July 1, 2009— -- A nearly 9-foot Burmese python escaped from its aquarium and strangled a 2-year-old Florida girl in her bed today, officials said.
Lt. Bobby Caruthers of the Sumter County Sheriff's Office said the toddler lived in the central Florida town of Oxford.
WFTV in Orlando, Fla., reported the story earlier today.
The python belonged to the mother's boyfriend, who did not have a state license to possess the snake, a spokeswoman for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission told ABCNews.com.
"Basically, the snake was put away last night in an aquarium in a bag," Caruthers said. "[He] woke up this morning and discovered the snake was missing, ran into the infant's bedroom and saw the snake on top of the child."
Caruthers said the owner stabbed the snake to remove it from the child. Emergency officials were notified with a 911 call at 9:53 a.m. but the child was pronounced dead at the scene shortly after they arrived around 10 a.m.
After it was stabbed, the snake slithered away and was last seen under the dresser in the infant's bedroom, Caruthers said.
He doesn't know the condition of the snake but said that police are obtaining a search warrant to return to the residence this afternoon to remove the python as well as another 6-foot boa constrictor possessed by the owner.
Caruthers said police are investigating the situation with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. The owner of the snake could be charged with neglect, a second-degree misdemeanor, he said.
The Humane Society of the United States said, including today's death, at least 12 people have been killed in the U.S. by pet pythons since 1980, including five children, The Associated Press reported.
"We've never had a case like this," said Patricia Behnke, a spokeswoman for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.
So far this year, the state has issued about 450 licenses for "reptiles of concern" or venomous reptiles, including Burmese pythons.
Burmese pythons are native to India, lower China, the Malay peninsula and some islands in the East Indies, she said. Since 1990, she said, about 112,000 have been imported into the United States.
Releasing Pythons Into Wild Is Illegal
They can grow up to 10- to 12-feet-long, although Behnke said that in their natural habitat, they have been known to reach 26 feet.
Releasing them into the wild is against the law, Behnke said. But some owners have still freed the snakes.
"It's becoming more and more of a problem, perhaps no fault of the animal, more a fault of the human," Jorge Pino, a spokesman with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, told The Associated Press. "People purchase these animals when they're small. When they grow, they either can't control them or release them."