MANATEE COUNTY, Fla. - When 10-year-old Marina Redden got a text from a friend that there were two turtles along the park’s bike and walking path, she thought they were alive.
But what she and her father found was upsetting.
“The one that its organs hanging out was here near this sand pile,” says Marina.
What turned out to be a gopher tortoise appeared alive. The two then saw a second tortoise about 50 feet away on the grass — it had died.
The shells on both tortoises were severely cracked and bloody.
Marina says it makes her "very sad. It made me angry someone would do that.”
“I was angry and disturbed someone would do that to any animal, let alone a turtle who can’t harm anybody or have a chance to get away,” says Ray Redden, Marina’s father.
Hoping to save the one turtle Marina and her dad took it to Bayshore Animal Clinic.
“I’ve never seen one so severely displaced inside, the intestines and stomach hanging out of the fracture,” Dr. Mike Mossler says.
By the time he saw the tortoise it, too, had died.
“My first impression it got run over,” the veterinarian says.
Except the tortoises were found along a path reserved for bicyclists and walkers in Lakewood Ranch. If they weren’t run over by heavy equipment, Mossler says there’s only one other possibility.
“It would have to be severely beaten. I don’t think one blow would cause such severe fractures of the shell,” he says.
The question now: Who’s responsible?
Marina has this message for the attackers: “I hope you never do it again or influence anyone else to do it.”
Marina says people should treat animals the way they treat people: “Kind, nicely … not hurt them.”
Gopher tortoises are protected --- they're considered "threatened" in Florida. Harming or killing one is a third-degree felony.
A national conservation group called Center for Biological Diversity is offering a $5,000 reward for information leading to an arrest. Other rewards from Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, the Lakewood Ranch Community Development and private donations bring the reward total to $7,200.