Literacy Coach Encouraged Students to Cut Themselves to Get Rid of the Demons

The right way to teach students about demons: Tell them they don’t exist.

The wrong way to teach students about demons: Have them cut themselves to release the demons from their bodies.

That’s what Danielle Harkins did to kids she tutored at the Lealman Asian Neighborhood Family Center in Florida.

Detectives said that two students were injured during the ritual, in which Harkins allegedly instructed the teens to cut each other.

‘They would follow that up with some sort of cauterization of the wound to keep the evil spirits from getting back in to the body,’ Mr Puetz said.

Teens told investigators that Harkins used a lighter to cauterize the cuts, but the wind blew it out. She then poured some sort of perfume on a student and lit him on fire, causing second degree burns, in an attempt to ‘brand’ him.

Another teen was cut on the neck with a broken bottle piece, police said, and then Harkins heated up a small key to close the wound.

Lisa Cope, Harkins’ next-door neighbor, said the teacher had recently taken an interest in extreme religious beliefs. ‘She told me I was okay,’ Ms Cope said to The Tampa Bay Times.

‘She said I didn’t have any demons.’

That’s religious brainwashing at its worst: When it causes you to inflict harm on other people.

The article never says what her “extreme religious beliefs” are… but a delusion’s a delusion all the same.

(Thanks to Joe for the link)

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the chair of Foundation Beyond Belief and a high school math teacher in the suburbs of Chicago. He began writing the Friendly Atheist blog in 2006. His latest book is called The Young Atheist's Survival Guide.

  • CultOfReason

    Religious brainwashing might be a symptom, not the cause.  This person needs psychiatric services.

  • http://squeakysoapbox.com/ Rich Wilson

    Richard Wade made a comment over on the ‘funeral’ thread http://www.patheos.com/blogs/friendlyatheist/2012/06/13/he-interrupted-his-grandmothers-funeral-to-preach-about-christ/#comment-556657433

    that got me thinking.  Some people clearly have mental problems, and religious language is their expression.  Would this person be doing things like this if they weren’t a believer?  How would it manifest itself?  And I don’t mean that as a rhetorical attack on religion.  My completely naive assumption is that it would.  Even if not for a religious belief in demons, this person would probably be doing something else equally wacky and dangerous.

    • http://friendlyatheist.com Richard Wade

      I agree with you, Rich. I don’t think that religion makes people go psychotic or  schizophrenic. These  disorders are essentially brain disorders, not reactions to learned things. Such people will have chaotic and confused thoughts and feelings, and they will use the vocabulary, the ideas, the images of whatever is an important source of identity in their lives. That source might be their religion, but it could also be their military career, their jobs, their political affiliations, their national culture, or anything else that gives them much of their identity. As you say, it’s like a language they learned, so it’s the language they use to express themselves. 

      Some here may remember the incident at Virginia Tech a little over a year ago, where a student was talking to people at an Ask An Atheist booth, and he drew a cross on his hand and started stabbing himself in the hand with the pen.  @font-face {
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      http://www.patheos.com/blogs/friendlyatheist/2011/04/13/virginia-tech-student-stabs-himself-to-prove-god-exists/
      There  were a lot of comments about religion “driving him nuts,” but that’s not how these disorders work, and I commented on that.
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      http://www.patheos.com/blogs/friendlyatheist/2011/04/13/virginia-tech-student-stabs-himself-to-prove-god-exists/#comment-248664344

  • Koru

    This person needs mental health help, and to be charged with her crimes. It seems unlikley that religion is the cause, but ratheran accessory.

    • Fsq

      No, if this truly is a case of mental illness, there should be no criminal charges filed. Let us concentrate on true justice and treatment, not knee-jerk reaction for heads on platters.

      The USA has a very skewed and warped idea of what is and is not “criminal” and in the punishments levied.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_JBAMPHNDKNSKDNVTY3VRYGWMYQ Jack

    I am worried about those teenagers since I can only think about two reasons for why the went along with this:
    a) they took part in the ritual because they were coerced.
    b) they did it because they are brainwashed as well.

    After watching the video and reading the article, it seems to me that those teens maintain an abusive relationship with the teacher (an authority figure) so I’m inclined to think it is option a.

    In case it is option b… well, I’m going to sound like an a-hole if I elaborate on this so I’ll just say: two young men actually believed that they had demons inside their bodies and tried to solve it by cutting themselves?! I was a 17 years old last year and if I’ve heard my teacher say that, I would just walk away slowly without making any sudden movement.

    I apologize for my English.

  • Nancy

    If these extreme beliefs are “recent” my guess would also be some form of mental illness. I know that sometimes the person hears voices telling them to do things they often interpret them as god.

    She sounds like she needs some in patient care. Maybe that’s where she should stay until a trial begins.

  • Dan Dorfman

    STOP OPPRESSING HER FOR HER RELIGIOUS BELIEFS!!!!
    (Sarcasm, by the way, classic example of poe’s law.)

  • Fsq

    why is it that the mainstream masses of christians are ready to accept that god told Michelle Bachmann to run for President but won’t believe this whackadoo was told y god to cut herself up and direct others to?

    it is fucked up for sure, but the incosistency is even more so.


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