A python blamed for the strangling deaths of two Canadian boys apparently escaped from its enclosure, slithered through a ventilation system and fell through the ceiling into the room where the young brothers were sleeping, authorities have said.
A snake expert said it was possible that the python was spooked and simply clung to whatever it landed on. Police are treating the deaths in Campbellton, New Brunswick, as a criminal investigation.
Post-mortem examinations have been performed on four-year-old Noah Barthe and his brother Connor Barthe, six.
The brothers had been visiting the apartment of a friend whose father owned an exotic pet store on the floor below, Royal Canadian Mounted Police Sargent Alain Tremblay said, adding that the African rock python was being kept inside the second floor apartment, not inside the pet shop as authorities had previously stated.
Steve Benteau, a spokesman for the provincial Natural Resources Department, said no permit was issued for an African rock python and provincial authorities were not aware it was being kept at the apartment. The department said the snake is generally only permitted in accredited zoos, unless there is a special permit.
Mr Tremblay said the snake was housed in a large glass enclosure that reached the ceiling of the apartment and escaped through a small hole in the ceiling connected to the ventilation system. He said the snake made its way through the ventilation system and moved toward the living room, where the boys were sleeping. The pipe collapsed and the snake fell.
The pet shop owner, Jean-Claude Savoie, told the Global News television station that he did not hear a sound and discovered the "horrific scene" when he went into his living room on Monday morning. "I can't believe this is real," he said.
He said the boys were the children of his best friend and were often at his apartment to visit his son. Mr Savoie said the python, which he has had for at least 10 years, had been kept alone in its enclosure and was not handled by anyone else. Police said the snake was put down by a veterinarian.
Family spokesman Dave Rose, the boys' great-uncle, said the brothers had spent Monday at Mr Savoie's family farm and played with different animals before staying over at the apartment. He thanked the community for their support and asked for privacy.
The snake was about 4.3 metres (14 feet) long, Mr Tremblay said. He said police were looking at whether the shop followed the province's regulations on exotic animals. "It's a criminal investigation," Mr Tremblay said. "We're going to look at all avenues."