The owner of a python that killed two young boys has had his court date set, leaving the New Brunswick community bracing for a trial that’s bound to re-open emotional wounds.

Eighteen months after Connor and Noah Barthe were found dead — asphyxiated by an escaped African rock python— the snake’s owner was arrested near Montreal on Thursday, the man’s lawyer confirmed.

Jean-Claude Savoie is facing two charges of criminal negligence causing death, his lawyer said on Friday.

Savoie is scheduled to appear in provincial court in Campbelton, N.B. on April 27, RCMP said.

The 38-year-old Montreal man, who owned the 4.3-metre long python, also owned the Reptile Ocean exotic pet store in Campbellton, located below the apartment where the boys died in August 2013.

The snake escaped its enclosure, slithered through a ventilation pipe and into the living room where the six-year-old and four-year-old boys were sleeping, investigators concluded.

African rock pythons have been banned in New Brunswick since 1992, except for accredited zoos that obtain a special permit.

“It was a horrible thing. It shocked the community,” said local business owner Frederic Daigle.

“It’s not something we like to get attention from … there was no positive in this at all,” he said.

Thursday’s arrest was an unexpected development.

In May of last year, two RCMP officials and a New Brunswick Crown prosecutor reviewed the case and concluded that criminal charges would not be appropriate, said Leslie Matchim, Savoie’s lawyer.

“It is a surprise that there have been some charges, or will be some charges in this case,” said Campbellton deputy mayor Ian Comeau.

“We always said we would leave the RCMP to do its investigation. Now it’s in the courts,” Comeau said.

As a result of the boys’ deaths, the province appointed a task force to examine New Brunswick’s exotic animal laws and regulations.

Bruce Dougan heads up that panel, which is expected to deliver its report by the end of March.

“We’re looking at public health, we’re looking at public safety, we’re also looking at animal welfare,” Dougan said.

“We want to make sure animals that are in private hands or in ownerships of another individual or organization are being properly cared for,” he said.

Savoie was released from custody on Thursday night.

Matchim said he was unavailable for comment on Friday because he was out of town.

With files from The Canadian Press and CTV Atlantic’s David Bell