Autopsies indicate two young boys, who RCMP say were killed by an African Rock Python, died of asphyxiation.
Meanwhile, Environment Canada confirmed it helped deliver the snake to owner Jean-Claude Savoie in 2002.
More than a decade later, that same snake escaped its enclosure and strangled the Barthe brothers – six-year-old Connor Barthe and four-year-old Noah – while they slept in a Campbellton, N.B. apartment early Monday.
RCMP released preliminary findings of autopsies into the boys’ death Wednesday afternoon.
“While we now have some preliminary information, investigators still have to wait for other test results to come back and for the final report,” said New Brunswick RCMP Sgt. Alain Tremblay.
The python – which was seized by RCMP and later put down – was owned by Savoie, who runs a pet store called Reptile Ocean.
Savoie kept the snake as a pet in an enclosure inside his apartment above the store. The snake is prohibited under New Brunswick’s Fish and Wildlife Act.
Listen: Interview with python owner Jean-Claude Savoie
In an interview Monday, Savoie told Global News he accepted the snake at the behest of government authorities. He called the deaths “tragic” and said he felt like the boys were his own.
Global News attempted to contact Savoie again on Wednesday but did not get a response.
Environment Canada spokesperson Mark Johnson, in an email to Global News, said the python was dropped off anonymously to a local branch of the SPCA.
“The SPCA subsequently contacted Environment Canada to request assistance in transporting the snake that was dropped off,” Johnson said. “Environment Canada provided assistance in placing the snake, as Environment Canada wildlife officers are trained in handling wild animals.”
He said because the snake was already in Canada, Environment Canada did not require Savoie to have a permit to own it.
Johnson added exotic pet ownership and possession falls under provincial and municipal jurisdiction.
The province’s Department of Natural Resources has obtained a search warrant for Reptile Ocean. RCMP investigators handed the scene to the department Wednesday morning.
“They are going to take care of the animals that are still in the store,” Tremblay told Global News.
Tremblay said there was an alligator on the premises – a shock for many involved in the investigation.
Natural Resources spokeperson Anne Bull said any other illegal exotic wildlife found on the scene will be seized and efforts will be made to relocate them to other facilities.
WATCH: more about Reptile Ocean and exactly what animals were kept inside. Global’s Shelley Steeves reports
It isn’t yet clear what happens to the remaining animals. One place they could be relocated to is the Magnetic Hill Zoo in Moncton.
The zoo’s manager, Bruce Duggan, said he didn’t have any knowledge of animals being moved, but he and Zoo Coordinator Bernard Gallant are working with Mounties and Natural Resources. Gallant was called to Campbellton to help with the removal and identification of the snake, Duggan explained.
Neither would speak to specifics of the investigation.
Duggan said that when Magnetic Hill Zoo officials are called to assist with investigations, they’re looking at a number of things.
Neither he nor Gallant, formerly the zoo’s reptile keeper, had an experience with this particular species of snake.
“You would look at security and the design of the exhibit and for the animal,” Duggan said in a telephone interview. “You look at the environment that the animals is in as far as heat and humidity, the diet of the animal and how secure the exhibit was all the way around.”
Questions have been raised about the security of the enclosure the snake was kept in.
Bry Loyst, of the Indian River Reptile Zoo near Peterbourough, Ont., said the case is peculiar because African Rock Python wouldn’t normally hunt down its prey — it usually waits for its prey to come to it.
He said it was possible the boys smelled like prey after being at a farm that day.
While the investigation continues, the town is trying to come to terms with the deaths of the young boys.
Hundreds of people gathered Wednesday evening for candlelight vigil in a show of support for the family of two boys who police say were asphyxiated by an African rock python.
The vigil in Campbellton, New Brunswick opened with a moment of silence to pay respects for the two boys, four-year-old Noah Barthe and his six-year-old brother Connor, whose deaths have triggered an outpouring of sympathy from around the world.
Earlier in the day, Deputy Mayor Ian Comeau said the vigil is an opportunity to offer comfort to the friends and relatives of Noah and Connor, whose deaths have triggered an outpouring of global sympathy.
“I think when you look at the ages of these kids, four and six, that’s what has really saddened the population not just in Campbellton, but New Brunswick, Canada, and elsewhere,” Comeau said.
“We have been receiving a lot of messages from around the world about how sad the people are.”
Comeau said the 8 p.m. vigil will feature songs and prayers at the Salmon Plaza monument, about a block away from the apartment where the boys were found dead Monday morning. The monument features an 8.5-metre replica of an Atlantic salmon in a fountain along the waterfront of the city that borders Quebec.
“People will gather to talk and share their emotions,” Comeau said. “It is something the friends and citizens wanted to do for these two young kids.”
Friends of Savoie’s, meanwhile, want people to stop pointing fingers. Savoie is close friends with the boys’ family. They were having a sleepover at his apartment when they died.
One friend, who did not want to give her name, said the focus needs to be on the loss of the boys, not on placing blame.
“Terrible things happen and I think people need to just bind together as a community. He loved those children,” the woman said.
The funeral for Connor and Noah Barthe is scheduled for Saturday at 4:00 p.m. at the St. Thomas Aquinas Church, in Campbellton.
- With files from Christina Stevens, Shelley Steeves, Laura Brown and The Canadian Press
© Shaw Media, 2013