ALBERTVILLE, Ala. (WHNT) -- A Marshall County woman spent Thursday night in tears after the mutilated remains of her beloved pet were found in a gas station garbage can.
Brittany Nichols' python Rogue went missing Sunday, August 12.
"I knew from the get-go, despite what anyone else had to say, that my snake was stolen," Nichols said.
She and her husband rescued the snake two years ago from someone who could no longer care for it.
"I'm a responsible snake owner and I have taken every little avenue I could find, to ensure the safety of not only my snakes, the public, myself and [my husband]."
They spent hundreds of dollars on cages, which are escape-proof and require turning two latches on the outside to get open.
"The only thing that could have been differently is having a key turn latch and whether we had it on our keychain or not, I'm sure somebody could have still broken in and gotten her, if they really wanted her that bad," she said.
Nichols got a call from Albertville police Thursday afternoon that her snake had been spotted seven miles away at Coop's Mini Mart in Boaz.
She knew that was too far for Rogue to go on her own without being seen, but hoped the snake was still alive.
"You know how you get that sick feeling in your stomach? I had that," she said.
"I thought maybe I'll find her, so I come running out her to get the cage that we would have housed her in to get her home."
Nichols went to the gas station and car wash, where two Boaz police officers told her the snake was in a large plastic garbage can next to one of the car vacuums.
"I thought maybe that's where somebody had captured and is housing her for right now until I get her, and that's not at all what I found," Nichols said.
"I wish for anything to be able to take that image out of my head, it was an awful image."
Boaz police said it appeared as if the snake decomposed for several days, and it was cut up by a knife.
"She was slit from the bottom of her jaw all the way to the end of her tail," Nichols said.
"They took every bit of meat out of her and they had disassembled bones of her head, they were out of her body. Somebody absolutely mutilated her. To know that those were last final hours really hurts me."
Kathy Fordham lives across from the lot where Rogue was found.
"I would personally never have a snake for a pet, but I think it's just very cruel that someone would steal a pet," Fordham said.
She said she was concerned after hearing there was a missing snake, but is also concerned about the person who killed the python.
"To me that would be someone that's very cruel, and that's scary to think that someone would do that," she said.
Assistant Police Chief Jamie Smith said Friday morning the police department is still considering Rogue's disappearance as a missing pet case, but that could change.
Nichols said she plans to change the police report to a theft and animal cruelty.
"Obviously it's a crime," Smith said.
"A little different nature than what we normally deal with it, but it's still a crime and we will treat is as such."
The python's owners said they would understand if someone killed Rogue out of defense or fear, but don't understand how someone could destroy the pet in the way they did.
Nichols said she also doesn't understand some of the negative comments made on the Internet, where some people celebrated the snake's demise and said it deserved to die.
"I read posts from Facebook and all the news feed and stuff," she said.
"People are hateful and so rude and you just want to educate the uneducated but you want to do it in a tactful way. I just wonder how did [people] ever grow up in the world and not have any idea that people have other pets that aren't cat, dog, bird."
The Nichols also have a dog, a cat, and a Savannah monitor lizard, and the pets interact with each other.
Rogue was their only snake at the time, but they have had as many as seven or eight at once. Of the 20 snakes they've had as pets, more than a dozen were rescues.
They plan to get a new snake soon, and said they are going to buy locks to put on the cages.
The reptile pens were outside in an enclosed hot tub area, but are now inside for security.
Nichols buried Rogue in her backyard Friday morning.
"I'd rather her final resting place be here than in a landfill somewhere, she said.
"I'd rather be able to come out here and say hey here she is, and it's closure and peace of mind."