SARASOTA COUNTY, Fla. - A Sarasota man is behind bars, charged with felony Aggravated Child Abuse after deputies say his 11-year-old autistic daughter's death revealed a pattern of abuse at the family's home.
Sarasota County EMS was called to the Stoddard home on Delft Road December 12th when 11-year-old Melissa stopped breathing. The child was transported to Doctor’s Hospital and then transferred to All Children’s Hospital in St. Petersburg, where doctors discovered Melissa had severe brain damage and was classified as brain dead. She also had ligature marks on her upper arms, wrists, ankles and thigh area.
Melissa died on December 17th from what the medical examiner determined was hypoxia, which is caused by the deprivation of adequate oxygen supply.
The Department of Children and Families has taken custody of the five other children who also lived in the home, some of whom described how Kenneth and their stepmother “restrained” Melissa.
Investigators have learned the girl was regularly hog tied, tied to a board on her bed with duct tape covering her mouth, or tied up and put in a filthy family pool, due to "behavioral issues". The girl was autistic, according to the Sarasota County Sheriff's Office.
According to a sheriff's office report, one sibling told investigators that "every day she is tied....morning and nighttime."
Another sibling told investigators that she believed Melissa had her mouth covered in tape the night EMS arrived. She said she heard Melissa screaming, and her stepmother would go into her room and the screaming would stop. The same thing happened later that night. The sibling says that Melissa knew how to remove the tape from her mouth without using her hands, and that she heard the stepmother pulling strips of tape off the roll.
Another sibling admitted to helping to remove the board that Melissa was tied down to that night and hiding it in the woods prior to the the arrival of EMS.
Several items of evidence were removed from the home in a search, including two boards described as restraint platforms, numerous rolls of tape and black strapping. Clumps of used duct tape were found in several rooms, and the outside area described as the "time out" area.
Kenneth Stoddard is charged with Aggravated Child Abuse and is being held without bond. Additional charges are expected to be filed as the investigation continues.