Authorities arrested a Florida man and charged him with murder after he allegedly kicked his girlfriend's 3-year-old daughter in the head, killing her, before disposing of her body.
Police also charged the suspect, 29-year-old Cory Hagwell, with aggravated child abuse, and his girlfriend, 23-year-old Destinee Merrell, with accessory after the fact of murder, aggravated child abuse and child neglect, reports WTVY.
The couple reported 3-year-old Adelynn Merrell missing from their home in Crestview, Florida, on Nov. 10 and allegedly told officials conflicting versions of the events that transpired.
"They said they'd last seen her playing in the back yard," Okaloosa County Sheriff Larry Ashley said. "An intense search was conducted but 23-year-old Destinee Merrell then told investigators her boyfriend, 29-year-old Cory Hagwell, had kicked the little girl in the head and locked her in a closet in the master bedroom Thursday night [Nov. 9] because she had gotten out of her car seat."
A child in Merrell's care, whose relationship to the couple is unknown, also said Hagwell kicked Adelynn when she was playing, at which point Merrell reportedly said, "Stop Cory." The boy then saw Adelynn on the floor of a bedroom closet, and she wasn't talking. That was the last he saw of her, he said.
Shortly after, authorities found the girl's remains in a wooded area in the city, and they believe her body was dumped at around 4:30 p.m. on Nov. 10.
From jail, Merrell told officials that Hagwell's violent behavior took place at around 6:30 a.m. on Nov. 10, the day of the girl's death. Merrell reportedly didn't check on her daughter until approximately five hours later at around 11:30 a.m., notes WJHG/WECP.
"During the jail interview Merrell also told investigators Hagwell lost his job about one month ago, and began exhibiting escalating violence towards Adelynn," said Ashley, WTVY reports. "Merrell described hearing thuds and the sounds of Adelynn crying fifteen to sixteen times over that period. She said Hagwell would also withhold food from Adelynn and put her in the closet for extended periods of time."
In a Sept. 1 incident, Merrell allegedly left Adelynn alone and locked in a room with another child, according to authorities. The children reportedly broke a window to escape and were later found by neighbors.
During the course of the investigation, a malnourished 5 year old in the home was also transported for emergency medical care. That child weighed only 33 pounds "with bones in all regions of his body exposed," according to a sheriff's office report.
As far as Adelynn, there are still a few gaps in the story, but Ashley said that while she "had apparent head trauma," officers would wait for autopsy results to know "the exact cause and manner of death."