A two-year-old girl has been strangled to death in her bed by a pet python which escaped from its cage in the middle of the night.
The eight-foot Burmese python broke out of a terrarium and killed toddler Shaiunna Hare in her bedroom in Florida.
Charles Jason Darnell, the snake's owner and boyfriend of the child's mother, went to the little girl's room when he realised the reptile was missing.
He found Shaiunna in the snake's deadly grasp, with bite marks on her head.
Darnell stabbed at the snake until he was able to pry the child away, but the infant was dead by the time emergency services arrived.
'The baby's dead!' a sobbing caller from the house screamed to an emergency all dispatcher in a recording. 'Our stupid snake got out in the middle of the night and strangled the baby... She got out of the cage last night and got into the baby's crib and strangled her to death.'
Authorities did not say who made the emergency call.
The snake was taken away alive by emergency services.
Darnell did not have a permit for the reptile. He has not been charged but investigators are looking into whether there was child neglect or if any other laws were broken.
The snake is to be placed with someone who does have a permit for it pending an investigation into the toddler's death.
At least 12 people have been killed in America by pet pythons since 1980, including Shaiunna and four other children.
Burmese pythons can reach a length of 26 feet (8 metres)and weigh more than 200lbs (90kg).
Some owners have freed pythons into the wild and a population of them has taken hold in the Everglades. One killed an alligator and then burst when it tried to eat it.
Scientists also speculate a number of Burmese pythons escaped in 1992 from pet shops battered by Hurricane Andrew and have been reproducing since.
'It's becoming more and more of a problem, perhaps no fault of the animal, more a fault of the human,' said Jorge Pino, a state wildlife commission spokesman. 'People purchase these animals when they're small. When they grow, they either can't control them or release them.'
George Van Horn, owner of Reptile World Serpentarium, said the strangulation could have occurred because the snake felt threatened or because it thought the child was food.
'They are always operating on instinct,' he said. 'Even the largest person can become overpowered by a python.'