Parenting

Police Say Jackson Couple Killed and Hid 5-Year-Old Daughter in Their Chinese Restaurant

A 5-year-old Jackson, Ohio, girl who was reported missing from her family’s Asian restaurant on Monday evening has been found dead inside the business.

The horrific ordeal first hit police radars on Tuesday evening when Ashley Zhao’s parents reported her missing. They told police that their daughter, just five years old, laid down to rest around 5 p.m., but when her mom checked on her at around 9:30 p.m., she was not in her room.

The state of Ohio then issued a child advisory for the girl. Police theorized at the time that Ashley may have wandered out the back door of Ang’s Asian Cuisine, the restaurant the family owns. Close to 70 police officers, the FBI, and the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation collaborated in efforts to find Ashley.

Their search culminated with the discovery of her dead body, hidden away in the family’s restaurant.

Customers of the business described the young girl as a friendly child. “She’s very vocal, she’s not afraid to talk to you,” said regular customer Douglas Panzarello.

Another regular, Marty Shomali, commented, “She’s the sweetest little thing! I loved her so much. Every time I picked up food she was behind the counter and would talk to me.”

Both parents were arrested for their suspected roles in Ashley’s death as details of the case unfolded. Her mother, Mingming Chen, allegedly “struck the girl several times in the head with her right first.” While she was still lying on the floor, her father, Liang J. Zhao, “allegedly found the girl with green fluid coming from her mouth and took her into the bathroom to wash the fluid off of her face.” The trip to the bathroom failed to awaken the girl and as her father placed her back on the ground he realized she was no longer breathing.“ Police said he then attempted to revive her with CPR, which was unsuccessful.

Ashley’s mother and father were arrested Tuesday night. Zhao was booked on charges of “complicity to commit felonious assault and complicity to murder.” Chen has been charged “with murder and felonious assault.” They appeared before a judge Wednesday morning in the Massillon Common Pleas Court “in red jumpsuits with their hands and feet shackled” during the hearing. Judge Edward Elum set bail at $5 million and the couple remained in jail on Wednesday. They are scheduled for a preliminary hearing on January 19

ABC News 5 Cleveland reports that the couple has another child, who is seven years old. Authorities have taken this child into the custody of Stark County Children Services. One has to wonder what tragic parts of this story this young child witnessed as his or her younger sister was killed at the hands of their parents.

The Child Welfare Information Gateway reports that nationally an “estimated 1,580 children died from abuse and neglect in 2014. This translates to… an average of four children dying every day from abuse or neglect.” They continue: “Fatal child abuse may involve repeated abuse over a period of time… or it may involve a single, impulsive incident.” The perpetrators involved with fatal abuse are overwhelmingly “individuals responsible for the care and supervision of their victims.” In the year the last report was published (2014), parents were responsible for “79.3% of child abuse or neglect fatalities.” Twenty-eight percent were by the mother alone, 15% by the father alone, and 21.8% were by both parents working together.

The American Psychological Association lists resources for anyone concerned for the welfare of a child. Most noteworthy is the suggestion to speak with “local, county or state child protection [agencies]” if you suspect that a child might be in danger. Certain professions require that a person report a suspicion of abuse, including “doctors, nurses, dentists, mental health professionals, social workers, teachers, day care workers, [and] law enforcement personnel.” You can still make the phone call that just may save a child’s life, even if your profession does not mandate that you report abuse.

What is most important is that you speak up if you fear a child is in danger. Four children dying every day from neglect and abuse—most at the hands of their parents—is an unacceptable number. While we do not know the extent of the abuse in Ashley Zhao’s situation, striking a child hard enough to render her unconscious and ultimately killing her is far more than an appropriate form of discipline. Be the advocate for the kids in your life.