From time to time, Suffer the Little Children will feature a story from the less recent past. Years may have gone by, but these children still deserve to be remembered and their stories told. These posts can be found under the “Forget Me Not” tag.
Today, I’ll be covering the horrific story of ten-year-old Ame Lynn Deal, who was not only failed by her family, but spent years being tortured at their hands, only to lose her life to their callous cruelty. What these people were convicted of defies logic, imagination, and even humanity.
Sadly, there are very few photos available of Ame (whose name is pronounced “Amy”). The most recent picture seems to be a school photo, in which she doesn’t appear more than six or seven years old. She was ten when she died.
In 1996, Shirley and David Deal were married. They conceived two children together before, near the end of 1999, Shirley discovered she was pregnant again. At the time, Shirley said, she was dating another man, so it would never be known if David was truly the father of this baby. She later told a reporter that she was “honestly unsure” which man was Ame’s real father.
Ame Lynn Deal was born on July 24, 2000 in Monongahela, Pennsylvania. Her birth certificate lists David Deal as her father, but evidently, Kenneth, the man Shirley was dating (and reportedly living with) at the time raised Ame for the first few years of her life. I will talk more about Kenneth later.
It’s been impossible to untangle the story well enough to determine when Shirley and Kenneth broke up, but at some point, Shirley, David, and the three children moved from Pennsylvania to Wisconsin. Eventually, Shirley left David and took the kids to Donora, Pennsylvania to stay with her mother. She and the children, according to AZ Central, lived there for several years.
Shirley, who reportedly has some unspecified disabilities, told a reporter that around 2007, David asked her to reunite, which she said she was intimidated into doing. She and her three children moved in with David’s family in Midland, Texas. The family included David’s mother, Judith Deal, and his sisters, Cynthia and Ammandea Stoltzmann.
(Shirley’s timeline doesn’t seem to fit; based on several days of in-depth research, including deep dives into several Facebook rabbit-holes, my best estimate is that this occurred around 2004, which is around the time when Ame is said to have moved in with David’s family.)
During her time in Midland, Shirley claims, the children were not abused, but she was.
“I was a slave to them,” Shirley tearfully told a reporter in 2011. “I had to do everything, and they wouldn’t do nothing — they sat on their asses. They were abusing me, too. They were hitting me, and they called me names and made me stay up all night.”
After two years of abuse by her husband and his relatives, Shirley said, she was “kicked out” of the home, fleeing without her children. She met a man online and went to stay with him at his home in Iola, Kansas; that relationship didn’t last, but she quickly met another man, with whom she lived at the time of her 2011 interview.
“He is a good guy,” she told a reporter. “He cuts down trees for a living, and I cook and take care of the house.”
Shirley had hoped to reunite with her children some day. “I trusted them with all my heart, and now it’s broken,” Shirley told a reporter. “It ain’t never coming back.”
Regarding her last contact with the family, when she was attacked and threatened when she tried to take Ame, “[David] promised me I could see her. I never seen her in six years, and it feels like it’s my fault, and everybody says, ‘No, it’s not your fault.’”
(See, even that statement contradicts her statement about reuniting with David in 2007.)
On July 29, 2011, then-38-year-old Shirley Ann Deal found out about her 10-year-old daughter’s death when a friend on Facebook brought it to her attention. She then read the details online at the Arizona Republic’s website. “I read the newspaper, and it made me so upset,” she told the Republic. She said she couldn’t stop crying after she found out that Ame had died at the hands of the same people Shirley had escaped years before.
“For what they did to my daughter, they need to be treated the same way,” Shirley said.
“I’m not going to be done with it until something is done. They better stay in jail; they better be in prison for life. You’re messing with a baby, she was not a baby, but she was my baby.”
At the time of Ame’s death, the family lived in squalor in a small, decrepit rental home in Phoenix, Arizona at 3731 West Romley Avenue. This was in, according to area residents, an extremely poor neighborhood where people basically kept to themselves, averse to alerting the authorities to anything nefarious happening in the neighborhood for fear that they might get caught doing something that would get them in trouble.
The Deal-Stoltzmann residence reportedly overflowed with several adults and several other children, all of whom were allegedly homeschooled. There were so many people living on the property that they had set up tents in the backyard to accommodate all of them. The adults in the home included Ame’s grandmother, 62-year-old Judith Deal; her aunt, 44-year-old Cynthia “Charli” Stoltzmann; Cynthia’s daughter, 23-year-old Sammantha “Sammie” Lucille Rebecca Allen; Sammantha’s husband, 23-year-old John “Bud” Michael Allen; Ame’s father, David Martin Deal; David’s daughter, 20-year-old Kassandrea “Kassi” Deal; Kassandrea’s boyfriend, Travis Naylor; and a woman named Debbie Smith.
Sammantha and John were the parents of four of the children.
At its maximum, the property was reportedly home to 24 people at once. At the time of Ame’s death, according to defense attorney Rob Reinhardt, who would later represent one of Ame’s accused murderers, there were 11 members of the extended family living either in the house or in tents in the backyard, although five or six others came and went, one of whom was Ame’s father.
Although David Deal sometimes lived in one of the backyard tents, his sister, Cynthia Stoltzmann was the little girl’s legal guardian. Evidently, David had a pattern of handing his kids over to his sister, because David’s older daughter, Ame’s sister Kassandrea, has said online that Cynthia also raised her.
Ame’s two older siblings, a 13-year-old brother and a twelve-year-old sister, were believed to be among the children living in the home at the time of Ame’s death.
Police described the family’s life in their Phoenix home as pandemonium. Children roamed with little supervision, sometimes walking up and down the street in little to no clothing or just diapers. The home, police said, was both disorderly and abusive, although the abuse was targeted mostly at Ame. They described the house as reeking of urine and full of garbage and filth both inside and out. It was infested with cockroaches and littered with used tampons and tissues.
Let me be very clear: poverty does not make people bad parents. Good parents (or guardians), even when money is scarce, show their children love, compassion, care, and nurturing and provide the best environment possible for that child. That does not include a home overrun with garbage and filth that could easily be cleaned up if the adults in the family deigned to get off their lazy asses and did something about it. These people just didn’t care.
On the morning of July 12, 2011, Phoenix police received a call reporting an injured child. The first person to respond was Officer Albert Salaiz, an 11-year veteran of the Phoenix Police Department and former member of the United States Air Force. He was a couple blocks away from the home when the call came in, so he rushed to the address, where he recognized the house, because he had responded to the same address a week or so earlier on reports of a large group of kids throwing rocks. Exiting his car, he sprinted to the front door, which opened as he reached it, and he saw a Rottweiler charging him.
A woman immediately called out, “Don’t shoot the dog!”
According to the Phoenix New Times, Officer Salaiz didn’t even think about it until later, but the woman was more concerned about the dog’s safety than that of the child in question.
