Arizona

Man sets fire to, kills his 2-year-old daughter

December 2, 1999
Near Apache Junction, Arizona
Shawn Ryan Grell drives his 2-year-old daughter to a remote location, douses her with gasoline, and sets her on fire

For reasons that remain unclear, Grell signed his daughter, 2-year-old Kristen Salem, from her daycare, drove around the Mesa, Arizona area with the toddler in his vehicle, purchased a gasoline can and gas, placed Kristen’s sleeping body on the ground in a ditch, doused her with gas, and lit her on fire. Kristen walked at least 12 feet while on fire before collapsing to her knees and eventually falling face down in the dirt. She died from smoke inhalation and severe burns, suffering wounds over almost her entire body with only the soles of her feet left unburnt.

Grell drove off but circled back to ensure the flames had been extinguished. He was arrested for drunk driving a few hours later and released before he turned himself in for Kristen’s murder. Grell detailed the events and directed authorities to the location of his daughter’s burned body.

Grell’s defense team attempted a diminished mental capacity defense, arguing he suffered from severe “brain dysfunction,” though the tactic was unsuccessful. He was found guilty and handed a death sentence.

Grell and Kristen’s mother, Amber Salem, were on good terms at the time of the murder, and Grell had not shown Salem any troubling behavior to suggest he would hurt Kristen. Some family members have suggested Grell possibly killed Kristen to cover up sexual abuse, citing medical records and autopsy results showing signs Kristen had been abused, but at this time Grell has not offered a motive for the murder of his daughter.

Sources:

  • State v. Grell. 66 P.3d 1234 (2003). 205 Ariz. 57. April 1, 2003. https://scholar.google.com/scholar_case?case=16775039894935488957&hl=en&as_sdt=6&as_vis=1&oi=scholarr
  • Walsh, Jim. “Grell sentenced to death.” Arizona Republic [Phoenix, Arizona]. July 10, 2001
  • “Man to die for burning daughter, 2, to death.” The Morning Call [Allentown, Pennsylvania]. July 10, 2001
  • “Put blame on dad’s shoulders.” Arizona Republic. December 8, 1999
  • Harris, Craig. “Killer’s motive still a mystery.” Arizona Republic. December 5, 1999

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