TikTok outs 12-year-old who may be charged in 'pignapping' from Santa Rosa Beach school
SANTA ROSA BEACH — Charges were pending Tuesday against the 12-year-old Walton County boy allegedly responsible for the "pignapping" of a beloved furry friend of the students at Tree House Episcopal Church Montessori School.
Coconut, an 8-year-old female guinea pig, was stolen from the school's primary-level classroom (for students from 3 to 5 years old) sometime during the weekend. But thanks to some sleuthing by the school staff and the work of the Sheriff's Office, Coconut was back in class Tuesday morning, much to the relief and delight of his young humans.
"Today when we got her back, the children were so excited," Tree House head of school Summer Stough said late Tuesday morning. Coconut returned to a chorus of laughs and cheers and, yes, "a few tears here and there," said Stough. "It was really sweet."
According to reports from the Sheriff's Office and Tree House, the classroom had been somewhat ransacked during the pignapping, but the only things missing were Coconut, Coconut's bed and Coconut's food bowl. Left behind was the plastic kiddie pool lined with wood chips and toys that serves as Coconut's home. It wasn't exactly clear Tuesday how the boy allegedly had gotten into the school, according to Corey Dobridnia, public information officer for the Sheriff's Office.
Tuesday's reunion, while joyful, was preceded by a somewhat tense Monday as Montessori teachers and staff realized Coconut was gone and had to break the news to students.
"We were honest with them, and said we really don't know where she is and we were doing our best to try to locate her," Stough said.
Part of that effort was to turn to social media, where the school on Monday posted the sad news of Coconut's disappearance on its Facebook page, along with the news that a police report had been filed and a reward was being offered for her return.
"Our children are heartbroken — they have been told we don't know where she is right now," the post read, along with some contact information for the school.
The school itself was involved in the work that broke open the case, along with a big bit of help from the alleged pignapper himself.
"There had been some sightings of some neighborhood kids (on the school grounds) on Saturday," Stough said. Following up on that sighting, it was discovered that the alleged perpetrator had posted a video of himself with Coconut on TikTok, a video-sharing social networking service.
From there, according to Stough, the school was able to ferret out an address for the youngster and called the Sheriff's Office. On Tuesday morning, Stough, accompanied by deputies in their vehicles, drove to the boy's house. The boy is not a student at Tree House, which serves children only through kindergarten.
The boy's father was contacted, and he came home and allowed deputies and Stough inside, where Coconut was found in an upstairs room.
Back at school, accompanied by a deputy, Stough returned Coconut to his classroom and to Montessori teacher Lee Ellen Grahame, who brought the guinea pig to the school when it was just a baby, barely a year old.
In those years, Coconut has been an integral part of the school's curriculum, Stough said. "Part of the Montessori curriculum is care of the environment," she said.
To that end, students have jobs that include taking care of classroom plants and making sure that Coconut is fed.
On Tuesday, though, Coconut's return provided another kind of learning opportunity, Stough said, in terms of how to look at the circumstances of the apparent pignapping and the youngster now facing possible charges in the incident.
"We talked about how good people do bad things, and how people make mistakes," Stough said. "This is a pretty serious life lesson here."
Exactly how serious a life lesson could be for the 12-year-old facing possible charges in the incident remains to be seen. Dobridnia said late Tuesday morning that the youngster could be charged with burglary. For a juvenile in Florida, being found guilty of a burglary charge could involve restitution, counseling, probation or possibly even detention.