Name: Melissa Stoddard
Died: Dec. 17, 2012
Age at death: 11
Cause of death: Suffocation
Location: Sarasota, Florida, USA
At school, Melissa's teachers knew her as a creative, energetic girl who struggled to communicate but was learning how to make requests and explain how she was feeling. She liked to play computer games. But at home, Melissa suffered greatly due to her abusive family.
Initially, Melissa was sent to live with a father and stepmother when it was discovered she had been sexually abused by an older sibling. But her life did not improve there. Eleven-year-old Melissa became the family's scapegoat, described as "the bad child" by her siblings. Her father and stepmother regularly tied her to the plywood board on which she slept with duct tape across her mouth. She was put on a gluten-free diet to "control her behavior" and not allowed to eat with the family.
Had Melissa stayed in school, her echolalia–repeating phrases she had heard at home–might have alerted teachers to her situation. But shortly before her death, Melissa's stepmother removed her from school, claiming they were spoiling her by giving her snacks and letting her watch TV and play with toys. Melissa attended very little school in the weeks before she died. School officials say her family told them that they didn’t want her going to school when she was misbehaving.
One morning, Melissa's stepmother found her tied to her bed as usual, unconscious. When she arrived at the hospital, Melissa was brain-dead, and five days later she was removed from life support.
Melissa’s stepmother has been convicted of first-degree murder. Her father will stand trial for aggravated child abuse.
Before Melissa Stoddard died here, abuse in North Carolina
Sarasota man Kenneth Stoddard arrested for hog-tying 11-year-old daughter Melissa, who later died
Misty Stoddard arrested for child abuse after death of autistic stepdaughter Melissa Stoddard
Trial set in abuse death of autistic Fla. girl
Woman Guilty of Killing Autistic Stepdaughter