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Neighbors blame DCF for death of 3-year-old Okaloosa County girl

Neighbors blame DCF for death of 3-year-old Okaloosa County girl (photo: WEAR)

WEAR is learning more about the family and the death of three-year-old Adelynn Merrell in eastern Okaloosa County.

On Friday, Okaloosa County Sheriff's deputies arrested the mother, Destinee Merrell, and live-in boyfriend, Cory Hagwell, and charged them with the premeditated murder of the little girl and child abuse charges.

Now neighbors accuse the Florida Department of Children and Families (DCF) of neglect.

Adelynn Merrell's body was found among trash that lines the road to her home.

According to this sheriff's office, neighbors called the sheriff's office about potential abuse on September 1 when their parents allegedly left the two kids home alone for 10 hours.

The sheriff's office said it turned the investigation over to the Department of Children and Families.

Those neighbors said DCF failed Adelynn and her five-year-old brother.

Allen Simmons hasn't slept in two days.

"There will never be justice. Justice is just a definition. It's just a word," Simmons said.

Adelynn was the same age as his own daughter. Her mother's boyfriend allegedly kicked the little girl in the head for getting out of her car seat.

"There's really no words for it. If you have a heart you can answer yourself, you know? If you have kids, you'll definitely know the feeling," Simmons said.

With two and a half months between their call and Adelynn's death, he believes the system failed the little girl.

"I don't think its the sheriff's office as much as its DCF. My wife was on the phone the very first morning with DCF and they said there was no need to follow up. That's 10 hours your kids are left alone at two and five. That's a big follow up," Simmons said.

He blames himself, too. The first time he saw the little boy he was a healthy weight. This past weekend, Simmons said he was severely malnourished, something he believes his guardians did to punish him for having the police called in September.

"If they'd done their job, this could have been prevented and then me and my wife going through thought process now, that if we didn't call the police in the first place this wouldn't have happened," he said.

He said in the wake of it all, he'll hold his kids a little tighter and is more thankful they were born four houses away.

DCF told Channel 3 they are looking through records and will get back to us with more information.

According to the Simmons', the boy's father drove through the night from Kansas to speak with a judge and work on getting custody of his son.

As for Destinee Merrell and Cory Hagwell, they had their first appearance in court Monday morning.

Neighbors and complete strangers are raising funds and supplies for the father of the little boy, who wants to bury Adelynn in Kansas and take his son home.

If you want to help, this is a link to a Facebook page where Okaloosa County residents are organizing aid for the family.

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