PHOENIX - Ame Deal's relatives told police she died after falling asleep in a toy chest while playing hide-and-seek, but on Thursday police say the family lied and in fact killed the little girl.
The 10-year-old girl lived in a house of horrors. It was a place, police say, where the adults who were supposed to take care of her forced her to sleep on the floor of a shower stall, put hot sauce in her mouth when she lied and frequently locked her in an airtight chest as punishment.
On July 12 it was the place she died, allegedly squeezed into that small chest by her cousin's husband, 23-year-old John Allen, who was angry at her for taking a popsicle from the freezer.
"I don't think that a crime could be more unspeakable," said Sgt. Trent Crump of the Phoenix Police Department.
Allen and his wife, Samantha Allen, are facing charges of first-degree murder.
The girl's grandmother, Judith Deal, and aunt Cynthia Stoltzmann were arrested on charges of kidnapping and child abuse.
Four adults were living in the backyard of the Romley Road home in tents during the months leading up to Ame's murder. According to court documents, they witnessed numerous cases of abuse but did not come forward until July 21, once police were already investigating.
Neighbors on Romley Road said they had suspected something wasn't right at the house. "I knew something was fishy," Louis Moreno said.
Another man said the children were always filthy and said he had witnessed the adults making Ame walk back and forth barefoot on the sidewalk on extremely hot days.
Despite neighbors' observations, Child Protective Services was not contacted until Ame died.