LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — Authorities on Wednesday were investigating the death of a 6-year-old girl whose father is in prison for chaining her to a dresser last year in northwest Arkansas.
Jersey Bridgeman's body was found in a nearby vacant house about 10 minutes after she was reported missing Tuesday morning, Bentonville Police Chief Jon Simpson said.
Police in the city about 215 miles northwest of Little Rock are treating her death as a homicide, but they have not said how the girl died or released the names of any suspects. Simpson said autopsy results are pending.
It's not clear who the girl was living with or who reported her missing.
More than 100 people gathered to mourn the child at a candlelight vigil Tuesday at the Children's Advocacy Center of Benton County near Bentonville, the center's executive director, Beverly Engle, said.
"There was a unique quality about Jersey," she said. "A little old soul, but such a delight."
Engle said Jersey was interviewed last year at the center when the abuse allegations were reported to police in nearby Rogers. According to a court document, the girl told officers she slept on the floor in the same room as her father, David Bridgeman, and her stepmother, Jana Bridgeman.
"She said that Jana and David chain her to the dresser because she had gotten up and eaten some pies, cereal, and bread," Rogers Police Detective Larry Taylor wrote in the court affidavit.
He added that the girl "stated that they put a belt around her waist so that she could not get up and get any food."
Both the father and stepmother pleaded guilty in June to false imprisonment, permitting abuse of a minor and endangering the welfare of a minor.
Jana Bridgeman, also identified as Jana Slinkard in court records, is serving a 12-year prison sentence, plus three years for a probation revocation, according to online Department of Correction records.
David Bridgeman is serving an 18-year prison sentence. Prison records show he has a tattoo that says "Jersey."
He admitted to chaining his daughter to a dresser with a belt last year after a woman who was staying with the couple contacted police about possible child abuse, according to court records. That woman said she found the girl chained to a dresser with a silver chain and what appeared to be a dog collar.
David Bridgeman told an investigator that his daughter got into medication and other things around the house, so he and his wife decided to chain her to the dresser at night so she couldn't wander off, according to court records.
"He said that he thinks she may be sleepwalking and that they discussed buying a child gate, but since he does not have a job, they could not afford to buy one at that time," Taylor, the detective, wrote in the court affidavit.
The father said he cut a belt to make it fit around his daughter's ankle and added a lock on the chain after she pulled it off, according to court records.
At some point, his daughter complained that the collar hurt her leg, so he chained her by the waist instead, court records indicate.
"It should be noted that the chain that David used was approximately one to two feet in length and appeared to be a dog choke collar," Taylor wrote in the affidavit.
Jana Bridgeman's attorney, Billy Bob Webb, declined to comment Wednesday. David Bridgeman's attorney, Sarah Ashley, didn't return a phone message seeking comment.
The FBI has dispatched agents to assist in the homicide investigation, spokeswoman Kimberly Brunell said.
Associated Press writer Jill Bleed contributed to this report.
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