US & Canada

Criminal investigation launched in Canada python deaths

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Media captionConnor and Noah Barthe's great-uncle: "They were two typical children who enjoyed life to the maximum"

Police in the Canadian province of New Brunswick have launched a criminal probe into the apparent killing of two young boys by an escaped snake.

Investigators hope to establish if the African rock python's owner, who runs a pet store, had followed all the rules.

Connor and Noah Barthe, aged six and four, were sleeping over in the flat where their friend lived above the Campbellton shop on Sunday night.

The 4.3m (14ft) python, suspected of strangling the boys, has been put down.

At a press briefing on Tuesday, police said the bodies of the two boys had been removed from the apartment on Monday night.

'Horrific scene'

They were taken to the province's city of Saint John for post-mortem examinations.

Royal Canadian Mounted Police Sergeant Alain Tremblay said: "I confirm it's a criminal investigation because two young boys lost their life."

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Media captionJean-Claude Savoie told Global News that he wanted to kill the snake himself when he discovered what had happened

No charges have been filed in the case.

According to initial reports, the 100lb (45kg) snake escaped from the Reptile Ocean exotic pet store.

But police said on Tuesday that the serpent had been kept in a glass cage inside the flat above the shop.

Jean-Claude Savoie, Reptile Ocean's owner, said the snake somehow escaped from the enclosure, before entering a ventilation duct and falling into the living room where the boys were sleeping.

Mr Savoie said he thought the youngsters were sleeping until he turned the lights on and was confronted by "this horrific scene".

Police captured the reptile in the room where the boys were found, and it was later destroyed by a veterinarian.

Image caption A memorial outside the exotic pet store in Campbellton

Mr Savoie said the boys were his best friend's children and had come to visit his own son, who was sleeping in another room and was unharmed.

Also at Tuesday's briefing, the boys' great-uncle described their final day before going to sleep in the flat above the pet shop.

"They were two typical children," the family statement said. "Their last day was spent playing with their friends and swimming in their small pool, and then they had a barbecue."

The boys later went with their family to play with cats and dogs at Mr Savoie's farm.

The pet-shop owner has told reporters he owned the python for at least 10 years.

The snake was normally kept alone in its enclosure and not handled by anyone else, he said.

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