A four-meter (13-foot) African rock python which strangled two young Canadian boys as they slept has been euthanized, and police said on Tuesday they have launched a criminal probe into the deaths.
Noah and Connor Barthe, aged 4 and 6, died after the snake escaped from its glass cage through a ceiling-level ventilation shaft, slithered through ductwork and crashed through the ceiling into the room where they were sleeping.
"It's a criminal investigation because two young boys lost their lives," Alain Tremblay, a sergeant with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, told a news conference.
"It's very serious," he said, adding that it would take time to gather the necessary evidence to present to the prosecutor.
The boys were at a sleepover at the apartment, above the Reptile Ocean exotic pet store in Campbellton, a city of about 7,500 in Canada's Maritime province of New Brunswick.
In a brief statement carried live on Canadian television, Dave Rose, the two boys' great uncle, appealed for privacy to give the family time to mourn.
"They were two typical children. They enjoyed life to a maximum," he said, his voice breaking with emotion.
Police said they were performing autopsies on both the snake and the boys, who Rose said had spent the day before they died at a garden barbecue and then playing at a family farm.
An expert said African rock pythons do not normally view humans as food, and said the snake must have been confused when it encountered the boys.
"A defensive attack, it would just be strike and release. They normally don't constrict what they're not going to eat," said Bry Loyst, curator of the Indian River Reptile Zoo near Peterborough, Ontario, which has an African rock python on display.
(Reporting by Cameron French; Editing by James Dalgleish)