The mother of two small boys strangled by a 100lb python in their sleep in Canada had posted photos on Facebook last year of them playing in and cleaning her neighbour’s snake enclosure.
Mandy Trecartin’s Facebook page has hundreds of photos of her sons, including a few showing Noah Barthe, four, and Connor Barthe, six, happily scrubbing the glass enclosure, which she identified as an anaconda habitat.
It was not clear whether the enclosure is the one that held the python.
Preliminary results from post-mortem examinations performed on the boys show they died from asphyxiation, officials said yesterday.
Hundreds of people in the shocked community of Campbellton, New Brunswick, gathered for a candlelight vigil last night in a show of support for the family.
The snake, an African rock python, apparently escaped from its enclosure, slithered through a ventilation system and fell through the ceiling into the room where the young boys were sleeping, authorities said.
They had been visiting the flat of a friend whose father owned an exotic pet store on the floor below.
A snake expert said it was possible that the python was spooked and simply clung to whatever it landed on.
The authorities yesterday planned to remove other animals from the pet shop, though Royal Canadian Mounted Police Sgt Alain Tremblay said the 14ft python had been kept inside the flat.
Police are treating the deaths in Campbellton, New Brunswick, as a criminal investigation.
Sgt Tremblay said the snake was housed in a large glass enclosure that reached the ceiling of the flat 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, the pipe collapsed and the snake fell.
The friend of the boys was sleeping in another room and was unharmed.
The pet store owner, Jean-Claude Savoie, has told a television station that he did not hear a sound and discovered the “horrific scene” when he went into his living room on Monday morning.
Anne Bull, a spokeswoman for the New Brunswick’s Natural Resources department, said the African rock python is no longer permitted in the province, and the department had no knowledge of the existence of the snake prior to this week’s tragedy. The African rock python has been illegal in the province since 2009.
She said the department has obtained a search warrant for the store and that a number of exotic animals were discovered while police were investigating.
“If we discover any illegal exotic animals, they will be seized and efforts will be made to relocate them to accredited zoos,” Ms Bull said.
Paul Goulet, founder and co-owner of Little Ray’s Reptile Zoo in Ottawa, said snakes do not recognise humans as a source of food, but if the children smelled like animals, it could explain an attack.
“If a snake sees an animal moving, giving off heat and smells like a goat, what is it? It’s a goat,” he said.
Family spokesman Dave Rose, the boys’ great-uncle, said the brothers had spent Monday at Mr Savoie’s family farm and played with llamas, goats, horses and dogs and cats before staying over at the apartment.