PRESTON — Although people from across the United States and beyond are calling for Preston Junior High School science teacher Robert Crosland to lose his job for allegedly dropping a sick puppy into a classroom aquarium containing a hungry snapping turtle, the vast majority of those who live in his community appear to be supporting him.
Jill Parrish, the Preston woman who reported the puppy’s death to police, said the Preston community has instead turned on her and she feels threatened for her and her family’s safety.
But she’s not the only one who feels threatened. A Facebook comment encouraging “school shooters” to visit Preston schools prompted law enforcement officers to deploy to those schools last week and many parents decided to keep their children at home out of fear for what could happen next.
With more and more media outlets covering the story and no word from the authorities as to when a decision on whether or not to charge Crosland will be made, it seems the tension gripping Preston like a vise is going to get worse before it gets better.
The snapping turtle that ate the puppy is now also dead. Because it was an invasive species, the turtle was confiscated by Idaho Fish and Game officers and “humanely” euthanized by the Idaho Department of Agriculture.
There’s been a firestorm of media attention surrounding Crosland allegedly feeding the puppy to the turtle in front of three students at Preston Junior High School on March 7, as well as condemnation of the teacher’s alleged actions from people all over the country and world. One online petition urging the Preston School District to fire Crosland over the incident has received over 90,000 signatures.
But it appears that the Preston community is standing behind Crosland. Over 3,500 people have signed the petition titled “We Support Crosland,” and many Preston residents say they are growing tired of the media coverage.
Parrish, who contacted police about the puppy’s death after hearing rumors circulating in the community, said her family doesn’t feel safe.
“No matter what side you’re on, it doesn’t matter, but threatening me and threatening Mr. Crosland is not OK,” Parrish said.
Parrish said her family has felt threatened since the local story made international news last week.
“I am not saying that you (Crosland) are not a good person. I’m not saying that you’re not a good teacher. I’m saying that what you’ve done is wrong,” Parrish said.
Parrish stressed that while she was the one to report the puppy’s death to police, she did not contact the media about the story.
However, she said many in the Preston community are blaming her for the international coverage the story is receiving.
Parrish said she wishes the people who did contact the media would come forward and tell everyone that she is not the one to blame for the news coverage that has cast such a negative light on the Preston community.
“I wish they would have enough backbone to come out and say ‘Jill did not call,’” Parrish said.
The situation in Preston went from bad to worse on Wednesday when someone commenting about the puppy’s death on Facebook wrote, “Hey school shooters, you know what you have to do.”
The FBI got involved after that and Franklin County sheriff’s deputies and Preston police were deployed to all Preston schools as a safety precaution.
Still, about a third of Preston’s students were kept home from school by their parents on Thursday because of the Facebook threat, which authorities later dismissed as unfounded.
Marc Gee, superintendent of the Preston School District, said, “As students began arriving to school there were a lot of rumors circulating on social media which fed into a general feeling that the threat was much more serious than it actually was.”
Gee would not comment on reports that Crosland has taken a leave of absence from his teaching position. The longtime Preston science teacher has not publicly commented about the allegations against him.
Franklin County authorities have not said much about the puppy’s death, except that they are investigating an animal cruelty incident at Preston Junior High School.
Franklin County Prosecutor Vic Pearson issued a press release saying he would not decide on whether charges will be filed in the case because of a conflict of interest. Pearson said he handed the case off to another Southeast Idaho prosecutor to make that determination, but he has not released that prosecutor’s name. If charged and convicted of animal cruelty, Crosland faces a maximum penalty of six months in jail and a $5,000 fine.
Many residents of Preston, population about 5,200, feel like all the media coverage has overblown the story about the puppy’s death.
“There’s been so much hype about it that now the kids are worried and they’re hearing a lot of things that may or may not be true,” Preston resident Nate Burnett said, referring to the rumors circulating after the threatening Facebook post.
Preston resident Beverly Jackson said the community supports Crosland. She said, “We all think he’s an excellent teacher, so I have nothing bad to say about him. My grandkids have loved him and so have my kids.”
Parrish said that she feels the community has turned on her and her family as the story has gained more media coverage.
Parrish said she’s been told that some Preston students are trying to find out her address so they can vandalize her home and “teach us a lesson.”
After believing a mysterious pickup truck was following her last week, Parrish felt so threatened that she contacted Preston police.
She said the pickup first drove by her house, which is located on a dead-end road. Then she drove to a Preston park and noticed the truck parked there. She twice saw the truck during separate visits to Preston Junior High School and then noticed it was parked two blocks from her home.
The puppy’s death has also gotten the attention of local veterinarians.
In commenting on the media reports about what allegedly happened, Dr. Julia Alpert, a Pocatello veterinarian, said Crosland did not have the authority to make the decision that the puppy was terminally ill and feeding the canine to a snapping turtle was not the correct way to handle the situation.
If Crosland had brought the puppy to local veterinarians, the situation would’ve been handled much more humanely, Alpert said.
“It would be against the veterinary code of ethics to feed a live puppy to another animal,” she said.