Phoenix – Phoenix police said Thursday they believe a 10-year-old girl suffocated after being locked inside a box as punishment for stealing a Popsicle, as they announced the arrest of four people in connection with her death.
Ame Deal died on July 12 in the Phoenix home where she lived with her family, including a grandmother and an aunt, myFOXphoenix.com reported.
During the initial investigation, family members told police that Ame and other children had been playing hide and seek, and they believed the little girl suffocated after climbing into a plastic box to hide.
However, detectives said Thursday they were treating the death as a homicide. Police said Ame had been placed in the box as a form of punishment for stealing a Popsicle from the freezer.
Other children living in the home were allegedly told to go along with the story that Ame had died while playing hide and seek.
According to police, the girl was forced into the chest, padlocked in, and suffocated when 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 said.
John and Samantha Allen, both 23, were arrested. The Allens are Ame's distant cousins who were babysitting her at the time. Also detained were Ame's 62-year-old grandmother Judith Deal and her 44-year-old aunt Cynthia Stoltzmann.
The Allens were booked on first-degree murder while Deal and Stoltzmann were booked on child abuse and kidnapping.
Police said the four family members abused Ame because they did not believe she was related to them by blood.