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 were arrested Wednesday night on suspicion of first-degree murder after Samantha and John Allen, both 23, confessed to locking the child into a storage container, police said.
The child's aunt and grandmother were accused of abusing her in the past by habitually placing her in the storage bin.
"This child died at the hands of those who were supposed to love and care for her," Sergeant Trent Crump, a spokesman for the Phoenix police told Reuters. "This case has turned the stomachs of some of most seasoned detectives," he added.
Police said the child was only 4 feet, 2 inches tall and that the box she was locked into was less than 3 feet long, 14 inches wide and about a foot deep.
Investigators reported that the girl was very dirty and was wearing soiled clothes.
Ame Deal died July 12. Family members told police that Ame was been playing hide and seek and suffocated after hiding in the plastic box. Other children who lived in the same house were told to lie about cause of death.
Detectives said Thursday that the death would be treated as a homicide.
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 and Ame's 44-year-old aunt Cynthia Stoltzmann and 62-year-old grandmother Judith Deal were detained.
The Allens were arrested on charges with first-degree murder. Deal and Stoltzmann were charged with child abuse and kidnapping.
Police said the four family members abused Ame because they did not feel that she was related to them by blood.
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.
Individuals who observe abuse or are abused during childhood often cast themselves in the same roles during their adult lives.
Abused children often suffer from mental illness such as depression, social isolation, and poor self-esteem. Studies have shown that living and reliving abuse also intensifies existing mental health and substance abuse disorders.