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.
The father of one of the girls spoke about the video.
The father, who did not want to be identified, said he didn’t raise his daughter to do something like this, and he said he was outraged by the acts against the small tortoise.
“They’re very remorseful for what they did,” he said. “They’re gonna go through the court system and get it all figured out OK. Whatever the court system hands down, that’s what they’re gonna do.”
The teen’s father said his family received death threats because of the video the girls posted on Facebook.
“That’s sick to do what they did,” he said. “I didn’t see it. I didn’t see it on TV, and I don’t care. I was there when they found the turtle. I was there when wildlife (came to the house and) talked for an hour. And they know that there’s gonna be a court date coming up, and it’s all going to be handled.”
The father says that his daughter will be punished and that he’s trying to handle the fallout of what’s now happening to his family.
“They’re gonna catch the wrath of what happened,” he said. “The court’s gonna handle it. I don’t think all this damn threats that I’m getting on Facebook and all that, I’m not getting 'em. There’s no more Facebook in this house. There’s no more smartphones.”
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 was 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.
“I have no damn belief. You don’t know how pissed off I am,” the father said. “I raised my girl a lot better.”
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."
Ponte Vedra beach mental health expert Dr. Lynn Wadelton said Wednesday that the girls' actions show they have a lack of empathy and that teens that brutalize animals could likely spend the better part of their adult lives in jail.
“When it happens with teenagers it indicates conduct disorder and that's a very serious psychiatric disorder that needs treatment,” said Wadelton.
Wadelton says that teens who abuse animals often grow up with many other abuse problems and many times wind up in jail as an adult.
“Abuse of other people, other criminal acts. For example, they did a research study which is worst-case scenario with serial killers and all of them had a history of injuring animals when they were teens,” said Wadelton.
Wadelton said when teens act out this way, it often indicates something in their childhood contributed to the behavior.
“Certainly the bad seed theory, which would imply some genetic lack of empathy that occurs,” said Wadelton. “Certainly for some kids the pattern starts young and we want to intervene early.”
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."
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.