ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- In what St. Petersburg police are calling a weird religious ritual, they have arrested 35-year old Danielle Harkins for encouraging several teenagers to cut and burn themselves.
The cutting was said to release evil spirits from their body, and the cauterizing of the wounds with fire was to prevent the spirits from getting back in.
The event happened close to the St. Petersburg Pier downtown.
Police say only two of the teenagers were actually cut.
According to authorities, she caused second-degree burns in an attempt to "brand" one of the students' hands with a cigarette lighter. Because of windy conditions next to the pier, the flame wouldn't stay, so she poured perfume on the wound and set it on fire.
Harkins was arrested after one of the teenagers told his friend about the incident.
The friend told the victim's father, who in turn, called police.
Harkins was a literacy skills teacher at Lealman Asian Neighborhood Family Center in St. Petersburg, and worked there for four-and-a-half years.
She had formed close bonds with several students at the center and it was revealed that two of the students that joined her for this ritual were previous members of the center.
Harkins was going through a difficult time, including a divorce, and she recently discovered religion.
The center's executive director Carolyn Chance had no idea that Harkins was planning this meeting.
She was arrested and charged with encouraging bodily harm and bond was set $55,000.
She has been relieved of duties at the center pending investigation.