Florida woman Danielle Harkins, 35, was arrested Tuesday, after parents complained that their children had been involved in a bizarre purification ritual, which, Harkins had told the children, would rid them of demons. The Miami Herald reported that Harkins, a literacy teacher for the Lealman and Asian Neighborhood Family Center, met the small group of children near the St. Petersburg pier at dusk and lit a small fire. She allegedly told the seven children, all Asian American teenagers, that they had to cut themselves to let out the demons, and then burn the wound to keep the demons from returning.
She allegedly told one teen, 17, that “he needed to get rid of an evil tick.” He was cut on the neck with a shard of glass from a broken bottle, and the wound cauterized with a small key that Harkins had heated with a lighter. The lighter blew out before one of the teens’ cuts could be cauterized, so Harkins reportedly doused his arm with perfume and set it on fire. That teen wound up with second-degree burns on his arm. “Obviously, it’s very strange,” said St. Petersburg police spokesman Mike Puetz. “The motivations for the ritual are very unknown to us.”
Apparently none of the teens, who had met Harkins years before through the Family Center, told their parents about the encounter, and later they were all reluctant to talk to police. One of them, however, did text a friend. The friend told the boy’s parents, who contacted police. Harkins was arrested on felony charges of child abuse and aggravated child abuse, and held on $55,000 bail. She has been suspended without pay. Friends have indicated that the situation involving Harkins’ divorce may have some bearing on her odd behavior.