He found Ame on a blue towel next to a wet urine patch, curled up with her knees to her chest and “claw-like hands.” He said, “Then it hit me. I knew this girl.” He had seen her when he responded to the rock-throwing call. He could tell immediately that Ame was dead. “I never, to this day, will forget what she looked like. That image is ingrained on my mind.”
Ame’s lips, Officer Salaiz said, were blue, and her skin was beginning to discolor. Her body was already stiffening, and it appeared as if she had been trying to push the lid off the footlocker from within.
The footlocker in question was a virtually airtight plastic container measuring 31 by 14 by 12 inches. The plastic bin had previously been used to store Ame’s older sister’s Barbie collection before it outgrew the container.
At first, Ame’s relatives claimed she had accidentally locked herself into the box while playing hide-and-seek after the adults were asleep. Cynthia told KNXV-TV on July 13, “She was an awesome hider, let me tell you… There were places she would squeeze into that I didn’t think my dog could squeeze into.”
Even the children in the home recited the same story, as if they had been coached to lie about the incident.
For obvious reasons, investigators doubted this story, suspecting foul play and child abuse. For starters, Ame’s body was filthy, her clothing soiled, and there were marks on her right knee resulting from “forceful contact with the interior lid” of the container. For another, the container had latches that held the lid on, and there was no way to latch these from the inside. Also, statements from the residents of Backyard Shantytown, USA about the abuse they had witnessed gave police a pretty clear picture of what was going on in that house.
When Officer Salaiz’s sergeant arrived at the house and asked him what happened, he had an immediate and definitive answer. “I told my supervisor, ‘They fucking killed her.’ He got pissed. ‘You can’t be saying that. You don’t know that for a fact.’”
Officer Salaiz took an initial statement from John Allen as the young man sat on a swing, behaving “like nothing happened.” John told the officer that after he and Sammantha went to bed at 1:00 AM, some of the kids, including Ame, his three-year-old daughter, and Ame’s twelve-year-old sister, continued playing hide-and-seek, and Ame locked herself into the box. He suggested his young daughter, who loved to lock things as a prank, must have padlocked the box.
“There was no emotion from him or the grandma, either. That’s what bothered me. There was no emotion. I’d never seen anything like that,” said Officer Salaiz.
As he walked a few doors down to take the twelve-year-old’s story, he passed Cynthia. “She said, ‘Yeah, they found Ame dead,’ and she keeps walking past me,” he told the reporter. Cynthia hadn’t even been at the house when paramedics called Ame’s death, leading the police officer to wonder how she could have known that.
Cynthia later said to a reporter, “I don’t break down well in front of other people, but when I’m by myself, I can lose it real easy.” Welp, that explains her lack of outward emotion! Nothing to see here, folks!
Officer Salaiz described the twelve-year-old as hesitant to talk, stiff as a board, and not looking him in the eye as she echoed the same story the rest of the family was telling, except she said she went to bed at 9:00 PM. “I felt the twelve-year-old… knew what happened. She knew about the box,” Salaiz recalled.
While being questioned, John’s story changed multiple times. It was clear to investigators that he was covering for his wife. During breaks in questioning, they left John and Sammantha alone in an interview room, which the couple apparently didn’t know was being recorded. While discussing how their hide-and-seek story had fallen apart, John said to Sammantha, “We should have come up with something very solid, all together as a family, and nobody would have to take the fall.”
After detectives overheard the couple’s discussions, they interrogated John again. Gradually, he began admitting to bits and pieces of the story. He said he had clamped Ame into the box and jostled her around. He admitted he had used the box several times prior and that each time, when Ame was released, she was sweaty but “not fainting, not out of it.”
Years later, at John’s trial, Deputy Maricopa County Attorney Jeanette Gallagher would tell the jury that statement indicated John knew putting Ame into the box was dangerous because there was not enough air to sustain life. The only way air could get into the box was through miniscule holes beneath the handles.
Finally, John admitted to locking Ame into the container on the night of her death while Sammantha stood by and did nothing. He told investigators that Ame was first forced to do back bends and maintain the position for what had to be a torturously long two to three hours as a form of punishment. He said when she fell, he physically put her back into position. After he tired of that punishment, he forced her to do jumping jacks. Finally, around 1:00 AM, John told Ame to go outside and retrieve the footlocker. Overheated and sweating profusely, Ame was forcibly crammed into the box, which John, after Sammantha expressed concern that Ame might escape, latched shut and secured with a padlock he had taken off the backyard fence.
Detectives asked John about the padlock, which was missing. Eventually, he admitted to hiding it.
They left the box in the garage, where the temperature was over 95 degrees for the entire night. John took the key with him. Then, these callous fucks went to bed, leaving Ame confined in the tiny space overnight. They had planned to go back and check on her in an hour, but they just… didn’t.
John told police, “I just didn’t get up.”
What infraction could Ame possibly have committed to earn herself this punishment? Several of the other children had been given popsicles on that sweltering July day when temperatures were well above 100 degrees Fahrenheit, and Ame, according to police, dared to take a popsicle from the freezer without permission.
One of the family members later told police, “Ame lies. Ame steals. Ame needs to be punished.”
Fuck these animals.
The next morning, when they opened the box at around 8:00 AM to release Ame, they discovered she had suffocated to death, soaked in her own sweat and urine. They waited about a half hour before someone finally called 911.
This admission led to the arrest of several family members on July 27, 2011. Judith and Cynthia were charged with kidnapping and multiple counts of child abuse. Sammantha and John were charged with first-degree murder, conspiracy to commit child abuse, and multiple counts of child abuse. All were held in a Maricopa County jail on a bond of $1 million each for Sammantha and John and $500,000 for Judith and Cynthia.
The other children in the home were placed into protective custody. The family’s black lab, Bella, was confiscated from the crime scene by the Arizona Humane Society and was later adopted by an AHS staff member. The friendly, happy dog may have been the only source of happiness in Ame’s life.
Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery, who prosecuted the case, initially announced the indictment of the four adults on August 10, 2011. “This horrific case has deeply disturbed not only the citizens of Maricopa County, but people throughout the country, as it offends the essence of what it means to be a parent or guardian of a young child. Instead of caring for Ame Deal, we are alleging that these family members utterly failed her. My office will spare no effort in seeking justice for Ame and ensuring the public has confidence in the result.”
An autopsy conducted by the Maricopa County Medical Examiner’s Office determined that Ame’s death was a homicide caused by asphyxiation, compounded by heat exhaustion and dehydration. What a horrific, drawn-out, torturous way to die.
Ame was underweight at the time of her death, weighing only 59 pounds at four feet, two inches in height, and court records said that she was “chronically hungry” from being denied food.
If she took food from the refrigerator, she would be punished and abused. Stealing food was the reason she most frequently got in trouble. Another reason was “lying.”
