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Adoptive mother, grandparents plead not guilty in Spring Valley girl's death

Aarabella McCormack, 11, died of abuse and neglect, according to Child Welfare Services.

EL CAJON, Calif. — The adoptive mother and grandparents of an 11-year-old girl who died after being found in grave condition at a Spring Valley home last summer pleaded not guilty today to charges that include murder and torture.

Leticia Diane McCormack, 49, and McCormack's parents, 70-year-old Adella Tom and 75-year-old Stanley Tom, are accused in the Aug. 30 death of Aarabella McCormack. The trio were arrested Monday and remain in custody without bail.

McCormack and Stanley Tom are charged with murder and all three defendants are charged with torture and child abuse counts in relation to Aarabella and the girl's two sisters, ages 6 and 7.

Credit: SD Sheriff
Aarabella McCormack, 11, died on August 30, 2022 after an ambulance responded to her adoptive family's home in Spring Valley.

The sisters are currently living with a foster family, according to the San Diego County Sheriff's Department.

If convicted, McCormack and her father face a maximum sentence of 25 years to life, plus two life terms behind bars, while Adella Tom faces a maximum of two life terms in prison.

Sheriff's homicide Lt. Chris Steffen said deputies responded just before 2 a.m. on Aug. 30 to a home on Lakeview Drive for "a call of a child in distress.'' Aarabella was taken to a hospital where she died.

"Detectives suspected signs of possible child abuse,'' Steffen said. The investigation led deputies to try and meet with the girl's adoptive father, Brian McCormack, who killed himself in their presence, the lieutenant said.

The exact circumstances behind the girl's death have not been disclosed, but Steffen said there were indications that the girl suffered from malnourishment and bruising.

Aarabella's biological mother, Torriana Florey, told reporters at the El Cajon courthouse that her daughter had "multiple fractures that were healing'' and was "very malnourished'' at the time of her death.

Florey said her three children started living with the McCormacks in 2017 and were adopted by Brian and Leticia McCormack in 2019. The torture and child abuse counts listed on the criminal complaint allege those crimes occurred between Jan. 1, 2017 and the date of Aarabella's death.

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