago so firefighters could "know where these animals were -- alligators, crocodiles and snakes," he said.
The store's Facebook page became a lightning rod for community anger before it was shut down by an administrator, with commenters posting accusatory remarks such as "You should be dumped in jail."
The administrator's final post read "You should be ashamed of yourselves" before the page went dark.
Fatal attacks from pet snakes are extremely rare, partly due to restrictions on their trade. In 2009, New Brunswick relaxed some of its rules on the sale of exotic pets, including snakes, under pressure from pet-store owners.
The changes allow non-venomous snakes under three metres long to be sold.
-- The Canadian Press