PHOENIX – Four people were arrested in the death of a 10-year-old girl who police said Thursday had been placed inside a padlocked, plastic footlocker for punishment after months of other abuse.
During the initial investigation, family members told police that Ame Deal and other children in her extended family had been playing hide and seek, and they believed that Ame must have climbed into the box to hide and accidentally suffocated.
However, detectives said they're now treating the July 12 death as a homicide after determining the child had been placed in the box as punishment for taking a Popsicle from a refrigerator.
Before being locked in, the girl was forced to run and do other exercises in the backyard, despite nearly triple-digit heat.
Police investigators said the girl apparently had been put in the box at least five times in recent months for misbehaving, and had been beaten with a wooden paddle, forced to swallow hot sauce and to eat dog feces.
Police said the girl slept on the floor of a stall shower in the home with no blanket or pillow as a disciplinary measure for bed wetting.
"This child died at the hands of those who were supposed to love and care for her," police spokesman Sgt. Trent Crump said. "This case has turned the stomachs of some of our most seasoned detectives."
Police arrested Judith Deal, 62, Cynthia Stoltzmann, 44, and John and Samantha Allen, both 23.
The Allens were charged with first-degree murder. Stoltzmann and Deal were charged with child abuse and kidnapping.
Stoltzmann is the girl's paternal aunt and legal guardian, and Deal is her grandmother who was homeschooling Ame and the other children who lived in the house.
The Allens are married, and Samantha Allen is the girl's aunt. Police said the couple acknowledged putting Ame in the box and padlocking it on July 12.
At their initial court appearances Thursday, the Allens were ordered held on $1 million cash bond apiece while both Deal's and Stoltzmann's bail was set at $500,000 cash.
A judge set all their preliminary hearings for Aug. 8. It couldn't be immediately determined if any of the four suspects had attorneys yet. Court records indicated none had entered a plea.