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'A little old soul': Girl, 6, found dead after dad, stepmom jailed for keeping her chained

A six-year-old girl whose father and stepmother were sent to prison for keeping her chained up has been found dead, authorities said.

NBC station KNWA reported that the FBI and police in Bentonville, Arkansas, were investigating the suspected homicide of Jersey Bridgeman.

Her father David Bridgeman was given an 18-year prison sentence in 2011 after pleading guilty to false imprisonment, permitting abuse of a minor and endangering the welfare of a minor, The Associated Press reported. Prison records show he has a tattoo that says "Jersey."

The AP said Jersey’s stepmother Jana Bridgeman, also identified as Jana Slinkard in court records, admitted the same charges and was given a 12-year prison sentence, plus three years for a probation revocation, according to online Department of Correction records.

It reported that it was not clear who the girl had recently been living with or who reported her missing.

'Best investigation we can'
KNWA printed a press release from Bentonville Police Department that said Jersey was reported missing at 6:43 a.m. local time (7:43 a.m. ET) Tuesday.

“A neighborhood search resulted in the discovery of the child's body within a vacant house,” just 10 minutes later, the police statement said.

It added that certain details of the case were being withheld “to maintain the integrity of this investigation.”

"It's just a matter of trying to do the best investigation we can and cover all the bases," Bentonville Police Chief Jon Simpson told KNWA.

"I think if you look at any individual, a child included, by the time you add up all the people they know, all the contacts they have, if you did it for yourself, you can see how extensive that might be, and it's really no different with a child. So, that's some of the areas that we're trying to cover,” he added.

Jersey 'such a delight'
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, told the AP.

"There was a unique quality about Jersey," she said. "A little old soul, but such a delight."

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Engle told the AP that 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 and stepmother.

"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, the AP reported.

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."

The case came to light after a woman who was staying with the couple contacted police about possible child abuse, according to court records.

Dog collar
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.

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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. 

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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