Reportedly, Ame’s abuse began when she was only four years old, almost as soon as she became part of the household. Court documents show that not only was Ame the only one abused of the twelve children in the home, but the other children would do things intentionally to get her into trouble. It’s awful, but this is not uncommon in scapegoating situations.
Ame was picked on by virtually everyone who lived in that house.
The other children will undoubtedly suffer psychological ramifications from witnessing and being a part of Ame’s abuse. As I talked about in my recent podcast episode about Raylee Browning, another beautiful little girl who was both homeschooled and singled out for abuse, in a scapegoating situation, other members of the family, including children, pick up the pattern and join in the abuse of the targeted child.
In this case, it appears Ame was chosen as the family scapegoat because David did not believe she was his biological child, so she was considered an outsider. The family heaped blame and shame on this poor little girl, hitting her, torturing her, depriving her of adequate nutrition, and then punishing her for “stealing” food.
Child psychologist Dr. Lynn Kenney spoke to ABC 15 in 2011 about what the other children in the house might experience. “The guilt is going to be enormous. If they witnessed the abuse and participated in it, they are going to be in trauma recovery.”
Dr. Kenney added, “When you experience abuse, your brain works differently.”
Phoenix neighbors of the Deal family said Ame was often physically and verbally abused by the family, who they considered unusual. They frequently heard adults yelling expletives at the children. They said they saw children, from toddlers to teenagers, playing outside as late as 2:00 AM.
Reportedly, Ame was forced to walk up and down the sidewalk in front of the family’s home, barefoot, while temperatures in Phoenix reached 114 degrees.
None of the neighbors reported any of their observations to authorities, however. Several said they considered calling police, but they didn’t because they didn’t want to break up the family.
Jesus fucking Christ, people.
Police also said Ame had been placed into the footlocker at least five times over the past 30 days. In addition, other methods of abuse employed by the family, according to police, included beating Ame with a wooden paddle, lashing her with a belt, and forcibly dumping hot sauce into her mouth. She was sometimes chained like a dog. Once, when Ame was picking up dog feces in the yard, she missed some. Her aunt Cynthia “punished” her for this by rubbing the dog feces on the little girl’s face and forcing her to eat it.
What. The. Ever. Loving. Fuck.
Sergeant Trent Crump, Phoenix police spokesman, said during a press briefing, “When they’d put her in the footlocker, they would pick it up and spin it around and then roll it across the floor.”
Other members of the household described to investigators the abuse they witnessed toward Ame, who was forced to sleep in a shower stall with no pillow or blanket as punishment for occasionally wetting the bed. The bathroom was considered her bedroom. She was not given any bedding, Sergeant Crump said, “because they didn’t want her to wet it.”
One witness and temporary resident of Tent City told police he overheard Cynthia screaming at Ame in her shower stall “bedroom” while she beat the little girl for having “wetted herself.”
Other witnesses spoke of seeing Sammantha shove Ame into the footlocker, after which John would kick the box, pick it up, and flip it over with Ame inside.
Travis Naylor, then-boyfriend of Ame’s sister Kassandrea and one of the temporary residents of Tent City/Shantytown (take your pick), told investigators that about six months prior to Ame’s death, he had arrived “home” and heard screaming from inside the box, on which Cynthia was sitting, playing on a laptop computer. Apparently, he did exactly nothing about it.
Travis and Kassandrea, who had two children together, moved back to Ogden, Utah after Ame’s death and were married within a year. Travis was later arrested in Utah for failing to register as a sex offender, a status which reportedly stemmed from nothing more than urinating on school property.
Sergeant Crump also described another punishment used by the family. “Ame would be beaten with a board that the adults called ‘Butt Buster.’”
Sergeant Crump added, “This child died at the hands of those who were supposed to love and care for her… This case has turned the stomachs of some of our most seasoned detectives.”
Investigators said the family abused little Ame because they did not believe she was a blood relative. They believe Ame was forced into the container during the early morning hours of July 12.
Shirley told a reporter, “They just need to go to jail for life or get lethal injection. That’s what they need because of what they did to my ten-year-old baby. My baby!”
The family reportedly lived in several places over the course of Ame’s nearly eleven years. At one point, they lived in Ogden, Utah, where Ame was permitted to attend school.
“There is a court record of child abuse from Utah, which we have seen,” Sergeant Crump said. Arizona court records show that in Utah, Ame was listed as an “abused, neglected child.”
Those records include three instances where the family was investigated, including allegations of lice, a belt used for discipline, and a bump on Ame’s head.
Jileen Boydstun, who taught Ame’s second grade class at James Madison Elementary School in Ogden, said she had suspected Ame was being abused. “Ame was just treated differently. There just wasn’t the affection I could feel coming from the aunt towards Ame, and they would tell me they didn’t really think Ame belonged to them.”
Unreal. Who tells a child’s teacher that?!
Jileen described Ame as a bright and inquisitive child who craved the attention of adults. She said, “She was constantly coming to school dirty. She often had head lice. One time, she came to school with cat urine in her shoes, and it smelled so badly that the counselor came and cleaned her and got some shoes for her.”
Jody Hansen was the school counselor in question. She said the school had contacted the local Division of Child and Family Services (DCFS) several times in regard to Ame and the other children in the home. “We could tell she was kind of a scapegoat in the family,” Jody said. “She was the one that got the brunt of everything; that was pretty obvious.”
Jileen said she was aware that DCFS worked with the family and tried to help them clean up the home, but none of the children were removed. “I know there was an open case with that family there and I know they had people in that home trying to teach them parenting skills,” she said. “It didn’t save her.”
Of course, soon after the school got in touch with DCFS, Cynthia withdrew Ame from the school.
From 1988 until 2010, the family moved 28 times across New Mexico, Texas, Pennsylvania, Utah, and Arizona. At least some members of the family lived in Ogden, Utah from 2006 until 2010. Previously, records show, they lived in Midland, Texas and Racine, Wisconsin. By the time they reached the house where Ame died, Sammantha, who had never gotten past fourth grade, was essentially in charge of caring for her. The house in Phoenix was Sammantha’s 28th home in 22 years. They had lived at the Phoenix house for a year at the time of Ame’s death.
One of Ame’s cousins, 23-year-old Michael Deal, spoke to reporters soon after Ame’s death. He said that while the family lived in Texas, they helped raise him, and he never saw any physical abuse; when the children were punished, they were simply scolded and told to stand in a corner. “They were all pretty nice to the kids,” he said.
Arizona CPS had no prior contact with the family or with Ame herself. I imagine this is largely because the children were “homeschooled,” meaning Ame had no contact with mandatory reporters.
There was some evidence that at least some type of schooling was going on in the home. One room seemed to be used as a classroom, in which folders were found for each of the children. In Ame’s folder, investigators found many pages of sentences Ame was apparently forced to write repeatedly as punishment. The sentences included, “I will answer when talked to,” “I will not steal food from the little ones,” and “I will learn to clean my room.”
