BENTONVILLE, Ark. — After her father and stepmother were arrested last year for chaining her to a dresser, young Jersey Bridgeman received something of a fresh start when she began kindergarten this fall in northwestern Arkansas.
Then, last week, the 6-year-old’s body was found in a vacant home two doors from where she had been living with her mother.
“The fact that she went through what she went through when she was 5. … And then this happens,” Chelsea Jouett said Tuesday after dropping a teddy bear off at Jersey’s home. “She had such a rough life.”
Police have arrested neighbor and family friend Zachary Holly, 28, in Jersey’s death. Holly is due in court Wednesday in Bentonville, a city about 215 miles northwest of Little Rock that is best known as the home of Wal-Mart’s headquarters.
Holly was being held on capital murder, kidnapping and residential burglary charges Tuesday night at the Benton County Jail. A judge is likely to appoint a lawyer to represent him during his court appearance Wednesday.
Holly’s arrest Monday came about a week after Jersey was found dead in an empty house next to the mobile home where Holly lived. Police said a search turned up the girl’s body just minutes after someone reported her missing Nov. 20.
So far, Bentonville police have not said how Jersey died or released any possible motives. Chief Jon Simpson said many questions about the investigation will be answered when a probable cause affidavit comes out Wednesday.
Simpson said Holly worked at a restaurant in town called The Flying Burrito Company. The manager, Tabitha Stevens, confirmed that Holly worked there but declined to comment further.
One neighbor, Julie Pickard, said Tuesday that Holly wept the day Jersey’s body was found.
“He was crying for a long time,” said Pickard, who lives on the other side of the home where Jersey’s body was found.
Later that day, Pickard said, police knocked on her door and told her to let them know if she saw a man wearing Mountain Dew pajama pants.
“(Holly) was wearing Mountain Dew pajama pants,” Pickard said.
No one answered the door Tuesday at the mobile home where police say Holly lived with his wife. A child’s bicycle rested on a patch of grass near the home.
Simpson, the police chief, told The Associated Press the couple didn’t have any children but that Holly’s wife has a child who is “pretty much the same age as our victim.” Simpson described Holly as “an acquaintance” and a friend of Jersey’s family.
Next door, a child’s bike with training wheels lay in front of the house where police said Jersey lived with her mother, DesaRae Bridgeman. Nearby was a deflated balloon decorated with the kinds of princesses that fill little girls’ dreams.
Less than a mile away, Jersey’s family on Tuesday buried the little girl who lived through more than her share of hardship. Police said the family requests privacy as they grieve.
Jersey’s death comes after her father and stepmother chained the girl to a dresser last year. David Bridgeman told investigators he restrained his daughter to keep her from getting into medication and other things around the house in nearby Rogers.
David Bridgeman and Jersey’s stepmother, Jana Bridgeman, pleaded guilty in June to false imprisonment, permitting abuse of a minor and endangering the welfare of a minor. She is serving a 12-year prison sentence, plus three years for a probation revocation. He is serving an 18-year prison sentence.
Meanwhile, those who knew Jersey are remembering the little girl who was still joyful despite what was, by all indications, a difficult life.
“I don’t know how she dealt with it, but she dealt with it and she still smiled the whole time,” family friend Mike Whitcomb said.