Murder charge filed in death of toddler allegedly abused and locked in closet
A three-year-old Crestview girl was physically abused and locked in a closet before she died. Her body was dumped in remote area, according to law enforcement allegations. The toddler’s mother and her boyfriend were later arrested, and following an autopsy, the boyfriend was charged with murder.
Okaloosa County Sheriff Larry Ashley said officers were called to 4700 Bobolink Way (in Crestview) around 12:30 Friday after three-year-old Adelynn Merrell was reported missing by the couple.
“They said they’d last seen her playing in the back yard. An intense search was conducted but 23-year old Destinee Merrell then told investigators her boyfriend, 29-year old Cory Hagwell, had kicked the little girl in the head and locked her in a closet in the master bedroom Thursday night because she had gotten out of her car seat.”
Adelynn’s body was allegedly dumped in a wooded area off Palmetto Avenue around 4:30 p.m. Friday. “She had apparent head trauma, but an autopsy will be conducted to determine the exact cause and manner of death,” Ashley said.
OCSO Investigators say during the course of their ongoing investigation over the past two days, Merrell and Hagwell have given conflicting stories as to exactly what happened. A child in the home, however, said he saw Hagwell kick Adelynn while she was playing and he heard Merrell say “Stop Cory”. He allegedly said he last saw the girl in a bedroom closet on the floor and not talking - and never saw or heard her again.
Another child in Merrell’s care was taken to the Emerald Coast Children’s Advocacy Center Friday for a wellness exam where a doctor found the five-year-old suffers from malnutrition, weighing less than 33 pounds, with bones in all regions of his body exposed,” per a sheriff’s office report. The relationship between the children was not disclosed.
"During the jail interview Merrell also told investigators Hagwell lost his job about one month ago, and began exhibiting escalating violence towards Adelynn. Merrell described hearing thuds and the sounds of Adelynn crying fifteen to sixteen times over that period. She said Hagwell would also withhold food from Adelynn and put her in the
closet for extended periods of time," Ashley said.
Investigators say they also determined Merrell had left Adelynn and another child alone and locked in a room in their home on September 1st. The youngsters broke out a window and were found by neighbors.
Hagwell is charged with murder, aggravated child abuse Merrell with accessory after the fact of murder, aggravated child abuse and three counts of child neglect. The couple is held in the Okaloosa County Jail