Police officers have been stationed outside an Idaho junior high school after threats of violence were posted online in reaction to accusations that a teacher fed a puppy to a snapping turtle.
The story of Preston Junior High science teacher Robert Crosland reportedly feeding a sick puppy to the turtle last week has spread like wildfire online, causing a sharp reaction from animal rights groups and their supporters.
Local police informed the FBI that the criticism has veered into threats, according to a Thursday news release from Preston School District Superintendent Marc Gee.
The Preston police chief and Franklin County sheriff met with district administrators and have “determined that the threat warrants continued police presence as a precaution, but that it does not pose a credible threat to the safety of our students.”
Police officers have been posted at all Preston School District schools, Gee said.
According to a friend of Crosland, he did feed the puppy to the turtle, but other details surrounding the story have gotten twisted and misconstrued.
“It’s really hard on a small community, like Preston, to watch them tear apart somebody that everybody loves,” River McKay, a former student and “really good friend” of Crosland said Tuesday. “Nobody understands how close-knit of a community it is and how much we stand behind the teacher who has changed thousands of peoples’ lives.”
Preston, comprising about 5,000 people and thousands of acres of rural dairy farmland, has taken an online barrage of insults in the past few days, McKay said.
The Franklin County Sheriff’s Officer responded on March 8 to the junior high on a complaint of animal cruelty, and four days later submitted reports to Franklin County Prosecuting Attorney Vic Pearson for a review of potential animal cruelty charges against the teacher.
Pearson, due to a conflict, has turned the case over to a prosecutor in another district for review. He added that sheriff’s officers were continuing to investigate, but that the high volume of calls being received by law enforcement and his office was “hindering our ability to complete what needs to be done to reach the end goal of justice in this case,” according to a news release.
McKay, who learned what happened from the mother of two of the boys who saw the after-school feeding, relayed the story to a Salt Lake Tribune reporter.
Someone — McKay didn’t know who — brought a sick, deformed and abandoned puppy to Crosland, a man reportedly well-known for taking in hurt and sick animals.
Three boys were in the classroom, helping Crosland feed his animals after school had ended.
The puppy was dying. Crosland couldn’t get the puppy to eat or drink, McKay said, and was beyond saving. The person who brought it in knew it needed to be put down.
“It was going to die, and either they could take it to the vet and pay to have it euthanized or they could feed his animals and let his animals live because theirs wasn’t going to,” McKay said.
Crosland put the puppy into the snapping turtle’s tank, where it drowned and was eaten, according to McKay.
The three boys who were there all work on farms and understood what was happening, according to the mother of two of the boys.
“They were OK with it,” McKay added.
But a school staff member overheard and started yelling at Crosland.
“That really upset the boys,” McKay said.
The staff member reportedly sent the story via text message to a woman who on March 8 filed a police report.
Jill Parrish, an animal activist, filed the complaint, according to a report from Fox 13.
“Allowing children to watch an innocent baby puppy scream because it is being fed to an animal. That is violence. That is not OK,” Parrish told Fox 13.
The Idaho Humane Society has received calls from people who are ”deeply disturbed by this news report,” spokeswoman Kristine Schellhaas said.
The group’s social media manager spent all night moderating furious comments online, according to Dr. Jeff Rosenthal, executive director of the Idaho Humane Society.
“We share the concern and the outrage, but we just have to keep it civil,” he wrote in an emailed statement. In general, he said, the feeding of a live puppy to a turtle would be a violation of the state’s animal cruelty statues.
“It is a moral responsibility that every animal has a painless death,” the Idaho Humane Society wrote in a release. “The fundamental responsibility we all have to domestic animals is the prevention of unnecessary pain and suffering at all times. Our school systems should be places where the proper care and treatment of domestic animals is reinforced by instruction, not where children are inured to pain and suffering.”
But McKay countered, “[Crosland] has rescued way more animals than he has ever harmed.”
Crosland helps animals that are sick or have been hit by cars, she said, adding that he had heated enclosures in his office for sick or hurt animals.
“If families couldn’t afford vets they would get his opinion, and he would help nurse them back to life,” McKay said.
The science teacher also had his own animals, including snapping turtles, geckos, spiders, snakes — “which makes him a super popular teacher,” she said.
McKay and her classmates would stay after school to watch Crosland feed his animals, hold the animals and learn how to properly handle them.
“He’s a phenomenal science teacher,” she said. “And that’s why every kid loved his class, because it’s hands-on and you could see the animals and learn about them.”
When McKay took his science class in seventh grade, seven years ago, he was one of the most challenging and rewarding teachers she said she’s ever had.
“He loved science and he made everybody else love it too,” she said. “He loved his job. He’s one of the only teachers I’ve ever had that has been so dedicated and so passionate that it’s made kids love going to school.”
The next year, Crosland was McKay’s teacher again. “I requested him,” she said.
Outside of school, he is a “go-to person in town,” she said. He has impacted “thousands of lives,” helped hundreds of boys get their Eagle Scout awards, she added.
“If you need something, that’s who the community would call,” she said.
McLay launched an online petition in Crosland’s defense on Monday evening. As of Thursday afternoon, the petition received more than 3,000 signatures, surpassing the original target of 2,500. The goal was raised to 5,000.
Neither the Preston School District nor Preston Junior High School responded to requests for comment. The Salt Lake Tribune has been unable to reach Crosland. As of Monday, he was still in his classroom, pending the results of the district’s investigation, the Associated Press reported.
People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) issued a statement Tuesday.
“This teacher — who is allegedly known for feeding guinea pigs to reptiles during lessons — is a bully who should not be allowed near impressionable young people. Any youngster who witnessed cruelty in the classroom is now in desperate need of lessons about having empathy for other living beings,” the PETA statement reads.
McKay said she’d never heard of Crosland feeding his animals while teaching, only after class.
“Everybody in the community loves him and supports him and knows the conditions and the circumstances,” McKay said. “It’s just the people outside of Preston that have blown up the story, that don’t understand.”