Posted: Nov 21, 2012 4:25 PM
LITTLE ROCK, Ark. - 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.
Bentonville Police Chief Jon Simpson said Jersey Bridgeman's body was found in a nearby vacant house about 10 minutes after she was reported missing Tuesday morning.
Police said they're investigating her death as a homicide, but they have not said how the girl died or released the names of any suspects.
Autopsy results are pending, Simpson said in a news release. Bentonville is about 215 miles northwest of Little Rock.
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," Engle said. "A little old soul, but such a delight."
Police in nearby Rogers said Jersey was interviewed last year at the center when the abuse allegations came up. 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."
The father admitted to chaining his daughter to a dresser with a belt last year after a friend contacted police about possible child abuse, according to court records. The father's friend 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 immediately return a phone message seeking comment.
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