Police stand in front of Reptile Ocean pet store in New Brunswick, Canada on Aug. 5, 2013, after two young boys were strangled as they slept by a python that escaped the store and apparently slithered through the ventilation system into the apartment above. Their tricycles can be seen at bottom left.
CAMPBELLTON, NEW BRUNSWICK (CBS) -- A python escaped from its enclosure at a pet store in Canada, apparently slithered through a ventilation system into an upstairs apartment and killed two young boys as they slept, police said Monday.
The brothers, aged five and seven, were visiting the apartment of a friend above Reptile Ocean Inc., an exotic pet store in Campbellton, New Brunswick, said Royal Canadian Mounted Police Const. Julie Rogers-Marsh.
Police arrived at the apartment around 6:30 a.m. and found the two boys dead. A friend of the boys was sleeping in another room and was unharmed, Rogers-Marsh said. She said the owner of the pet store lived in the apartment.
Rogers-Marsh said the snake escaped from its enclosure sometime during the night and was believed to have made its way into the apartment through the ventilation system.
"It's believed the two boys were strangled by the snake," she said.
The snake was captured and is in the possession of police, Rogers-Marsh said. Calls to the pet store were not returned Monday.
Rogers-Marsh said autopsies were to be performed on the two victims on Tuesday. She couldn't confirm whether the two boys were related.
"It's very, very unusual and very tragic and difficult for everyone involved," Rogers-Marsh said.
The town's deputy mayor, Ian Comeau, said Reptile Ocean was licensed to operate and "everything was according to our bylaws, to the provincial guidelines."
The deaths of the boys have been "a shock ... it is unbelievable," Comeau said Monday evening. Comeau said he saw alligators, crocodiles and snakes when he toured the shop with the fire department about two years ago.
A now-expired online petition was circulating asking to have the shop closed, reports Canada GlobalTV Toronto, which says dozens of people had signed, some discussing poor conditions the animals were living in.
Reptile Ocean was once a zoo, and neighbors are worried. "If one got out -- how many (others could get) out? It's enough to make you wonder," one remarked.
The owner of the snake involved, an African rock python, says he will ask to have it euthanized, Canada GlobalTV Toronto says, adding that African rock pythons are Africa's largest species of snake.
The one in the store was about 12 feet long, reports Canada CBC.