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Phoenix child abuse death of Ame Deal helps lead to reform across Arizona

Posted at 7:47 PM, Dec 12, 2017

A horrific case of child abuse in the Valley, which resulted in murder, led to improved reporting and investigation of abuse and neglect across the state, according to two key officials involved in the reforms. 

Ame Deal was only 10-years-old when she was stuffed into a plastic footlocker on a hot summer night in 2011 and suffocated. Now, two of her relatives are on death row, and three others are also in prison.

"I was faced with this immensely sad revelation that the best moment of Ame Deal's life was the moment of her death," said Arizona Department of Child Safety Director Greg McKay.

McKay was the chief investigator in the murder case six years ago.

"Her death was not in vain in helping to serve as a catalyst for change," said Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery. 

Montgomery headed a task force to reform Arizona's child welfare system after Deal's death.

Montgomery and McKay listed several accomplishments, after DCS became a separate, stand-alone agency from the Department of Economic Security. 

This included making shorter hold times to reduce dropped calls on the child-abuse hotline, whittling down the backlog of abuse reports, and reducing case loads for child welfare workers.

"I'm noting milestones that result in real change, but this is not a victory lap," said Montgomery.

Their news conference came just days after a former Phoenix police detective was indicted for murder; accused in the abuse death of his 7-year-old daughter, Sanaa Cunningham.

"My commitment to their memories is to be transparent, and to continuously improve systems," said McKay.

Both men say they want to see additional improvements, including a national database to track substantiated cases of child abuse across state lines. 

Deal's family was suspected of abusing her in two states before moving to Phoenix.