Investigation continues into child abuse death case

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SARASOTA - The man accused of abusing his now dead 11-year-old autistic daughter refused to make his first appearance in a Sarasota court Thursday.

35 year-old Kenneth Stoddard has been charged with Aggravated Child Abuse in the death of his daughter Melissa. An autopsy report indicates she died of oxygen deprivation.

Stoddard is accused of severely abusing the girl after ligature marks were found on her arms, wrists, ankles and thigh area. One investigator is calling this the worst case of abuse he's ever seen.

The Stoddards were renting a home on a quiet, rural street in East Sarasota County, and the few neighbors they have told ABC 7 that they didn't know much about the family, and they had no idea what kind of horrific things were going on inside their home.

Detectives say Melissa Stoddard had been living in the home since July or August after moving from her biological mother's home in North Carolina. She lived in the new home with five other siblings, her father Ken, and her stepmother Misty.

Neighbors say the Stoddards kept to themselves. However, one neighbor says he did meet Ken Stoddard once, and he describes him as weird and stand-offish.

Other neighbors say they wish they would have taken the time to get to know the Stoddards better, then maybe they would've been able to do something to save Melissa. “My heart breaks to know that children were treated that way a couple doors down. Having children of my own, it just brings me to tears, especially with everything that's going on. It's just terrible, and having grown up around here and knowing that that's happening, it's just really sad,” says Angela Schlabach, who grew up in the neighborhood.

All five of Melissa's siblings are now in DCF custody. Detectives say at this point, the other children don't appear to have been subjected to the same abuse.

The investigation is still ongoing, and deputies say further charges are still a possibility. Melissa’s stepmother attempted suicide after the investigation began, and is not available to detectives for questioning right now.