A vigil is being held in Campbellton, N.B., today for two young boys police say were killed by a snake.

Noah Barthe, 4, and Connor Barthe, 6, were found dead Monday in an apartment above an exotic pet store where police confirmed a four-metre long African rock python escaped its enclosure.

The tragic deaths of the Barthe brothers have renewed memories of another snake-related fatality that occurred two decades earlier in Brampton, Ont.

Mark Neville, 28, was asphyxiated by a python he kept in his home in 1992.

The case led to calls for standardized rules for exotic pet ownership, which still has yet to happen 21 years later.

Dr. David Evans was the investigating coroner when Neville was found dead.

Evans worked on more than 1,500 cases over a 10-year period, but the story of the Brampton man strangled by his pet snake remains embedded in his memory.

As far as Evans can recall, Neville's death was the last time someone was strangled by a snake in Ontario.

Neville owned three snakes, but one of the cages was empty when Evans arrived on the scene. The five-metre long Burmese python was still missing.

It didn’t take Evans long to discover the snake had killed Neville.

"He had snake skin under his arm," Evans said.

Neville also had a bite mark on his hand — which Evans was told by experts is common in a python attack as the snake  coils around its target after latching on with one single bite.

"Death is caused by the snake tightening every time you exhale, so it eventually stops you from inhaling," he said.

The investigation concluded that Neville had been at his friend's house where there was a pet cat who was shedding. The theory was then that when he put his hand in the cage the snake smelled food and went after Neville.

The case prompted the banning of all pythons and boa constrictors in Brampton, but it didn't lead to a dangerous pet registry, which Evans said would at the very least help emergency personnel have a warning of what's inside a building should they enter.

"I agreed with the recommendations of the jury at the inquest we had," he said. "I remember one of the recommendations was to suggest a registry of exotic animals for the local municipality."

Changes under consideration

Today it remains largely up to municipalities to ban such pets, but following the deaths of the Barthe boys, Ontario Community Safety Minister Madeleine Meilleur says she would like to replace what is currently being done with provincial regulations to control ownership of exotic animals.

According to Meilleur, there are protections in place for the animals themselves, but nothing specific that seeks to protect people who may be put at risk. 

Meilleur added that she will first consult with the municipalities before the province takes any action.

Toronto currently has a ban on all poisonous snakes and all snakes longer than three metres.

However, snakes like the one that police say killed the two boys are not actually permitted in New Brunswick unless an exemption to an existing provincial ban is granted.

With files from The Canadian Press