THONOTOSASSA (FOX 13) - State wildlife agents are trying to figure out who broke into Nature's Classroom and beat three captive deer to death earlier this month.
According to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, the deer were used as part of the educational wildlife center's programs in Thonotosassa, which is part of the Hillsborough County Public Schools system.
It happened sometime between the afternoon of Sunday, October 2 and the early morning of Monday, October 3. FWC said the suspect or suspects "brutally beat" the deer - an adult male named Bucky, an adult female named Rosie, and a younger female named Katie - with a blunt object. They were found dead by a staff caretaker when she arrived at work.
"When you think about it, if someone is willing to do this to friendly deer, what else are they willing to do is my concern?" said wildlife educator Lisa Wancio, who discovered the maimed deer.
Katie was treated by a veterinarian for her injuries, but died the next day. The family of deer were considered pets by the staff and the children who visited the park.
"This is certainly inhumane and I just can't understand how anybody would do this to an animal," said Nature's Classroom principal Barbara Mercer.
Agents and school officials said they hope someone will step forward with information about the crime.
The Nature's Classroom program dates back to the 1960s. It houses environmental-themed classes for thousands of sixth graders each year, but is also open for events to students of all ages.
Crime Stoppers of Tampa Bay is offering a reward of up to $3,000 for information that leads to the identification and arrest of the unknown suspect(s) involved in this case. Anyone with any information and who wants to be eligible for a cash reward is asked to call Crime Stoppers at 1-800-873-TIPS (8477), report anonymously online at www.crimestopperstb.com or send a mobile tip using the P3 Tips Mobile application.