LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — Jersey Bridgeman endured a lot in her young life, including abuse at the hands of her father and stepmother, but school officials say she was still a happy little girl.
Now, with the couple away in prison for chaining her to a dresser last year, authorities are trying to figure out who killed the 6-year-old. Her body was found in a vacant house this week in Bentonville, a northwest Arkansas city best known as the home of Wal-Mart’s headquarters.
‘‘To find out that the girl had been abused before, to me it was like: ‘You've got to be kidding me,'’’ said Mike Poore, school superintendent in Bentonville, where Jersey attended kindergarten at Sugar Creek Elementary. ‘‘How can someone that young go through so much?’’
Still, despite the hardships she faced, Jersey managed to delight those she met.
‘‘She’s an amazing child,’’ said Mary Ley, communications director for Bentonville schools. ‘‘She'd been through a lot and still had joy.’’
Police in the city about 215 miles northwest of Little Rock have said they’re investigating Jersey’s death as a homicide, but they won’t disclose how she died. In a statement Friday, they said the girl’s family members have been cooperating with detectives but do not want to speak to the media ‘‘during this time of grieving’’ and ‘‘ask that their privacy be respected.’’
Authorities haven’t arrested anyone in connection with Jersey’s death or publicly identified any suspects or persons of interest.
‘‘There’s no reason ... for the community to be worried at this point,’’ Capt. Justin Thompson told The Associated Press on Friday. He would not say whether authorities think someone who knew the girl killed her.
Thompson said Jersey’s body was found in a vacant house two doors down from the home where she lived with her mother. He said investigators believe the girl died sometime between midnight and 6:53 a.m. Tuesday, when her body was found about 10 minutes after someone called police to report her missing.
Thompson would not say who called 911.
Authorities have searched the home where Jersey lived, the house where her body was found and the home in between the two. Thompson wouldn’t talk about what evidence they collected.
Jersey’s death comes almost a year after her father and stepmother chained her to a dresser in nearby Rogers.
According to court records, David Bridgeman told an investigator he cut a belt to fit around his daughter’s ankle and chained her to the dresser because she got into medication and other things around the house. He and Jersey’s stepmother, Jana Bridgeman, both pleaded guilty in June to false imprisonment, permitting abuse of a minor and endangering the welfare of a minor.
Jana Bridgeman is serving a 12-year prison sentence, plus three years for a probation revocation. David Bridgeman is serving an 18-year prison sentence.
Follow Jeannie Nuss at http://twitter.com/jeannienuss .