What really happened in Campbellton?

There’s a lot we don’t know about the African Rock Python (a creature that can grow twice as long as Shaq is tall) and it’s certainly possible that those poor little boys in Campbellton, New Brunswick were strangled by one, just like we’ve been told.

But people who study and work with African Rock Pythons for a living say this story doesn’t make any sense:

It appears, the Mounties say, that the snake escaped from its cage through a small hole in the ceiling, then slinked its way into a ventilation duct. Once over the living room, the duct gave way, sending a portion of the ceiling—and the huge snake—plummeting to the floor. Jean-Claude Savoie, the owner of the pet shop, told detectives he woke up shortly after 6 a.m. to check on the boys, only to stumble upon a “horrific scene”: two dead children, and his snake nearby. Apparently, Savoie’s pet crashing through the ceiling wasn’t enough to wake him up.

Neither, it seems, did any cries for help from the Barthe brothers. Snake expert John Kendrick, a manager at the Reptile Store in Hamilton, says a bite from an African rock python would jolt anyone from his slumber, screaming in unthinkable pain. “If a snake is going to constrict and coil, it’s biting first,” he says. “That’s what they do. They bite to hold and then immediately go into a spin to coil their prey.” Would one brother’s screams not have woken up the other? Or someone else inside the apartment? (Savoie’s son was also there, asleep in another room.) “I’ve gone through those same thoughts in my head,” Kendrick says.

Though extremely uncommon, African rock pythons do attack humans. In 1999, a three-year-old Illinois boy was squeezed to death after his dad’s snake escaped from its glass enclosure. Three years later, in Utah, a python managed to coil around a mother and daughter at the same time, only to be pried loose by quick-thinking police armed with a pair of scissors. But in most instances, however rare, the human target is a potential meal. The Barthe brothers, it appears, were not. “Snakes won’t kill people just for the hell of it,” Marais says. “There is no snake that has malice in it that would intentionally go out and kill people and waste energy on it.”

Kendrick, like his fellow experts, does not want to jump to conclusions. He will wait for the RCMP to finish its investigation before passing judgment. But he can’t fathom why a python would crush one boy, crush the other, and eat neither. “For a snake to just kill something and walk away from it, it’s very rare,” he says. “To finish killing one and go and kill another one—then go away—I wouldn’t even put that as odds of one in a million.”

Personally, I think the less disturbing possibility is that the children were indeed killed by the snake.  After all, what are the alternatives?

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