SAN DIEGO (AP) — The mother and grandfather of an 11-year-old California girl who was allegedly tortured and starved for years have been arrested and charged with murder, while her grandmother faces abuse charges.
Leticia McCormack, 49, and her parents pleaded not guilty to the charges Wednesday in Superior Court of California in the San Diego suburb of El Cajon.
Prosecutors say McCormack and her parents, Adella and Stanley Tom, abused and tortured the girl and her two younger siblings, ages 6 and 7, for about five and a half years, leading up to the death of the 11-year-old identified as Arabella, according to the complaint.
In addition to charges of abuse and torture, McCormack and her father face an additional charge of murder. If convicted they face up to 25 years-to-life, plus two additional life terms in prison. Adella Tom faces two life terms in prison.
San Diego Sheriff's Department said deputies responded to a call of a child in distress at McCormack's home before 2 a.m. on Aug. 30. The girl, who had bruises and was severely malnourished, was taken to a hospital, where she died, according to authorities.
After deputies arrived at the home, they contacted the girl’s father, Brian McCormack, a Border Patrol agent. He drove over and shot and killed himself in front of them, the sheriff's department said.
The couple became foster parents to the girls in 2017, before adopting them two years later, according to the San Diego Union Tribune, whose reporter spoke to the girls' biological mother outside the courthouse Wednesday. She said the girls were being homeschooled.
Leticia McCormack and her parents were arrested Monday and remain held without bail. The victim's siblings have been placed in foster care, according to the sheriff's department.
Leticia McCormack taught courses called “Kingdom Life Encounter" about how to model one's life after Jesus at the Rock Church in San Diego, founded by former NFL player Miles McPherson, who is the pastor.
The church said it has severed ties with McCormack, who had been an active volunteer at the church for more than a decade, doing administrative tasks, coordinating events and other ministry activities.
The church said McCormack's ordination at the church had been suspended and was in the process of being revoked.
“We continue to grieve for Arabella and her sisters. We are so sorry that their family and friends are experiencing this unimaginable loss and pain," the church said in a statement that added: “The legal process will run its course, and we hope justice for Arabella and her sisters will be served. We are praying that God’s love and grace will bring comfort and healing."
McCormack had been ordained as an elder at another church under the Assemblies of God denomination. The ordination was transferred to the Rock in January 2022, according to the Rock Church. The church said she was not part of the paid staff and was not in a leadership role in regards to the church's governance or operations.
Torriana Florey, the biological mother of the girls, told The San Diego Union Tribune that she lost custody of her three daughters to Child Protective Services because of a “domestic violence dispute” with their father. Florey said she suffers from bipolar disorder.
She told the newspaper her daughter's name is spelled Aarabella not Arabella as authorities have written it.
“I couldn’t be the mom the courts wanted me to be, because I was learning,” Florey said. “Aarabella was my first daughter.”
Florey described her daughter as a beautiful, bubbly and loving child.