Two Orange Park teenage girls posted a video online of them abusing and killing a gopher tortoise, which the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission says is a threatened species.
After multiple complaints into FWC Tuesday night, officials started an investigation and are working with the State Attorney’s Office to determine what charges will be filed.
The cellphone video shows the tortoise being lit on fire, thrown on the concrete and being stomped on until it dies. Some of the video is too graphic to show and contains vulgar language. The girls are heard laughing and talking about killing the turtle.
“Let’s light his head on fire,” one girl said.
“Burn baby, burn baby,” one said.
“Now you’re scared of us, huh?” one said.
“Ugh, I just want him to die,” one said.
Ridgeview High School confirmed the two girls attend school there, but because the incident didn’t happen on school property or during school hours, the school can only say they’re aware and the incident is being handled by proper authorities.
Due to the open investigation by FWC and the State Attorney’s Office, News4Jax is not releasing the names of the two teenagers.
Chyenne Padgett, 15, said she goes to school with them and cried when she saw the video online. She said she was one of the first to call police.
“It’s incredibly upsetting,” Padgett said. “I have two pet turtles inside my house, and as I watching the video, all I can think about is, ‘Oh my God, what if someone was doing that to my turtles? Those are my babies. They’re my favorite animal.’”
FWC said the turtle is a threatened gopher tortoise, one level above endangered, which makes matters even worse.
“We certainly don’t want anybody hurting any animal, but they’re a threatened species and it’s against the law to kill harass or destroy gopher tortoises, their eggs or their burrows,” FWC spokeswoman Karen Parker said.
The State Attorney’s Office will determine if the teens will be charged as juveniles or adults. A local attorney not affiliated with the case said the teens could face a felony charge for aggravated animal cruelty and an additional felony charge under a statute that protects endangered species.
Padgett hopes the two face the proper consequences.
“I was really, really angry,” she said. “I don’t understand what compelled them to think that would be fun.”
The Clay County Humane Society issued this statement:
“Animal abuse is a key indicator of future violence towards human beings. These acts of cruelty typically escalate to future abuse of animals and people. It is vital that anyone who learns of violence towards animals contact the police immediately. We commend the young people who saw this animal abuse online and alerted the Clay County Sheriff’s Office to help prevent future crimes like this one.”
No one answered the door Wednesday at the home where News4Jax believes at least one of the teens lives.
Anyone with tips that can help investigators with other incidents is asked to call the Wildlife Alert Hotline at 888-404-FWCC (3922) or text Tip@Myfwc.com.
Copyright 2014 by News4Jax.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.