The message, scrawled on a whiteboard, referred to Amanda Ruth Black's pet python. A few feet away, its container was empty. On the floor, Black, 25, lay dead.
Black's husband had returned to their townhouse, on Maracas Arch in the Witchduck Woods area, late Tuesday night and called police after finding his wife's body, police spokesman Adam Bernstein said.
A preliminary autopsy showed that Black died of asphyxiation by neck compression. The 13-foot-long tiger reticulated python apparently overpowered her as she tried to administer medication to it, Bernstein said.
Animal Control Officer Doug Humphrey noticed the whiteboard message when he responded to the call. He scanned the den, then checked a closet, hallway and bathroom. No sign of the missing snake.
He returned to the den and stepped toward a cage holding a 10-foot boa constrictor. Then Humphrey spotted a slender, black and yellowish tail poking out from between the wall and the cage.
He reached down, took hold and pulled the tail. The python pushed forward.
"Every time I pulled him," Humphrey recalled Thursday, "he'd pull away."
The medical examiner, who had been tending to Black, came to Humphrey's side, and the two men managed to drag the snake back to its glass container.
It was taken to the city's Animal Control facility on Leroy Road, where it was being held Thursday as evidence while detectives continued their investigation.
Black's death is classified as suspicious, but Bernstein said investigators had found no sign of foul play.
Humphrey said Black apparently was trying to use a syringe to squirt medication into Diablo's mouth when it turned on her.
It wasn't clear what ailment the snake had, but Humphrey said Black's husband had told authorities "the snake did not like being given the medication, nor did he like the medication."
A man who answered the door to Black's home Thursday said relatives did not want to speak with the media. Several neighbors said they did not know the couple.
Since 1980, at least 11 people have been killed by pet pythons in the United States, according to Beth Preiss, director of the U.S. Humane Society's exotic pets campaign. Two years ago, an Ohio man was killed when his 13-foot boa constrictor coiled around his neck. A man in Indiana also died that year after a 14-foot python constricted around his upper body.
The tiger reticulated python is native to Southeast Asia and typically grows to 12 to 15 feet, said Stephanie Kokosinski, herpetology curator at the Virginia Living Museum in Newport News. People with little experience handling snakes shouldn't look to adopt those pythons, she said.
Bowen LaJesse, 31, is the reptile department manager at Animal Jungle, a Virginia Beach shop that sells exotic pets, including tiger reticulated pythons. They are born about two feet long and can reach 10 feet within the first year, he said.
The snake is generally more docile than other types of reticulated pythons. However, they are extremely strong.
"That's all they are, one big tube of muscle," LaJesse said. Two or more experienced people are needed to handle pythons longer than eight feet, he said, particularly if medication is involved.
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