Ame’s “room,” in this case, was the bathroom just off the master bedroom, where she slept in the shower stall.
Prosecutor Bill Montgomery said Ame’s case was the worst he had seen in his career, adding that “other cases pale in comparison.”
Acting Phoenix Police Chief Joe Yahner said the day after the arrests that the case was “an unspeakable tragedy, one of the worst we have ever seen.” He said that leading up to the arrests, homicide detectives “worked long and hard” on the case.
John Allen’s parents lived in Ogden, Utah, where John was raised. After their son was arrested, John’s mother, Mary Jo Allen, released a statement that read:
“First we want to express our deep sorrow in the death of Ame Deal. She was a sweet and wonderful young spirit and we will miss her dearly. My husband and I were shocked along with everyone else at the deplorable conditions of the home in Arizona where all of these children were confined to live. That our son, John Michael, would have been a resident, let alone a contributor to the environment that was created there is beyond our comprehension. We have always taught our children to live a life of morals and cleanliness beyond reproach: that conditions there in Phoenix deteriorated to the point that a child died is deeply troubling.
“While John Michael was living with his family in Ogden, we saw no evidence of abuse, or that John Michael would have been capable of contributing to an abusive environment. Since moving to Arizona, John Michael was becoming increasingly isolated from us, and although we did have contact, the actual conditions of their life were well concealed from us.
“Since the death of Ame, we have not been kept informed by the Phoenix Police as to the nature of their investigations, nor of their conclusions. We have no knowledge or facts to add to the public statements by the Police. We have encouraged our son to cooperate with the authorities: being truthful in all things is a core value of our family, and we hope and pray that he will do everything, no matter how difficult, to reach the truth of how this tragic event came about.
“We want to thank those that have prayed for our family. We thank our family and neighbors that are supporting us. We view every child as precious and hope everyone will be vigilant in watching over all of our children.”
A reporter spoke with John’s father, Michael Allen.. Michael described John as a good son. John worked at the Standard-Examiner’s press room, where he was known as “Little Bud,” and he wanted to work with computers some day. He married Sammantha, who lived across the street, in 2009.
“He was doing great,” Michael said, until John called him from jail. “My son John is very, very repentant. [He said] it was an accident. He meant to get her out, but he fell asleep. His wife, too.”
Just days after the initial arrests, an anonymous source close to the family told the Phoenix New Times that David Deal, Ame’s father, was trying to raise money to have his daughter’s accused killers released from jail. The source, who called David a “violent man” and asked not to be identified for fear of what he might do, told the newspaper that David had been calling family and friends and asking for money to bail Judith, Cynthia, Sammantha, and John out of jail.
When the New Times asked why Ame was singled out for abuse, the source said, “She was mentally a little slow, but that’s it.”
This person claimed they never witnessed any abuse, but they did say Judith was a “slob” who kept a disgusting house. CPS was called on the family while they lived in Wisconsin for the grotesque condition of their house.
Another source posted on WebSleuths in a thread about Ame’s case under the name “MsFacetious,” saying she called CPS about the abuse Ame suffered while living in Utah, but before anything could be done about it, the family moved out of state. “…We did call. To make sure they took it seriously, we didn’t even do it anonymously. Abuse and neglect was clear and acknowledged. We thought that Ame was going to be rescued and put with a good family. We thought we had helped a child, not signed her death certificate. I will never forgot [sic] the rage, despair, helplessness, panic and disbelief that I felt upon hearing: ‘They have moved out of state.’”
Kenneth Griest, the Pennsylvania man with whom Shirley lived for about four years, came forward soon after Ame’s death, telling reporters he believed he was Ame’s real father. He had a relationship with Shirley, he said, while she was separated from David Deal and lived in the same apartment complex as Kenneth, who, even though David’s name was on Ame’s birth certificate, tried to raise the little girl as his own daughter while he and Shirley lived together for three and a half years.
“She loved to sing,” Kenneth said. “We bought her a karaoke machine one year. We taught her how to ride a bike. I have her birth certificate here at my house.”
Over the years, he said, he tried to track Ame down, but because the Deal family constantly relocated, it was nearly impossible. As far as why Ame was singled out for abuse, he also believed it was because the Deals did not believe she was related to them. “They singled Ame out because she wasn’t a blood relative,” he said. “But even so, why would anyone treat a little girl like that?”
Kenneth hoped to have a DNA test done to confirm he was Ame’s biological father. I have been unable to find any follow-up information on this, but I have reached out to some of Kenneth’s family members and will update if I hear any more information.
In August of 2011, a Washington woman named Pam Newcomer created a memorial “popsicle social” campaign to honor Ame. “Sometime in August, when the ice cream man comes down the street, get a child a popsicle in Ame’s name or buy a box at the store and hand ‘em out,” Pam said. “If you are not able to buy a popsicle in her name, please light a candle.”
Another member of the Deal-Stoltzmann family was later arrested, as well. 24-year-old Ammandea “Mandi” Joann Stoltzmann, who is Cynthia’s daughter and Sammantha’s sister, was arrested in Glendale, Arizona on February 22, 2012 after others gave statements about witnessing Ammandea abusing Ame. Ammandea did not live in the Phoenix home with the family; she was charged for incidents that took place while she lived with the family in Texas. At the time of her arrest, Ammandea was reportedly living with her husband, her sister, Katrina ‘Trina’ Andersen, and all of their children.
The reports alleged that Ammandea watched while family members choked Ame, and that she herself hit Ame, kept her chained up outside overnight wearing a dog collar, and kept her in a dog crate. It was also alleged that Ammandea scrubbed Ame’s face with a wire brush as punishment for lying, kicked the little girl in the face, and forced her to drink extremely spicy hot sauce. Ammandea initially denied the allegations, but police say she later admitted to them, as well as much more.
Ammandea reportedly told police that she witnessed her mother, Cynthia, throw Ame into the swimming pool, where Ame’s arms flailed while her head was underwater. Ame was said to be “petrified” of water. When Ame came up for air, she was crying, coughing, and choking.
Ammandea also admitted to forcing Ame to crush aluminum cans with her bare feet, sleep in a pan made for a shower floor, and eat food that had been doused in hot sauce “so strong you couldn’t bear to be close by or your eyes would burn and water.” She told of not allowing Ame to go to school or play with other children and forcing her to stay home when the rest of the family went somewhere. She said she began keeping Ame in the dog crate as early as 2005. Ammandea did, however, deny using the wire brush on Ame’s face and kicking her young cousin in the face. She admitted to everything else.
Ammandea was arrested on three counts of felony child abuse.
