Teens charged in killing of gopher tortoise

Published On: Aug 06 2014 11:29:09 AM EDT
Updated On: Jul 26 2014 10:24:12 AM EDT

VIDEO: Two teens are charged with a third degree felonys for setting fire to an endangered turtle, they could face fines and jail time.

ORANGE PARK, Fla. -

Two Orange Park teenagers who posted a disturbing video online of themselves torturing and killing a gopher tortoise have been arrested, according to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

Jennifer Greene (pictured below), 18, and Danielle Dionne, 15, are charged with felony cruelty to animals, a third-degree felony, and taking, harassing, harming or killing a gopher tortoise, a second-degree misdemeanor. They were taken into custody at Dionne's Orange Park home and are both being held on $55,000 bond.

Greene made her first court appearance Saturday morning in the Clay County Courthouse.

If convicted, Greene could get up to five years in prison on the felony charge and 60 days in jail and/or a $500 fine on the misdemeanor.

Dionne's case will be prosecuted in juvenile court and she will be placed in the custody of the Department of Juvenile Justice. Her picture was not provided by law enforcement because of her age.

The video went viral last week, sending social media into an uproar.

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 teens in the video are heard laughing and talking about killing the turtle.

"Let's light his head on fire," one 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.

After multiple complaints into FWC, officials started an investigation and worked with the State Attorney's Office to determine what charges would be filed.

FWC said the turtle is a threatened gopher tortoise, one level above endangered.

"It's something that we're not going to tolerate," FWC spokesman Brad Stanley said.

Amber Teska, who lives next door to Dionne's house, said the younger teen didn't seem upset when she was arrested, but quite the opposite.

"I had walked out to my mailbox and she was just in the car smiling," Teska said. "She smiled all the way from her house, being handcuffed to the car, and she was inside the car smiling, and it was just disgusting. It's like she doesn't even care."

The outcry for the teens to receive the maximum punishment allowed circulated on the Internet in the form of online petitions, including one by an Orange Park woman on Change.org.

She said her petition garnered more than 10,000 signatures and she's glad the girls were arrested.

Workers at the Clay County Humane Society were also relieved to hear the teens had been arrested.

“I'm very sad the tortoise died as it did, but I'm glad this is not being swept under the rug or ignored,” said veterinarian Christian Broadhurst. “It's being treated like the crime that it is.”

Broadhurst said he's seen his fair share of animal abuse cases over the years, and he said what was even more disturbing about killing this gopher tortoise is how long it likely took to finally die.

“Tortoises do everything slowly, walk slowly, and they die slowly, when they're hit by cars or in this case crushed under a foot,” Broadhurst said. “That tortoise probably suffered many hours before passing away to injuries.”

Ashtin Erd went to school with the two girls at Ridgeview High School and started an online campaign to raise money for a wildlife fund to help gopher tortoises. He's raised about $450.

Erd said the public outcry over the video was intense and sometimes vicious.

“They were shocked and most of them wanted to fight them and beat them up,” Erd said. “Most of my friends posted it and talked about beating them up, and they lived right around the corner.”

The family of one of the teens has installed security cameras at its home after receiving death threats over the video.

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