3-Year-Old Dies After Allegedly Being Kicked in Head and Locked in Closet as Punishment for Exiting Car Seat

Destinee Merrell, 23, told deputies that Cory Hagwell, 29, kicked the child in the head and then locked her in a closet

Photo: Okaloosa County Sheriff's Office

Florida deputies say a 3-year-old girl found dead in the woods allegedly had been kicked in the head and locked in a closet by the mother’s boyfriend as punishment for getting out of her car seat, PEOPLE confirms.

Three-year-old Adelynn Merrell was reported missing around 12:30 p.m. Friday by her mother, Destinee Merrell, and her live-in boyfriend, Cory Hagwell, who said they’d last seen her playing in the backyard of the couple’s Crestview, Florida, residence, according to a news release from the Okaloosa County Sheriff’s Office.

During a search for the girl, Merrell, 23, told investigators that Hagwell, 29, “had kicked the little girl in the head and locked her in a closet in the master bedroom as punishment the evening of November 9th, because she had ‘gotten out of her car seat,'” according to the release.

A deputy discovered Adelynn’s body in a wooded area around 4:30 p.m.

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Prior to an autopsy on the 3-year-old, Hagwell and Merrell initially were arrested on charges of aggravated child abuse, and Merrell was charged with three additional counts of child neglect.

Authorities say a 5-year-old child in Merrell’s care was taken to the hospital and doctors found the boy, who weighed less than 33 pounds, suffered from malnutrition with “bones in all regions of his body exposed,” the sheriff’s office said. Investigators also said they learned that Merrell had allegedly left Adelynn and another child alone and locked in a room on Sept. 1, before the children broke out a window and were found by neighbors.

The charges against Hagwell were amended on Nov. 12 to include first-degree premeditated murder, according to Okaloosa County jail records. Merrell was given an added second-degree felony charge of accessory after the fact. Investigators allege she participated in locking Adelynn in the closet.

Both are awaiting hearings and being held without bond at Okaloosa County jail, and jail records do not indicate if either has an attorney.

No additional charges in the case are expected, Okaloosa County State Attorney William Eddins’ office tells PEOPLE.

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