Phoenix police said Thursday they believed that a 10-year-old girl died after she was locked inside of a box as punishment for stealing a Popsicle. Four people have been arrested.
Ame Deal died July 12. After investigation, family members said to police that Ame had been playing hide and seek and that she suffocated as a result of hiding in the plastic box. Other children who lived in the home were told to lie about the cause of death.
Detectives said Thursday that the death will be treated as a homicide.
Police said that the little girl was forced into the chest and padlocked in. Meanwhile, the family went to sleep. "This child died at the hands of those who were supposed to love and care for her ... this case has turned the stomachs of some of our most seasoned detectives," police spokesperson Sgt. Trent Crump told Fox News.
23-year-olds John and Samantha Allen, Ame's distant cousins, were arrested. Ame's 44-year-old aunt Cynthia Stoltzmann and 62-year-old grandmother Judith Deal were also detained.
The Allens were charged with first-degree murder while Deal and Stoltzmann were charged with child abuse and kidnapping.
Police said the four family members abused Ame because they did not think that she was biologically related to them.
Child-advocacy programs director for Child Help, an Arizona non-profit organization, said that "child abuse throughout the nation and in Arizona is unfortunately continuing to increase."
Increased pressures from a poor economy and limited state resources for the needy contribute to the widespread problem.
National and state records show that 64 children died in Arizona in 2009 due to abuse, up from 51 deaths in 2008, said the Arizona Child Fatality Report that was released in November. One child is abused or neglected every hour in Arizona.
In fiscal 2010, Arizona Child Protective Services received an excess of 33,000 reports involving child abuse. Five American children die every day from child abuse and this number is probably underreported, said the Government Accountability Office in a new report to Congress.
Individuals who observe abuse or are abused during childhood childhood often cast themselves in similar roles throughout their adult lives. Abused children often suffer from mental illness such as depression, social isolation, and poor self-esteem.
Studies show that living and reliving abuse also blatantly exacerbates existing mental health and substance abuse disorders.