A woman was walking her toddler around a pond in Daytona Beach, Florida, on Feb. 14, when she noticed something amiss. Three young men were violently attacking a freshwater turtle, trying to smash its shell.

She brought her child inside, where she told her husband, Persian Gulf veteran Gary Blough, about the incident. He went out to plead with them to stop, seeing that the severely injured turtle was now unable to move.

“The one had it over his head and he was smashing it down on the sidewalk,” Blough told Click Orlando. “I asked them to please leave it alone, just let it go to the lake.”

Then, according to Blough, the men set their sights on him.

“They started hitting the back of my head and started punching me. I was able to fend off a little bit but I mean three of them, got the better of me,” he said.

An arrest report says the suspects, aged 23, 18, and 16, punched Blough and then began kicking him on the ground. In the brutal attack, he sustained a broken skull and facial bones, internal bleeding and a concussion.

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Blough’s wife called the police, and a local officer managed to arrest all three suspects. The police also found the turtle, dead in the pond. As a result, the trio has been charged with aggravated battery and animal cruelty.

“I’d do it again and take the beating again if it meant saving that turtle,” Blough said.