Belle Vernon, Pa. A western Pennsylvania man claims he's the biological father of a 10-year-old girl found suffocated in a foot locker in Phoenix after months of alleged abuse at the hands of four adults, a television news station reported.
Kenneth Griest, of Belle Vernon, told KDKA that he's the father of Ame Deal, even though another man, David Deal, is listed as the father on her birth certificate.
"When I first heard about it, I was really stunned. It just shocked me that they could do something to a kid," Griest told the station on Tuesday.
Griest said the girl's mother, Shirley Deal, who now lives in Iola, Kan., was still legally married to David Deal when she gave birth "and had to put his name on there" for legal reasons. Shirley Deal has acknowledged that David Deal, whom she married in 1996, might not be the girl's biological father.
Griest showed the station pictures of the girl, a copy of her girl's birth certificate and hospital fingerprints, and what he says is a lock of her hair. Griest said he and Shirley Deal raised the girl for about four years before Deal left Belle Vernon, a small borough about 25 miles southeast of Pittsburgh.
Four people, including a grandmother and two aunts, are charged in connection with the girl's July 12 death, which Phoenix police said followed months of abuse.
The girl was reportedly put in the same locker at least five times in recent months for misbehaving, authorities said. She also had been beaten with a wooden paddle and forced to swallow hot sauce and eat dog feces, they said.
Judith Deal, 72, who police have said is the girl's paternal grandmother, and Cynthia Stoltzmann, 44, an aunt, are scheduled for a preliminary hearing Aug. 8 on charges including child abuse and kidnapping. John and Sammantha Allen, both 23, are charged with first-degree murder because, police said, they acknowledged padlocking the girl in the trunk after the relatives initially claimed the girl climbed into it while playing hide and seek.
Police believe the girl was being punished for taking a frozen snack from a refrigerator.
"I hope now, when they do go to prison ... well, in prison, you know, if you abuse a child, you'll get worse than that," Griest said.
Shirley Deal said she learned of her daughter's death last week, when a friend directed her to stories about it on The Arizona Republic website. Deal contends her relatives took the girl from her home without permission.
Griest said he had tried to keep in touch with his daughter, but said Deal's frequent moves made that difficult.
"I tracked them all down. We were together up until a few years ago and well, we lost contact for a while there and then we started talking again. We tried hunting Ame down for years," Griest said. "Every time we got close to finding her, just like they disappeared off the face of the Earth. And then you find out they were living in Wisconsin, Utah, Texas, now you find out they're in Arizona."