The suffocation death of a 10-year-old girl found in a footlocker at her family's home earlier this month has been ruled a homicide — and members of her own family are believed to be responsible, Phoenix police announced this afternoon.
Initially, the July 12, death of Ame Deal was suspected to potentially be a tragic accident. Family members claimed Deal probably got into the box herself while playing hide-and-seek with other children living in the home near 35th Avenue and Broadway Road in Phoenix.
"She was an awesome hider, let me tell you," Deal's aunt, Cynthia Stolzmann, told a local TV station when the girl's body was discovered earlier this month (see video of Stoltzmann talking about her niece the day she was found dead — courtesy of ABC 15 — below).
Stolzmann, as well as three others have been charged with crimes related to the girl's death, including first-degree murder charges for Deal's cousin Sammantha Allen and her husband, John Allen, each 23.
According to Phoenix police, an investigation revealed that locking Deal in the footlocker was often used as a form of punishment for the girl.
John and Sammantha Allen admitted to police that on the day she was found dead, they had placed a padlock on the footlocker — with Deal inside — so she couldn't get out.
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She was later found dead.
Stolzmann and another woman, Deal's 62-year-old grandmother Judith Deal, both admitted to
police that they'd locked the girl in the footlocker in the past to punish her.
Stolzmann and Deal have each been charged with child abuse and kidnapping.
Check back for updates.