MASSILLON, Ohio (AP) — The father of a 5-year-old Ohio girl whose mother is charged with murder in their daughter’s death told authorities in a 911 call released Thursday that he couldn’t find his daughter and that she had been asleep the last time she was seen.
Authorities said the call from Liang Zhao was made Monday, a day before police found the body of Ashley Zhao hidden in the family’s restaurant in North Canton after a daylong search. Jackson Township police haven’t provided details on how she was hidden.
“I need some help,” Zhao, 34, told a police dispatcher in the 911 call. He said on the call that his daughter was last seen sleeping in the back of the family’s restaurant earlier that day. He also described what she was wearing.
Police allege the girl’s mother, 29-year-old Mingming Chen, struck Ashley in the face several times with her fist on Monday morning and that the girl’s father unsuccessfully tried to revive her and then helped conceal what happened after she died.
Chen also is charged with felonious assault. Court records didn’t list an attorney for her Thursday.
Authorities have said the Chinese woman isn’t a naturalized citizen and therefore might face deportation.
Liang Zhao, a legal citizen, is charged with complicity to murder and complicity to commit felonious assault. He maintains his innocence, according to a statement from the office of his attorney, Jacob Will, who said it would be premature to discuss the facts of the case.
Chen had applied for asylum in the United States in 2009 while claiming she was persecuted by the Chinese government as a follower of Falun Gong, a meditation practice outlawed by China’s government, and federal judges have twice denied her petitions to stay in the U.S., WEWS-TV reported.
The law director in Massillon, where the murder case is being handled before potentially being presented to a county grand jury, indicated that authorities were trying to sort out whether a deportation order was in place for Chen, WEWS reported.
The parents said little during their initial court appearance Wednesday. They were jailed on $5 million bonds. A public defender representing them for that appearance told a judge that Chen likely will need a translator for court proceedings.
Zhao told the judge he has lived in the United States for over 20 years.
The couple also attended a hearing Thursday in Stark County Family Court, where a judge determined that Ashley’s older sister will remain in the temporary custody of the county’s Job and Family Services department while that agency tries to determine if the 6-year-old girl can be placed with relatives, The (Canton) Repository reported.
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