A 2-year-old girl apparently was strangled Wednesday by her family's 8-foot-long pet Burmese python, officials said.
Shaunia Hare was already dead when paramedics arrived at about 10 a.m. ET, 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, said he discovered the snake missing from its terrarium and went to the girl's room, where he found it on the girl and bite marks on her head, Caruthers said.
Darnell, 32, said he stabbed the snake until he was able to pry the child away, and then called 911.
"The baby's dead!" the sobbing caller from the house screamed to a 911 dispatcher in a recording. "Our stupid snake got out in the middle of the night and strangled the baby."
"She got out of the cage last night and got into the baby's crib and strangled her to death," the caller said.
Authorities removed the snake from the home Wednesday afternoon. Once outside the small, tan home, the snake was placed in a bag and then inside a dog crate. The snake was still alive.
Owner did not have permit
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, but Caruthers said investigators were looking into whether there was child neglect or if any other laws were broken.
NBC affiliate WESH reported that Darnell told deputies he left the snake in a bag in the terrarium just before the family went to sleep.
The python was one of two snakes in the home — the other is a 6-foot-long boa constrictor. Both snakes are alive, Carruthers said.
Two other children also lived there, WESH reported.
The Humane Society of the United States said including Wednesday’s death, at least 12 people have been killed in the U.S. by pet pythons since 1980, including five children.
Pythons are not native to Florida, but some residents keep them as pets, especially Burmese pythons, which can grow to more than 15 feet and weigh more than 150 pounds.
When the snakes become too large, some owners release them into the Everglades and other wild areas, Florida officials say. One killed an alligator and then burst when it tried to eat it.
"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."
'Wild' pythons on the rise
The fast-growing population of snakes has been invading southern Florida's ecosystem since 1992, when scientists speculate a bevy of Burmese pythons was released into the wild after Hurricane Andrew shattered many pet shop terrariums.
Scientists don't have an accurate estimate of how many pythons are in Florida, but estimates range from thousands to hundreds of thousands.
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."