Ame’s father, 52-year-old David Martin Deal, was arrested on July 6, 2012 on suspicion of dangerous crimes against children, four counts of child abuse, and three counts of kidnapping. According to Sergeant Crump, “Detectives are alleging, through witnesses, that David Deal, Ame’s father, was the first to use confinement as punishment for Ame. The confinement was said to have begun with a dog kennel.”
Sergeant Crump added, “One one occasion, [he] was said to have thrown the trunk, containing Ame, into the backyard swimming pool because she kept crying and yelling that she couldn’t breathe during the confinement. The trunk was removed before it could sink.”
Police said that David denied abusing Ame, but Sergeant Crump said David described his ten-year-old daughter as a “Pillsbury-Doughboy-looking thing and said her mental problems frustrated others.”
However, the day after David’s arrest, due to the discovery of errors on the statement prepared by the Phoenix Police Department, it was ruled that there was no probable cause to hold David. Some of the incidents in the statement may have occurred while the family lived in Texas, and one of the incidents may have been dated incorrectly. This meant the Phoenix Police did not have jurisdiction to arrest David for the incidents listed.
David was re-arrested on July 9, 2012 after County Attorney Bill Montgomery presented his case to a grand jury and a warrant was issued for one felony count of child abuse. At the time of David’s second arrest, Phoenix police found $20 worth of marijuana in his back pocket, so he was charged with one count each of possession of marijuana and drug paraphernalia. There was a U-Haul truck in front of the residence when police arrived to arrest him, leading officials to believe that David was preparing to move (AKA flee). He was held on a $250,000 cash-only bond.
David had previously been arrested on June 6, 2011, prior to Ame’s death, also for possession of marijuana and drug paraphernalia. He was popped yet again on November 14, 2011 for the same thing. Apparently, some people never learn.
In April of 2013, with no rhyme or reason, all charges against Ammandea Stoltzmann were dropped at the request of prosecutors. Maricopa County Attorney’s Office spokesman Jerry Cobb refused to elaborate on the reasons for the decision, only telling reporters that there wasn’t enough evidence to proceed. The probable cause affidavit submitted by police certainly told a different story, as I detailed above. I have to wonder if Ammandea provided investigators with incriminating information against one or more of the other defendants in exchange for the charges being dropped. I could find no evidence of that, but nothing else really makes sense.
Cynthia Stoltzmann, Ame’s legal guardian, faced two counts of child abuse, one count of attempted child abuse, and two additional abuse charges. She was accused of throwing Ame into the cold, murky backyard swimming pool several months before her death, forcing Ame’s head underwater, and sitting on the footlocker while Ame was confined inside as a supposed punishment for stealing food. Several of the charges Cynthia faced were defined as class 2 felonies.
In April of 2013, Cynthia took a plea deal, pleading guilty to two counts of child abuse and one count of attempted child abuse, none of which were the class 2 felonies she faced.
Judith Deal faced two counts of attempted child abuse and up to 30 years in prison. She wasn’t charged in Ame’s death, but she was accused of hitting her granddaughter with a paddle, putting hot sauce into her mouth, and putting her into the footlocker as discipline. Judith also took a plea deal in April, pleading guilty to attempted child abuse.
David pled guilty on April 24, 2013 to attempted child abuse and marijuana possession. On June 6, 2013, David was sentenced to 14 years in prison.
David Deal, AZDOC inmate #281582, is housed in the medium-security Huachuca Unit at Kingman Prison in Mohave County, Ariona. His release date is currently July 8, 2024. He has a single disciplinary infraction on his prison record for disrespect to staff on August 5, 2018.
On September 13, 2013, Cynthia Stoltzmann received a sentence of 24 years in prison; Judith Deal was sentenced to ten years. They both received lifetime probation.
Judith Deal, AZDOC inmate #284286, was sent to Perryville Prison’s San Carlos Unit in Goodyear, Arizona. The Arizona Department of Corrections lists her as inactive and shows that her release date was February 23, 2020 due to “absolute discharge,” which means she was released to complete her sentence of probation.
I haven’t been able to find any information about Judith’s release, which must have been plenty hush-hush if the media hasn’t caught wind of it. Judith is the only person convicted in Ame’s death who has been released from prison thus far.
Cynthia Stoltzmann, AZDOC inmate #284287, currently resides in Perryville Prison in Goodyear, Arizona, in its Lumley Unit, which is also home to Arizona’s female death row inmates, as well as notorious murderer Jodi Arias, who is serving a life sentence for murdering her ex-boyfriend, Travis Alexander, in April of 2015. Cynthia’s release date is set as July 3, 2036.
The trials of Cynthia, Judith, and David were held separately from those of Sammantha and John Allen because charges against the former three defendants were related to abuse prior to Ame’s death, while the more serious charges against the latter two were directly related to the incident that caused her death.
Sammantha’s trial began in May of 2017. When images of Ame’s corpse were shown to jurors, some hung their heads, while others openly wept. Ame’s skin and lips were discolored, and her hands had formed into claws. The bottoms of the little girl’s feet were caked with dirt, her body was wet, and her hair was matted. Inside the box, there was just under an inch of brown liquid. Her knees were bruised and indented.
Prosecutor Jeanette Gallagher produced first the actual box itself, wrapped in plastic to preserve the item as evidence. She also brought an exact replica of the box to demonstrate, using a mannequin the same size as Ame, how the little girl could not have fit comfortably inside the box.
Testimony from retired Phoenix police detective Kenny Porter described Ame’s condition from being folded and forced into the box overnight. “She was inside the box with her legs drawn up so she could fit,” he said. “Could she fit stretched out? Obviously not. Folded up? Yes.”
He described red marks on her knees that indicated the box’s lid had pressed against her skin for some time. Photos showed red marks, dirt, and debris on her neck and hemorrhaging under her eyelids, as well as the bruising and red indentations on her knees, indicating that the ribbing on the inside of the box’s lid had pressed into her skin.
Jurors heard audio of Sammantha’s initial police interview, in which she told police the box was Ame’s “most famous spot” to hide in and that she often fell asleep inside. She told police her three-year-old daughter discovered Ame’s body in the box that morning and that the adults had not known Ame was in there. “I just wished she did not stay in the box,” Sammantha tearfully said on the recording.
When Ame’s older sister testified, she refuted the claims Sammantha made in the video, telling jurors that despite her statement in 2011 to the contrary, the children had not played hide-and-seek the night of Ame’s death. She said that she, her brother, and Ame were given popsicles for doing their chores, but she later saw the adults yelling at Ame for having her popsicle. She said that Ame was made to stand against the wall with her head back and her hands in the air, demonstrating the position for the jurors. Then, she said, while the rest of the family ate dinner, Ame was forced into the back bend position for hours, crying and saying she was in pain. That was the last time she saw Ame before the rest of the kids went to bed. Sammantha, her cousin, and John were in the living room, painting little cars they had built.
