A teacher in Florida has been accused of telling a group of teens that they had to cut and burn themselves to rid their bodies of demons.
Danielle Hawkins, 35, a literacy teacher at the Lealman and Asian Neighborhood Family Center in St. Petersburg, is charged with aggravated child abuse and child abuse, NBCMiami.com reported.
Police said Hawkins and seven former students gathered at a pier Saturday before dusk and she told them they needed to cut themselves to rid evil spirits. She then said they needed to burn the wounds so that the spirits couldn't return, the Tampa Bay Times reported.
Two teens were injured during the ritual, with one suffering second-degree burns. None of the students told their parents, but one 16-year-old told a friend in a text message what happened. The friend told the boy's parent, who called police, the paper reported.
"Obviously, it's very strange," St. Petersburg police spokesman Mike Puetz told the Times. "The motivations for the ritual are very unknown to us."
Police said that when wind blew out a lighter that Hawkins was holding next to one teen's hand, she doused him with perfume and lit it. Another suffered a cut on the neck from a broken bottle. Hawkins heated a small key to cauterize the wound, according to the Times.
Hawkins was arrested Tuesday and was being held in lieu of $55,000 bail. Authorities are not sure what religion the ritual was a part of, the Times reported.
Hawkins has been suspended from her teaching job at the family center without pay. Executive director Carolyn Chance said the center's board will meet in a few days to discuss her fate with the organization. She also said Hawkins never exhibited any kind of strange behavior in the four-plus years she's worked there.
"It's is the most bizarre thing I've ever seen, that's all I can say," Chance told msnbc.com.
Hawkins was the defendant in a sexual violence case that was dismissed in January and filed for a domestic violence injunction against her then-husband in August that was also dismissed, the paper reported. Her divorced was finalized June 1, the Times reported.
Lisa Cope, Hawkins next-door neighbor, told the Times that the last time she saw Hawkins she had taken an interest in extreme religious beliefs.
"She told me I was okay," Cope told the paper. "She said I didn't have any demons."
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