JACKSON TWP, Ohio-- The parents of Ashley Zhao, 5, are each being held on a $5 million bond after appearing in Massillon Municipal Court on Wednesday accused of killing the girl then concealing her body inside the family's Asian restaurant.
According to investigators, the preliminary cause of death is believed to be blunt force trauma.Their arresting documents accuse Ming Ming Chen of hitting the girl with her fist so hard that it killed her.
Ashley's father, Liang Zhao, attempted to perform CPR on his daughter after realizing what happened, but according to police, when he was unsuccessful, he is believed to have helped conceal the body inside the restaurant and then helped lead authorities on an intense search for the girl who was reported missing.
Police records accuse the couple of killing the girl Monday morning. She was not reported missing until after 9 p.m. on Monday, indicating the body was concealed in the restaurant through the day Monday while her family was conducting business as usual there that day.
On Wednesday, Jackson Township Police Chief Mark Brink would not reveal details of how or where the girl's body was hidden. He told FOX 8 News that the restaurant was the first thing authorities searched when they thought the girl was missing but that she was concealed well enough that they could not easily find her.
"We wanted to make sure that child hadn't crawled into the dryer, a cubby hole, somewhere that she had gone within that restaurant and still been there, so we searched the entire restaurant for a missing child. We were thinking that she possibly again had gone somewhere that the parents just didn't know where to find her at within the restaurant," said Brink.
**Watch an extended interview with the police chief in the video above**
Brink explained that while officers and firefighters were searching the area around the restaurant for any sign of the girl the police department intentionally left an officer at the restaurant in case it needed to be searched again.
"We had an officer stay with that building the entire time from the time that this crime was reported or the missing child was reported until we found that child and the reason is we believe that we were going to have to search that building again; we did not want anybody to be able to do anything with that building during that time. So eventually we would have taken a second look at that building, but we would have searched in other places because by that time you would know you don't simply have a child that walked away," said Brink.
He would not discuss on the record how authorities were able to finally focus their attention back to the restaurant at the same time a large group of officers was gathering for another area search.
Brink did say the discovery of the girl's body and the realization that her parents were responsible for her death was among the most difficult things he has experienced in his 25-year law enforcement career.
"It rips your heart out. We worked very hard on this case and the one thing that we wanted at the end of the day was to recover that girl alive and you work hard for that goal and all of a sudden that goal is just ripped away from you," said Brink.
"To have a child five years old die at the hands of the person that we all believe is the one person that will protect us no matter what -- it's just unfathomable," he added.
Police were initially told that Ashley told her parents she was tired so she went to a room inside the restaurant where she was able to take a nap. More than four hours later they went to check on her and she was gone.
Police and firefighters then worked tirelessly through the night searching for any sign of her using drones and police dogs, assuming she may have walked away from the restaurant.
"I'll give you an example of our detective bureau from the time that call came in at 9:15 that evening until we found that child, those people never went home; they worked an entire shift on Monday, did like everybody else did-- went home to watch the college football game; they were up more than 24 hours straight and they weren't leaving until they had a good result, or at least that's what we felt," said Brink.
When asked about the deception and how that led to the tremendous use of manpower and resources for a search, when the parents allegedly knew the entire time where the girl's body was, Brink said he does not resent it.
"I think the resentment comes from the fact that they killed a five-year-old child that they should have been protecting. We can be angry about the work that we put into it, but at the end of the day this five-year-old child is gone. I've had a number of people say to me, 'well, at least that child is in a better place.' It's a sad testimony when a five-year-old child is dead and it's better for the child," said Brink.