The young woman, who was not named to protect her identity, also said that when she corroborated the family’s hide-and-seek story after Ame’s death, she had lied. “I wanted to protect my family,” she said. “I thought it would make me go home faster.”
Sammantha’s defense attorney, John Curry, tried to dump one hundred percent of the blame on John Allen, saying not only did Sammantha not actively participate in Ame’s murder, but she didn’t even know what was happening. “It’s clear that every single fact that ultimately led to Ame’s death was by John Allen. It wasn’t Sammantha Allen.”
Nonetheless, Sammantha was found guilty on June 26 of first-degree murder.
The jury determined on July 5 that Sammantha was eligible for the death sentence, which meant her actions were especially cruel and heinous. Prosecutor Gallagher said the physical and mental anguish Ame suffered inside the box would qualify as an aggravating circumstance.
During Sammantha’s sentencing hearing in August, Curry blamed the woman’s behavior on her mother, Cynthia Stoltzmann, and the environment in which Sammantha had been raised. “Her world was small and very isolated and it was dominated by her family. That’s all she knew. That’s all she knew. That was Sammantha’s frame of reference, and she had no wider frame of reference.”
He suggested that because Sammantha hardly knew anyone outside her family, she did not know that locking Ame in the box was wrong.
Psychiatrists for the defense found Sammantha suffered from depression, Attention Deficit Disorder, exposure to parental child neglect, and impairments in brain and moral development, leaving her with below average intelligence.
Curry explained to the jury that Cynthia was Sammantha’s “moral compass” and that his client had told police that her driving moral belief was “Honor thy mother and father.” He told the jury that Sammantha had lost two husbands over her insistence on moving in with her family. He said that this sense of family loyalty was what caused Ame’s death. “She was just doing what was accepted. Everybody knew this was happening.”
Cynthia was also, Curry told the jury, the one who came up with the idea of using the footlocker as punishment. She, he said, “set the tone and culture of the house.”
Sammantha’s first ex-husband, Joe Evans, testified that he met Sammantha and Cynthia in 2006 when they came through a McDonald’s drive-thru in Utah where he was working. He began dating Sammantha shortly thereafter and witnessed the family’s living conditions first-hand.
“There was feces on the walls, cockroaches, drawings on the walls, food on the floor,” Joe testified. “It was filthy.” He described a crowded home filled with several adults and multiple children, some of whom had lice. He and Sammantha would sometimes babysit the children, including Ame.
Prosecutor Gallagher asked Joe, “Who was the best behaved out of all those children?”
His answer: “Ame.”
“And describe Ame for me?” Ms. Gallagher asked.
“She was quiet, but still happy,” Joe replied, “and she never really caused problems or anything like that.”
Joe and Sammantha were married in April of 2007 after dating for a period of months. He testified that they endured a miscarriage, which he said deeply affected his ex-wife, and that their relationship ended not long after they were married due to Sammantha’s frustration that Joe did not want to move in with her family.
Joe testified that while he was with the family, Sammantha was nice to Ame and did not abuse her. When Curry asked Joe on cross-examination if the family struck him as a cult, Joe answered, “Yes. If you didn’t fit in with them, you were just cast aside.”
Cynthia also testified, saying her parents, Judith and Arthur Deal, divorced when she was twelve, and Judith remarried several times — not for love but for financial support. She said she has more bad memories of her parents than good ones. About her father, Cynthia said, “He used to come home on his leave, that he would demolish most of our toys and get rid of them. My dad had a temper.”
Trying to convince the jury to spare his client the death penalty, Curry tried to frame the family’s utter poverty and multiple moves to different residences as mitigating circumstances. Every time the family moved, he said, it was into the poorest neighborhoods in the respective towns.
Curry tried to discredit Cynthia’s earlier testimony, in which Cynthia stated that she never told Sammantha it was acceptable to use confinement in the footlocker as discipline for Ame and that only a few family members knew that it had been used that way. He showed clips in court of young family members telling Phoenix police about the myriad abuse that Ame suffered in the months and years before her death. After watching the clips, Sammantha, who had previously contended that only she, Cynthia, and David were responsible for disciplining Ame, admitted that all of the adults in the family were involved in the long-term abuse of the child.
Prosecutor Gallagher read a one-paragraph impact statement from Ame’s mother, Shirley Deal, written to a judge in 2013. “I just wanted everyone in Arizona to know how I feel about what happened to my daughter,” it read. “Learning… how she suffered in the box was devastating, and it’s something that would never leave me. I struggle, sadness and depression, because of Ame’s murder.”
It continued, “I am so depressed from the time I get up until I go to bed at night. I go to the doctor all the time. I wish she was here with me day and night.” Then, to Ame’s killers, she wrote, “I have not forgiven you and never will. The only thing you deserve is where you are going when you leave this earth. The death penalty is too good and too easy for you. I want you to suffer till death, just like you did to my sweet little Amy,” the letter read. (Yes, in her letter, Shirley misspelled her daughter’s name.) “They need to put you all on dog chains and feed you dog feces, as you did to my baby.”
Ultimately, the jury determined that the horror of Ame’s murder outweighed any possible mitigating factors, including Sammantha’s age, her dysfunctional childhood, and her lack of a prior criminal record. She was sentenced to death. Superior Court Judge Teresa Sanders sentenced Sammantha Allen to an additional 76 years because of the aggravating factors in the case, including the especially cruel nature of the crime, the age of the victim, the presence of an accomplice (her husband), and the fact that Sammantha was in a position of trust to Ame. She was given credit for the over 2,000 days she had already spent in custody.
When the verdict was read, Sammantha dropped her head and cried. John Curry was questioned by a reporter on his way out of the courthouse, and he responded, “I just feel sad.”
After Sammantha’s sentencing, juror Ann Ospeth told a reporter, “The pictures of the victim stayed in our minds. I think the thing for us was the victim and all the things her life entailed.”
“We were following what the law stated,” said juror Amanda Heath.
County Attorney Bill Montgomery released a statement after the sentencing, which read in part, “I want to thank the members of the jury for their time and effort on this case and reaching a difficult, but just conclusion for the senseless murder of Ame.”
Sammantha Allen, AZDOC inmate #320757, is now listed as Sammantha Uriarte. She resides in Perryville Prison in Goodyear, Arizona, where Cynthia is also housed. Sammantha has a couple of disciplinary actions on her prison record from 2019, so apparently she’s not loving life down there in Perryville. Aw.
Sammantha is, as of this writing, one of only three female death-row inmates in Arizona, joining Wendi Andriano, who was convicted in 2004 of murdering her terminally ill husband by bludgeoning him 23 times in the head with a bar stool and then stabbing him to death, and Shawna Forde, who, in 2009, as part of a vigilante anti-illegal immigration group, perpetrated a home invasion in which she and two other men killed a father and his nine-year-old daughter. All three women are housed in the Lumley Unit.
