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Autopsy shows 2-year-old attacked by python died of asphyxiation

OXFORD — An autopsy performed on a Sumter County 2-year-old girl determined she died of asphyxiation after authorities said she was squeezed and bitten by her family's Burmese python Wednesday.

The Sumter County Sheriff's Office and Department of Children and Families are investigating. It's unclear if any criminal charges will be filed over the python incident, but if so it likely will not happen this week or next, said Paul Magrino, a homicide prosecutor for the Sumter County state attorney.

"The autopsy was only done this morning, and there's still some additional investigation to be done," Magrino said Thursday. "Generally speaking, whenever you have the death of a small child in a home under circumstances that demonstrate something other than natural causes, it certainly has to be investigated."

Shaiunna Hare was in her crib Wednesday morning when deputies say the 8-foot-, 6-inch python escaped its enclosure and entered her room. It repeatedly bit her and squeezed her to death before her mother's boyfriend, Charles Darnell, awoke and found the snake missing.

Darnell, 32, called 911 around 9:40 a.m. and sobbed as he reported the snake had strangled the girl. He freed her, deputies say, by stabbing the snake with a 6-inch knife and meat cleaver.

Deputies and Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission officers got a warrant to enter the home and removed the pet python and a 6-foot boa constrictor. The python was treated at a veterinary hospital, commission spokesman Gary Morse said, and is being held as evidence until the investigation is completed.

Darnell did not have a state permit to own the python and could be charged with a second-degree misdemeanor.

Two other children were in the home during Wednesday's incident, said Department of Children and Families spokeswoman Carrie Hoeppner, but they are no longer there.

The agency also visited the home in May 1 after a complaint was filed that Darnell and Shaiunna's mother, 19-year-old Jaren Hare, alleging drug abuse and physical abuse of the children. An investigator visited the home and noted that Darnell was agitated by DCF's visit and admitted smoking marijuana, but the home had running hot and cold water, was clean and had food, and there were no immediate dangers inside the house. The case was closed June 12.

"I have no doubt if my investigators saw something of concern, whether it was an abused cat or a dangerous dog or some animal that posed a hazard to the children, we would pursue that," Hoeppner said. "I do know the investigator observed and documented one of the snakes."

When a photo of officers carrying the snake from the home was published Wednesday on tampabay.com, the web site of the St. Petersburg Times, readers posted anonymous comments questioning the health of the snake, speculating on its size and wondering if it had been starved.

It was just a skinny snake, not starved, said Morse. "It was in good health," Morse said. "The snake was well-fed and well taken care of for an 8-foot, 6-inch python."

Magrino said its too early to determine whether Darnell and Hare could be charged with a crime. If charges are filed, "It could be anything from perhaps child neglect to a (manslaughter) homicide."

Emily Nipps can be reached at (727) 893-8452 or nipps@sptimes.com

Autopsy shows 2-year-old attacked by python died of asphyxiation 07/02/09 [Last modified: Saturday, July 4, 2009 12:45pm]
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