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A wacky week of weird news captivates St. Petersburg

Monkey mania resulted in officials from several government agencies and private trappers looking for an elusive rhesus macaque in the trees near 54th Avenue S and 31st Street in St. Petersburg on Wednesday.

CHRIS ZUPPA | Times

Monkey mania resulted in officials from several government agencies and private trappers looking for an elusive rhesus macaque in the trees near 54th Avenue S and 31st Street in St. Petersburg on Wednesday.

Not since a Shore Acres resident found the image of Jesus in a bag of chips in 2005 has the Sunshine City endured such a crazy week.

Sure, there was the 2007 saga of Northeast High student Jennifer Mee, who couldn't stop hiccupping, but that was different.

By all accounts, last week was rare, in a docudrama-meets-Comedy Central kind of way.

First came the report that John Hopkins Middle School has accumulated more than 60 arrests since September — more than any other school in the district — including 22 in January alone.

As recently as Feb. 26, two groups squared off in the school's courtyard, creating a mob scene as unsuspecting parents watched in horror from the school office.

"If this is not enough to make a strong statement that we need some official strong help on this campus, then I don't know what it's going to take. A death?" wrote math teacher Catherine Robinson in an e-mail to the school's staff.

As if that report wasn't bad enough, several days later a 12-year-old student failed to channel his inner Oliver — "Please, sir, I want some more" — but instead chose to demand more juice. Upon learning that there was none, he knocked a cafeteria worker to the floor, according to police. The boy was arrested on a felony charge of battery on a School Board employee and taken to juvenile detention.

What is clear is that the fine arts, literary arts and global studies magnet school can no longer tolerate the small group of disruptive hooligans who seem to have no regard for their school, teachers or classmates.

Is it legal to suspend a child from lunch? Just asking.

• • •

Next came the flaky caper that closed a street corner and a 10-story city building at 501 First Ave. N on Tuesday.

There was a suspicious looking brown bag. The Tampa Bay Regional Bomb Squad was called. Another city building at 545 First Ave. N was closed to visitors. Two hours later, it was revealed that the culprit was a light, fluffy croissant.

The judge who first spotted the bag said she just thought it was someone's sandwich. I was holding out for a hero.

When we become too suspicious to open a lunch bag, the terrorists win. And just how much did this episode cost the taxpayers?

Since this incident started in the Florida Office of the Judges of Compensation Claims, perhaps they can crunch the numbers: two hours of work interruption for 70 employees, countless police and the bomb squad. It was undoubtedly the most expensive croissant in city history.

• • •

There was a full moon on Sunday after all. It must have set things in motion.

By Wednesday, there was enough in local news to sustain water cooler chatter for the week, but there was more to come.

By mid afternoon, the city had gone bananas over a rhesus macaque that has been on the lam since last year.

In pursuit were police, a Fire and Rescue ladder truck, a pair of search dogs, wildlife officials and trappers, two news helicopters and a gaggle of paparazzi to boot.

That a loopy monkey (hit with two tranquilizer shots) can escape capture — not by swinging through the trees, but by outpacing the mob on the ground — is amusing at best.

But the better question is: Why all the fuss?

Clearly, this little fellow is touring the bay area. He first appeared in Hillsborough and, like any smart visitor, quickly realized things are better in Pinellas. Sandy beaches, less asphalt and far more tropical settings. He has been spotted in Oldsmar, Palm Harbor and Seminole.

In all this time, has the monkey attacked anyone? Officials say they want to capture it for its own safety.

I'd love to see the bill the taxpayers get socked with for this crazy week.

After all this time, I think our resident monkey should have a name. Have an idea? Send it to me at the e-mail address below.

Sandra J. Gadsden is assistant metro editor/community news. She can be reached at (727) 893-8874 or sgadsden@sptimes.com.

A wacky week of weird news captivates St. Petersburg 03/06/10 [Last modified: Friday, March 5, 2010 5:41pm]

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