THONOTOSASSA — Nature's Classroom is supposed to be a place where school children get an up-close look at Florida wildlife.
But Monday morning, there were two fewer animals for the kids to enjoy.
Two of the environmental education center's deer were killed and a third was injured by an unknown intruder or intruders this week, said Gary Morse, a spokesman for the Florida Wildlife Commission.
The attack happened Sunday night or Monday morning, Morse said. He declined to provide more details, citing the FWC's open investigation.
Tanya Arja, a spokeswoman for the Hillsborough School District, also declined to provide additional information.
"We want to find out who did it, so we don't want to do anything to hinder their investigation," Arja said.
On Tuesday, children chattered and laughed as they ate lunch in the center's pavilion nestled among towering oak trees. A receptionist at the front desk said school staff had been told not to comment.
Founded in 1968, the Nature's Classroom program aims to give children a hands-on lesson in Florida's fauna and flora, with a focus on the Hillsborough River watershed. The 365-acre site features an animal compound with native species that can't be released into the wild because they're injured or orphaned, or were nuisance animals that were trapped and needed to be relocated.
It's not the first time an animal on school district property has been the victim of violence.
In 2008, someone bludgeoned an 8-month old llama named Adonis in a stable on the Gaither High School campus. Students in the school's agriculture program found the 175-pound animal lying in his stall. A necropsy determined Adonis died of a skull fracture caused by trauma. A reward was offered for information on the crime but no one was ever arrested.
Times senior news researcher John Martin contributed to this report. Contact Tony Marrero at [email protected] or (813) 226-3374. Follow @tmarrerotimes.