Danielle Harkins, 35, was taken into custody by police after one of her former students texted a friend, who in turn informed their father that the literacy tutor had led the teens in the ritual. Harkins reportedly told the students that they had “spirits” inside of them that she wanted to get out, and convinced seven of them to join her.
The ritual included cutting the skin to release demons, and then burning the wound to ensure that the spirits could not re-enter. Reports state that at times a key was heated to scorch the incision, and one teen suffered second-degree burns after Harkins coated his hand with perfume and lit it on fire. Officials are unsure as to what type of ritual Harkins performed or what religion it may have been derived from.
“There was apparently some chanting and then dancing around this fire that was taking place,” Mike Puetz with the St. Petersburg Police Department told Fox News. “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.”
Harkins, who is employed at the Lealmen and Asian Learning Center, a tutoring facility for youth, is now facing child abuse and battery charges.
“It’s bizarre,” remarked Carolyn Chance, the executive director at the 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.”
However, her neighbor states that Harkins talked to her about evil spirits the last time they communicated.
“She told me I was okay [and that] I didn’t have any demons,” Lisa Cope told the Miami Herald. “I don’t know where she got the whole demon idea. Who knows what makes people think those things?”