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School officials: Ark. girl joyful despite abuse

LITTLE ROCK — Jersey Bridgeman endured a lot in her young life, including abuse at the hands of her father and stepmother, but school officials say she was still a happy girl.

Now, with the couple away in prison for chaining her to a dresser last year, authorities are trying to figure out who killed the 6-year-old. Her body was found in a vacant house this week in Bentonville, a northwest Arkansas city best known as the home of Walmart’s headquarters.

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‘‘To find out that the girl had been abused before, to me it was like: ‘You’ve got to be kidding me,’ ’’ said Mike Poore, school superintendent in Bentonville, where Bridgeman attended kindergarten at Sugar Creek Elementary. ‘‘How can someone that young go through so much?’’

Still, despite the hardships she faced, Bridgeman managed to delight those she met.

‘‘She’s an amazing child,’’ said Mary Ley, communications director for Bentonville schools. ‘‘She’d been through a lot and still had joy.’’

Police in the city about 215 miles northwest of Little Rock have said they’re investigating her death as a homicide, but they won’t disclose how she died.

Authorities haven’t identified any suspects.

Captain Justin Thompson said Bridgeman’s body was found in a vacant house two doors down from the home where she lived with her mother. He said investigators believe the girl died sometime between midnight and 6:53 a.m. Tuesday, when her body was found about 10 minutes after someone called police to report her missing.

Thompson would not say who called 911.

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