The only woman ever to be executed in Arizona was Eva Dugan, whose five husbands had all disappeared under mysterious circumstances. When she was hanged in 1930, the noose ripped off Eva’s head, which reportedly rolled to the spectators’ feet, causing some to faint. Arizona’s method of execution was swiftly changed to the gas chamber, which has since been replaced by lethal injection.
At John Allen’s trial, which began on October 30, 2017, his charges included three counts of child abuse, one count of attempted child abuse, and one count of first-degree murder.
In his opening arguments, Prosecutor Jay Rademacher painted a chilling picture of the morning of Ame’s death, describing the little girl police found, already dead, on her back on a towel in the living room. Her hands were raised to her shoulders, the fingers frozen into claws. Her ankles and fingernails were purple, her skin yellow, her lips blue and pulling away from her teeth. Her hair was matted and her clothing wet, which they soon realized was because she had been locked into that black box, where they saw about an inch of liquid — the bodily fluids of the dying girl.
“All of this over a popsicle,” Prosecutor Rademacher told the jury. “Ame would have heard the lock click shut, and then she began the fight of her life. A fight she would lose. Ame died in that box. She died while the defendant and his wife were sleeping. Once that box was closed, she never had a chance.”
Defense attorney Rob Reinhardt had a weak opening argument; how could you defend this so-called man, John Allen, against these charges when he had already admitted to police what he had done? “He did not intentionally kill Ame,” Reinhardt said, breaking down for the jury the reason why felony murder is not the same as premeditated murder; it is, instead, a death that happens in the course of another crime being committed. In this case, that crime was child abuse.
These jurors were shown photos of the crime scene, consisting of multiple rooms, each more cluttered than the last, as well as the garage “classroom” and the tent village in the backyard. Then, prosecutors revealed the disturbing photos of little Ame’s corpse, the images of her discolored, twisted form remaining on the screen for up to 40 minutes. Prosecutor Jeanette Gallagher produced the plastic footlocker again in the courtroom, asking the jury to consider why John hid the padlock if he didn’t know he had committed a crime, or why he had told his wife he was turning himself in if he didn’t know a crime had been committed.
While Detective Greg McKay was on the stand, jurors were shown his initial interview with the defendant, in which John eventually confessed to locking Ame in the box previously “three or four times” as well as doing so at about 1:00 AM on the morning she died. When he saw her the next morning, he said in the interview, she was face up with her legs hanging out of the box. He told McKay that day that he tried to perform CPR on Ame.
During the same interview, John told the detective that Ame was “more difficult than the other children,” saying she had a tendency to lie, steal food, and fail to complete her chores. Her punishments, he told Detective McKay, included making her do back bends, pouring hot sauce into her mouth, spanking her with the “Butt Buster,” and stuffing her into the box in which she ultimately died.
John threw his mother-in-law under the bus during the interview, telling the detective that as Ame’s legal guardian, Cynthia was also the little girl’s main disciplinarian.
The jury also saw a video of John’s behavior after Detective McKay had left the room; John was emotional, crying, banging his fists, throwing a water bottle, and praying.
Former Maricopa County Chief Medical Examiner Dr. Philip Keen explained the ruling of suffocation as Ame’s cause of death and demonstrated stuffing a cloth doll the same size as Ame into an exact replica of the footlocker. He testified about how Ame suffocated after “being stuffed inside this box.” He gave clinical testimony about how Ame would have struggled to breathe, finally passing out and dying inside the box.
This slow, horrific, unimaginable manner of death — this brutal murder — was forced upon a sweet, innocent ten-year-old girl just because she ate a popsicle on a hot Arizona evening. If that’s not enough to crush your heart to a pulp, you may want to check to make sure you have one.
In their closing statement, prosecutors reminded the jury, “[John] helped his wife to sleep while Ame was trapped in a box that was 21 inches shorter than she was. He chose to leave Ame to suffocate to death in her own sweat. That’s what little regard the defendant had for Ame’s life.”
During the defense’s closing arguments, Reinhardt said, “I’m not going to tap-dance around John’s statements. You saw the video. You read the transcripts. There was no screaming or beating a confession out of him. John accepted the responsibility for his actions.” He argued that John, who, he reminded jurors, was the father of four young children himself, did not intend for Ame to die, saying the other adults in the home had created the abusive culture in the family and were simply “playing John like a fiddle. John was manipulated.” He asked the jury to consider if John might only be guilty of negligence or recklessness, which would not be enough to warrant a murder conviction.
In December of 2017, after John’s trial, 55-year-old retired Phoenix police officer Albert Salaiz, the first on the scene of Ame’s death, gave an interview to the Phoenix New Times. He blamed himself for not seeing that something was wrong when he first saw Ame during the call about kids throwing rocks. “I’m going through my mind: Why didn’t I see something? Why didn’t I notice something? I beat myself up,” he said. “You have no idea. That was my area that I patrolled every day. People were coming out of the woodwork to tell stories of abuse at that house. That upset me even more, because why didn’t anybody pull me over on the beat and tell me?”
He went from a happy police officer who loved his job to a melancholy shell of himself and eventually sought counseling. “That case changed my life. It took some of the joy out of life for me,” he said. Three years after Ame’s death, after an injury and subsequent surgeries, he was forced into medical retirement. “I wasn’t the same person,” he said. “I’m still not. I’d wake up and say: What’s my purpose? Why am I here? I failed.”
While testifying at John Allen’s trial and seeing the photos of Ame’s corpse, Mr. Salaiz broke down. Afterward, he said, “When I came out of that courtroom, it felt like a ton of bricks had been lifted. I didn’t have to think about this anymore. I’d done my duty.”
The jurors in John’s trial deliberated for less than a day before coming to the unanimous verdict: guilty on all counts. Two weeks later, on December 7, 2017, John Michael Allen, age 29, was sentenced to death by lethal injection plus at least 36 years in prison for child abuse and conspiracy to commit child abuse. When the sentence was announced, John initially did not react, staring at his hands.
The judge said, “In my entire career, I can’t say I’ve ever seen a worse case. This was one of the most unnecessary deaths of a child I’ve ever seen.”
John finally broke down, sobbing as he told Judge Erin O’Brien Otis, “I want to say I’m sorry. What happened was an accident. I’m an idiot. I’m a jerk. It was an accident. I’m sorry to Ame. I’m sorry to her family. I’m sorry to my family. I shamed all of them.”
He could not get up from the defense table afterward, holding his head in his hands and weeping for at least five minutes after the judge left the bench.
After the sentencing, Prosecutor Gallagher and her team shared a tight embrace. It had been a long six years since Ame’s death, during which five family members had been sent to prison, two of those to death row. They had succeeded in getting justice for Ame.
Outside the courtroom, John’s sister spoke with reporters, saying that Ame’s abuse started before John even entered the family’s lives, that he made a mistake he would now pay for with his life, and that she would miss him.
