OXFORD, Fla. — A 12-foot pet Burmese python broke out of an aquarium and strangled a 2-year-old girl in her bedroom today at a central Florida home, authorities said.
Shaunia Hare was already dead when paramedics arrived at 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 Shaunia’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 this 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.
The Humane Society of the United States said including today’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. Scientists also speculate a bevy of Burmese pythons escaped in 1992 from pet shops battered by Hurricane Andrew and have been reproducing since.
“It’s becoming more and more of a problem, perhaps no fault of the animal, more a fault of the human,” said Jorge Pino, a state wildlife commission spokesman. “People purchase these animals when they’re small. When they grow, they either can’t control them or release them.”
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.
“They are always operating on instinct,” he said. “Even the largest person can become overpowered by a python.”
Oxford is about 50 miles northwest of Orlando.