A high school school teacher was cited for animal cruelty after she allegedly used a shovel to kill two baby rabbits as her protesting students looked on.
Jane Bender, an agriculture teacher at Plant City High School, killed the two day-old rabbits after the sickly newborns were rejected by their mother, students said.
"She came over with a shovel and just sort of chopped in the hole, and then buried them," said student Ryan Harrell. He said he was so upset by his teacher's actions that he threw up and then broke down crying. "I was really shocked and appalled. I didn't have any words for it."
Students said they had offered to take care of the bunnies, but Bender said she did not want to bottle-feed the newborns. She ordered the students to bury them alive, and when the students refused, she killed them herself, they said.
Cruel to Be Kind?
The Hillsborough County sheriff's office investigated and turned the case over to the state attorney's office. Officials there determined that Bender might have displayed bad judgment, but no criminal charges were warranted. Bender was cited for two civil counts of animal cruelty.
"Her only comment was that she had made a bad decision," said Animal Services investigator Dennis McCullough. "I definitely felt that the teacher needed to be held accountable."
The veteran teacher is also facing questions from the school board, which plans to review the case.
"We haven't talked to the teacher yet," schools spokesman Mark Hart said, "but we believe that she was trying to explain to them that, sometimes in the course of farming, it is necessary to put animals down."
Bender declined to comment to reporters on the case. The teacher, who has 30 years of excellent reviews in her personnel file, could receive a letter of caution or a reprimand.
A few students were willing to give the teacher the benefit of the doubt.
"[It's] for the better of the animals. They're dying already, she went ahead and took care of it and put them out of their misery," said student Charlie Lusk.
Some parents were especially concerned that the rabbits were killed in front of students.
"Nothing like that should be done in front of the kids," said one parent. "I mean, it shouldn't have been done anyway."
This story was reported by WFTS, ABCNEWS' Tampa-St. Petersburg affiliate.