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Special Report forwarded by AAF Correspondent: J. Dykes


Python Suffocates Boy


Tuesday, August 31, 1999

SPRINGFIELD, IL--A 7 1/2-foot pet African python was blamed Monday for suffocating a 3-year-old boy in Downstate Centralia.

Jesse Lee Altom's body was found Sunday in the family's home with compression marks around his chest and bite marks on his neck and ears.

Police investigators said his parents' pet, which they obtained three months ago, escaped from an aquarium and wrapped itself around the boy's chest while he lay sleeping with an aunt and uncle near the base of the aquarium.

Pythons are constricting snakes that squeeze their prey.

The relatives and his parents all were sleeping in the family's living room after a party Saturday night, police said.

"We can't say exactly why the snake did that. . . . It was shedding, and they can get temperamental when they're in that state," said Capt. Richard Densmore, an investigator with the Centralia Police Department.

An autopsy completed Monday revealed the 35-pound boy died of asphyxiation, and there were no signs to indicate the boy struggled with the snake, said Mark Moss, the Marion County deputy coroner.

"It could've been getting out of its crate and the boy moved, and the snake was spooked," Moss said.

Authorities also speculated the 1-year-old snake may have been seeking warmth. The species, which can reach 14 feet at maturity, prefers temperatures of at least 85 degrees. Its cage did not have a heat lamp, police said.

A herpetologist, an expert on reptiles and amphibians, has taken the snake until police and prosecutors decide whether to press charges against the boy's parents, Densmore said.

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