Twisted teacher who cut then burned teens in odd ritual ‘to banish demons’

Parents usually tell their children to do what their teachers tell them.

In the case of 'gentle and kind' literacy teacher Danielle Harkins, that was the worst thing they could have done.

This month marks nine years since the then 35-year-old performed a brutal and truly bizarre ritual with a group of her former pupils – but to this day the full details remain something of a mystery.

It began when Harkins apparently asked seven teenagers she had taught at Lealman Asian Neighborhood Family Centre in St Petersburg, Florida, to meet her in a local park at dusk.

When they arrived, she already had a small fire burning.

One can only imagine what they thought when she told them to start chanting and dancing around the flames.

And when the mum-of-two then told they were infested with demons, it was definitely time to leave.

The strange thing is none of the teenagers did, and have refused to properly speak about what happened ever since.

The police, however, worked out some details.

To rid themselves of the evil spirits, their former teacher told them they would have to cut themselves, allowing the demons out.

To stop the demons getting back in, the wounds would have to be burned. That was what the fire was for.

Reluctant to start self-harming, Harkins apparently took matters into her own hands. One teen was cut on the neck with a broken bottle. Harkins used the fire to heat a small key, which she then used to cauterise the wound.

Another teen was cut on the hand. When she tried to burn the wound closed, Harkins' lighter kept going out. So she got some perfume from her bag, splashed it on the wound, and then set fire to it. The boy suffered second degree burns.

Police have struggled to get full details of whatever else happened that night because the kids were reluctant to talk. They only became aware of the incident after another child, who was not involved, reported it.

It is believed others were injured.

A police spokesman said: "Obviously, it's very strange. The motivations for the ritual are very unknown to us. She hasn’t informed us exactly what she was trying to accomplish with this."

It would seem, though, that the children were not the only ones in need of help.

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Harkins' neighbours said her strange behaviour began after she became involved in messy divorce proceedings.

About a month before it was finalised, Lisa Cope, her next door neighbour, said the last time she saw her, Harkins had already taken an interest in extreme religious beliefs.

She said: "She was my friend. She cried on my shoulder when she and her husband were getting a divorce. She told me I was okay. She said I didn't have any demons.

"I don't know where she got the whole demon idea. Who knows what makes people think those things?"

Harkins was subsequently found guilty of just one count of child abuse and one count of aggravated battery as the other kids would not testify.

She was jailed for six months in a Florida court and since her release, in 2012, has kept out of the headlines.

We can only hope she no longer has any demons of her own.

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