Oxford, Florida - The morning begins with a grim discovery, an 8-foot Albino Burmese Python is found wrapped around the body of a 2-year-old girl. Deputies say the snake strangled the child in her crib. Fish and Wildlife officials believe it's the first death by a constrictor in Florida.
The medical examiner removed the body of 2-year-old Shaiunna Hare from her home on County road 466 in Oxford around 12:30 Wednesday afternoon.
Deputies with the Sumter County Sheriff's office say it's a tragic death. Deputies had to wait five hours for a search warrant to enter the home. Around 4:45 p.m. they brought out the snake injured, but alive.
"Both the mother and boyfriend are very distraught when we arrived on scene," says Lt. Bobby Caruthers with the Sumter Sheriff's office.
The snake's owner 32-year-old Charles Darnell is Jaren Ashley Hare's the child's mother's boy friend. Darnell told deputies he secured the snake last night before going to bed. Around 12:30 a.m. he found the snake outside of its aquarium and in the living room. Darnell told deputies this time he put the snake in a bag secured it and placed the snake in the aquarium.
When he woke up this morning around 9 a.m. Darnell says he noticed the snake had slithered away again. He ran to the 2-year-old girl's bedroom.
"The snake is on the child bite mark on the forehead took a knife and stabbed snake until he was able to remove child from residence," says Caruthers.
"Burmese Python can get large they're constrictors reptiles of concern," warns Joy Hill with Fish and Wildlife Conservation.
Fish and Wildlife officials say these snakes require a permit to keep as pets and Darnell does not have one. "First the human safety factors when they get large and the other over running the native Florida habitat the Everglades," says Hill.
FWC officials say not having the required permit is a second degree misdemeanor that carries a $500 fine and 60 days in jail. In light of the child's death deputies say Darnell and the child's mother may face more serious charges, "Negligence charges," says Caruthers.
By early evening deputies had finished removing the aquarium the snake and been kept in, a dresser and the child's white crib. They also removed a second snake a 6-foot Boa Constrictor. The medical examiner will do an autopsy on Thursday. Caruthers says Darnell and Hare have been cooperating with investigators and deputies will continue questioning the two on Thursday.
Caruthers says the couple is mourning the child's death.
Oxford, Florida - "It's hard to express," said Gary Morse, spokesman for Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. "When I heard this today, it's like I just don't believe it."
Morse is referring to news he heard after a call that came in to the Sumter County Sheriff's Office about the death of a 2-year-old in her bed.
Morse says that when the Sheriff and the Medical Examiner arrived on scene, they confirmed that 2-year-old Shaiunna Hare had died. And they learned that a 12-foot albino Burmese python was found on top of the child.
The snake's owner, Charles Jason Darnell, 32, lives at the Oxford home with the child and her mother, Jaden Ashley Hare, 23. Darnell found the snake on top of the child when he got out of bed Wednesday morning, and stabbed it. Lt. Bobby Caruthers from the Sumter Sheriff's Office said that the "snake was found on top of the child, and the child had a bite mark on her head."
The family has been interviewed by sheriff's deputies regarding Shaiunna's death, and officials from the FWC have also interviewed them regarding the possession of the python.
Morse says that Burmese pythons are "reptiles of concern that require a permit, and training in animal husbandry and proper caging."
"Mr. Darnell," Morse continued, "had no permit."
Another snake - a boa constrictor between six and eight feet long - was also found in the house, but no permit is needed for constrictors.
As of yet, the medical examiner has not confirmed the cause of death, and the investigation is still ongoing. It is undetermined as to whether the child died under the weight of the snake or by asphyxiation.
According to the Florida Wildlife Commission, pythons are a non-native species to Florida, although some Burmese pythons have been found in parts of the state.
Anyone who comes across a python is urged to call wildlife officials at 888-404-FWCC.
Here is a statement released by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission:
The Sumter County Sheriff's Office responded to a Sumter County residence on Wednesday morning after receiving a call that a snake was strangling a child. When the officers arrived on the scene, the child was dead, and the snake was found under furniture, having been stabbed by its owner.
Charles Jason Darnell (DOB 03-26-77) told officers he placed his 8-foot, 5-inch albino Burmese python in a bag and put it in an aquarium Tuesday night. When Darnell woke in the morning, he said he discovered the snake had escaped from both the bag and the aquarium. He told investigators that he discovered the python on top of Shaiunna Hare, age 2, and then he stabbed the snake before calling 911, according to Sumter County Sheriff's Office Lt. Bobby Caruthers.
Darnell is the boyfriend of the child's mother, Jaren Ashley Hare (DOB 09-08-85). Two older children were also in the residence at the time of death. They were unharmed.
The Sumter County Sheriff's Office is leading the investigation with help from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC).
"This is a very sad situation," said Sheriff Bill Farmer. "We've never had anything like this in Sumter County or even Florida. To keep a large, unsecured snake in the house is just asking for trouble."
Burmese pythons are classified as Reptiles of Concern, and their owners must secure permits from the FWC's Captive Wildlife Section to keep them as pets. Approximately 450 licensees currently are permitted to possess Reptiles of Concern and/or venomous reptiles in Florida. The license costs $100 per year and mandates specific caging specifications and other requirements. Permits are issued to individuals at specific locations. No permit had been issued to Darnell or the residence in Sumter County. It is a second-degree misdemeanor to possess a Reptile of Concern without a permit.
Burmese pythons pose little risk to humans, and there have been no other documented attacks in Florida. Documented human attacks by pythons in the United States have involved the snake's owner or immediate family.
The snake was alive when officers removed it from the house on Wednesday afternoon. Investigators still are gathering information in the case.
The Humane Society of the United States has compiled other related stories:
- Indiana, 2006: A 23-year-old man was killed by his 14-foot pet reticulated python.
- Colorado, 2002: A man died after his pet Burmese python, who was wrapped loosely around his neck, suddenly constricted.
- Pennsylvania, 2001: An 8-year-old girl was home alone when she was apparently strangled by her father's pet Burmese python.
- Illinois, 1999: A couple's 7.5-foot African rock python escaped from an enclosure and killed their 3-year-old son.
- Colorado, 1993: A 15-year-old was killed by his brother's 11-foot pet python.
- Missouri, 1983: A man was crushed to death by his 16-foot pet Burmese python.
- Nevada, 1982: An 8-foot python escaped from his cage and killed a 21-month-old boy in his crib. The snake belonged to an unrelated man who lived in the house.
- Texas, 1980: A 7-month-old girl was killed by her father's 8-foot pet reticulated python. The snake had forced his way out of a covered aquarium.
10 Connects News and the FWC