A teacher at a community center in Pinellas County is facing child abuse charges after police said she encouraged her students to cut each other.
Investigators say it was all part of a bizarre cleansing ritual. According to the St. Petersburg Police Department, Danielle Harkins convinced a group of seven former students of hers to cut their skin to let the evil spirits out, and then burn the wounds so the spirits could not get back into their bodies.
Saturday, police said Harkins gathered six boys and one girl in a park near the Pier and then built a small fire.
"There was apparently some chanting and then dancing around this fire that was taking place," said Mike Puetz, with the St. Petersburg Police Department.
Then police said she encouraged them to cut each other in some sort of ritual, to release the evil spirits from their body.
"They would follow that up with some sort of cauterization of the wound to keep the evil spirits from getting back in to the body," Puetz said.
Police said closing the wound was done by heating a small key and pressing it to their flesh.
Harkins is also accused of using perfume to fuel the so-called "branding" of a 16-year-old boy.
"They placed like a cologne or perfume on his hand, and this was the suspect herself doing this, and then ignited that. I think the term she was, was brand him," Puetz said.
Police said they're having a tough time with the interviews of the young victims.
"The kids that participated in this were rather loyal to her," Puetz said. "There was a lot of reluctance in discussing some of these issues with us."
Harkins is charged with one count of child abuse and one count of aggravated battery. You might wonder how could this story get any creepier, well hold on, because St. Pete Police believe there's more we don't even know yet.
The victims are all former students of Harkins at the Lealman & Asian Neighborhood Family Center.
"It's bizarre," said Carolyn Chance, who is the Executive Director at the Lealman & Asian Neighborhood Family Center. "She was a very good teacher, literacy specialist, very intelligent, she was very skilled. Just recently she started exploring religion, but I didn't know anything about demons or anything like that."
Harkins is in jail on $55,000 bond.
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