Fla. Mom Accused of Leaving Toddler Daughter to Die in Hot Van as She Slept for Several Hours squib

A Florida father is opening up about his grief about his late toddler daughter, who died after being left in a hot van for several hours last Wednesday.

“My heart is broken,” Donald Merritt told FOX10 News, speaking for the first time about the death of his 2-year-old daughter, Joy Monell-Merritt.

Police allege Joy died after her mother left her in the van, parked in the Florida sun.

PEOPLE confirms through online court records the girl’s mother, Jessica Monell, 36, was arrested last week and charged with homicide-neglect manslaughter, neglect of a child, three counts of possession of a controlled substance without a prescription and possession of drug equipment.

She remains in custody without bail. Her lawyer could not be reached for comment.

Donald Merritt said he is having a hard time coming to terms with the loss of his baby girl.

“She was my best friend, she loved me, she loved me a lot, she taught me a lot about life and about love and she still is,” Merritt said. “I don’t think anyone has ever taught me that much about life in such a short time; about what love is … she had a huge heart.”

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An arrest report obtained by PEOPLE alleges Monell left Joy inside a van as she slept for several hours — estimated to be as many as eight — in her Perdido Key apartment.

The arrest report alleges police discovered crystal meth and Xanax in Monell’s apartment.

Merritt told FOX10 News he was no longer in a relationship with Monell and lived in his own apartment.

But he said he saw his daughter often.

“I would put a guitar on her lap and she would just play it,” Merritt said.

A cause of death has not yet been determined for Joy.

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