JACKSONVILLE, Florida (WTLV) -- The decision of whether or not to prosecute two teenage girls accused of torturing a state-protected tortoise is now in the hands of the State Attorney. But some outraged locals are taking a plea for maximum punishment to the Internet.
Two petitions both asking the underage teens be prosecuted for allegedly burning and stomping a gopher turtle to death are circulating on change.org. One has over 3,000 signatures, another is almost at the 3,000 mark.
In less than a week, the clips have spread through social media and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission has received an abundance of emails and phone calls. FWC investigated the incident after the two Orange Park teenagers allegedly recorded themselves torturing a helpless gopher turtle and posting two videos on their Facebook accounts.
On Monday, FWC presented the case to the State Attorney's Office. The commission says it is up to the state attorney on whether or not the girls will face animal cruelty charges.
"The statute is the same whether you're an adult or a juvenile. There are different kinds of animal cruelty; one is a misdemeanor and one is a felony. This one has to be the aggravated kind, because it is an excruciating video to watch obviously an aggravated killing of an animal," said attorney Janet Johnson.
Johnson says if the teenagers are charged, they could be tried in adult court.
"If a child is close to 18 and has any kind of record and its treated as a felony, it's a likely case to be direct filed to adult court," added Johnson.
Two teenage girls, in two videos posted on their Facebook accounts, are seen burning and torturing a helpless endangered gopher tortoise to death.
Questions also surround whether or not additional charges can be filed because the gopher tortoise is protected by the state. According to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission, it is a threatened species which means it's likely to become endangered. According to U.S. Fish and Wildlife the tortoises are listed as endangered in other southeastern states.
In one video, their first attempt to set the tortoise on fire failed so they poured more of a combustible liquid on its shell and then used a lighter to set it on fire again as the tortoise tried to get away.
"Burn him baby, burn him baby," one of the girls screamed.
"I was sickened by it, and couldn't even watch the video," said Karen Parker.
They may have posted it on their personal Facebook pages, but now the video can be seen all over the world.
"People are really outraged by this," she said.
One of the videos is three minutes and 28 seconds and reveals the torture in pictures and in words.
"Now you are scared of us," screams one of the girls.
When she failed to set the tortoise shell on fire, she offered a facetious apology to the camera.
"I'm sorry about that," she said.
Denise Diesler runs the Jacksonville Humane Society and calls the video disturbing.
"What a really pathetic attempt at getting attention to yourself," said Diesler.
She said the girls need punishment and they need counseling.
"It is not normal behavior," Diesler said.
After they failed to set the tortoise on fire, one of the girls decided to stomp it to death under her feet.
"I don't have any words for it," said Parker. "I'm at a loss."
PHOTOS: Florida's threatened gopher tortoise
Counselor speaks out about girls in video
The family of the teenagers who posted a video of their torturing of a tortoise have refused to respond to a reporter's knock at their Orange Park home. But our sister station WTLV First Coast News did speak to a counselor who knew one of the girls and a clinical psychologist about what this type of behavior means.
Jessica Jones said she was a camp counselor of one of the girls.
"She has a troubled life," said Jones.
Jones said she was also her dorm mother while the girl was at former Camp Tracy in Baker County; it was a camp for at-risk teens.
"I'm just totally surprised that she would even do so far, it is really disturbing," said Jones. "I knew she had some issues but I did not know it was that deep."
Jones said even though the two met about three years ago, they remained connected through Facebook and regular conversations.
"She told me that her parents had kicked her out and she didn't want anyone to know where she was," said Jones.
Jones said she hasn't heard from her since the video surfaced.
Is animal cruelty a sign of future behavior problems?
"Cruelty to animals is clearly a warning sign," said Dr. Justin D'Arienzo.
Dr. D'Arienzo is a forensic psychologist. He said there are three types of animal abusers.
- If the person is between the ages of 3-5 he said that person is an experimenter.
- If the person is between the ages of 6-7 he said that person is crying out for help. "If a child is still abusing an animal after the age of seven, that's a problem," he said.
- If the person is 12 or older and the animal abuse continues in the teenage years, Dr. D'Arienzo says that person is a sociopath. "If they're abusing animals with that age there's usually some substance abuse," said D'Arienzo. "There could be other criminal or delinquent behavior."
Even though he has not made a personal assessment of the teenagers in this case, he said the signs they are show are signs that they need professional help.
"We know that 30 percent of the kids who commit animal abuse have witness domestic violence in their home," he said. "I can't say what is going on here, but that is a fact."
Pictures: Baby Animals