John Allen, AZDOC inmate #323167, is being held in Eyman Prison in Florence, Arizona. Death row is located on Eyman’s Browning Unit, which is also home to serial killer Mark Goudeau, otherwise known as The Baseline Killer.
John and Sammantha Allen are the first married couple ever to be sentenced to death in Arizona.
It remains to be seen if they will ever actually be put to death; Arizona’s death penalty has been unofficially on hold since the botched execution in July of 2014 of Joseph Rudolph Wood III, who was convicted of double murder in 1989. During Wood’s execution, the drugs used for lethal injection began flowing into the condemned man’s veins at 1:57 PM. Before he was finally pronounced dead at 3:49 PM, one reporter said he gasped 660 times, and another said he looked “like a fish on shore gulping for air.”
Due to a shortage of the more powerful barbiturates generally used as part of the traditional three-drug protocol, Arizona was only the second state that had attempted to use a two-drug cocktail of midazolam and hydromorphone, which, in January, had caused similar problems at an execution in Ohio. For the record, lethal injection is supposed to take ten, maybe fifteen minutes from start to finish. Wood’s took one hundred and twelve minutes. The reason the drug protocol changed was because after anti-death penalty activists began putting pressure on drug manufacturers, the original three-drug combination became extremely hard to come by. After Wood’s execution, the Arizona Department of Corrections decided not to use the two-drug combination again, and since they can’t obtain the traditional three drugs, no executions have been carried out since Wood’s.
The appeals process in a death penalty case can take 20 years or longer after an inmate is sentenced, so we have plenty of time to wait and see what happens.
Ame’s case briefly appeared in the news again this week when the Arizona Supreme Court ruled on an appeal alleging jurors in John Allen’s trial handed down a sentence that was too harsh. The justices dismissed that idea, saying capital punishment was warranted because Ame’s death was “especially cruel.” They did expunge three of John’s child abuse convictions after determining the trial court applied the sentencing enhancements improperly. The court vacated John’s sentences on intentional child abuse, conspiracy to commit child abuse, and reckless child abuse, but his death sentence was upheld. The three child abuse charges have been remanded back to the trial court for resentencing at a future date.
The main lesson we need to learn from Ame’s story is this: If you see something, DO SOMETHING. If the abuse of a child is so egregious that even neighbors are aware of it, intervention is necessary.
One neighbor who lived across the street, Louis Moreno, said he saw very young children eating in high chairs at all hours of the night. He said, “The family was fishy.”
Another neighbor, Joe Perez, lived around the corner from the family and witnessed Ame being forced to walk up and down the street barefoot in triple-digit heat. He considered saying something to the adults but, inexplicably, did not. He told a reporter in 2011, “I was about to go over there myself [and say], ‘Why don’t you take off your shoes and walk 18 times on the street?’”
If the neighbors who witnessed Ame’s abuse had reported it, this beautiful little girl might still be alive today. If she was, Ame would be turning 20 this summer. Instead, she will forever be frozen in time at the age of ten, barely two weeks from her eleventh birthday.
“Ultimately,” said Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery, “the degree to which we call ourselves a civilized society is directly related to how we stand up for the defenseless and innocent among us. I call upon everyone, everyone, to report abuse and neglect when they see it.”
Ame’s death finally caused enough public outrage to call attention to Arizona’s flawed child welfare system, which led to a massive overhaul of that system and the creation of several new laws.
Soon after Ame’s case, Bill Montgomery advocated for Detective Greg McKay, who was appointed as director of the agency now known as DCS in February of 2015.
During a press conference in December of 2017, Bill Montgomery said, “I’m able to gather some small degree, a very small degree, of consolation that her death was not in vain and served as a catalyst for change.”
Montgomery said that under McKay’s leadership, DCS has done a “180-degree” turnaround, making changes that include more transparency and the ability to more quickly provide information about child deaths and near-fatalities, which was impossible in 2011 when Ame died.
McKay also spoke, saying, “It has been my promise not to let children die in vain.” In his position, he has the ability to affect thousands of children’s lives in a positive way. He went over some of the improvements the agency has made, including lowering caseloads from upwards of 150 per staff member to around 12 to 15; a backlog of formerly around 16,000 cases being reduced to around 280; and drastically lowering foster-care numbers.
Both men stressed that more work needs to be done, including involving the public to a greater degree when it comes to reporting suspected neglect and abuse, not to mention parents providing better parenting. (What a novel concept!)
Greg McKay stepped down as DCS director in July of 2019 to become the Chief Operating Officer of ChildhelpUSA, a non-profit agency helping victims of child abuse.
The house where Ame died was last sold in 2016 for $115,000, and, judging by online listing photos, it was completely renovated since 2011. The lawn was replaced with red stone. The interior appears clean and freshly repainted. The house was listed as being 1,400 square feet and having 3 bedrooms and 1.75 baths. Below is a slideshow of listing photos from Redfin.com in case anyone wants to see the interior of the home where sweet little Ame spent the last year of her life.
Even though Ame may not have experienced love during the last several years of her life, she is cherished and adored now, both by those who knew her and by those of us who never met her but refuse to let her memory die.
“I don’t want Ame to be remembered as a girl who was abused and who died in a box,” Jileen Boydstan, Ame’s teacher, told a reporter. “I want people to remember her as a beautiful human being.”
Family members on Facebook have mentioned that Ame had a contagious giggle and that her favorite snack was corn curls.
WebSleuths user MsFacetious said in another post on the forum: “Ame… just melts you. Ame is a total sweetheart. She should still be singing with my girls… playing/bathing in the sprinklers.
“Ame was born on July 24th. In Utah we do fireworks on July 24th. These are forever known as ‘Ame’s fireworks’ in our house.
“My memory is bad… but there is one thing I remember especially vividly. After the 4th of July 2008 or 2009, Ame and I talked about her birthday and the fireworks. ‘You know Ame, those fireworks are for YOU… because you are such an AMAZING little girl.’ I wish I’d had my camera… the grin on her face was enormous. We had cake that year too.
“I choose to believe she heard fireworks on her last 4th of July… and thought ‘MsF said those are for ME.’”
Ross Lunceford, former principal at James Madison Elementary, recalled Ame “always had a smile on her face. She was the kid in school who every teacher wanted to take home. She would hug my leg and attach herself to it. I’d be walking down the hallway. I really couldn’t get her to let go.”
I know that I, and a lot of you, will never let go of Ame, either. Rest well, baby girl.
Sources: San Francisco International Business Times, AZ Central, AZFamily.com, Phoenix New Times, Maricopa County Attorney’s Office, Lighting Their Way Home blog, Wikipedia, Justice for Ame Deal (RIP Sweet Angel) Facebook page, R.I.P. Ame Deal Facebook page, East Valley Tribune, WebSleuths, The New Republic, 12 News, New York Times