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Orphaned Amor baby stays with dad's family

Tabitha and Emma

FARGO - A court order issued Tuesday gives temporary custody of an infant girl to the parents of her father, who authorities say killed the child's mother and then himself in a murder-suicide last week.

In his order granting the custody request of paternal grandparents Darrin and Catherine Cox, Otter Tail County (Minn.) Judge Waldemar Senyk cited the stability of their home, the child care they've provided since the girl was born in August and the relationship they have formed with the baby.

Senyk also referenced the Cox family's claim that the girl's mother had signed a document indicating she wanted them to take care of the girl if she couldn't.

The 7-month-old, Emma Cox, lost both of her parents on March 21 in a shooting outside Amor, Minn., that authorities have called a murder-suicide.

Emma's father, 17-year-old Dylan Cox, is alleged to have fatally shot Tabitha Belmonte, her 16-year-old mother, before turning the gun on himself, Otter Tail County's sheriff has said.

Parents of the teenage father and mother are both seeking custody of Emma.

Darrin Cox, contacted by phone on Tuesday, said he didn't want to comment on the judge's ruling.

Dylan Cox and Tabitha Belmonte were both living with the Cox family at the time of the shooting in their rural home. Amor is about 60 miles southeast of Fargo-Moorhead.

A phone message left for Belmonte's mother, Bobbi Teeple of Dent, Minn., was not returned on Tuesday.

On Monday, Senyk rejected a request by Teeple to grant emergency custody to her, saying she didn't establish the child was in "imminent harm or danger."

Teeple had argued in her emergency petition Friday that the baby girl was "in an unsafe environment under unsafe conditions at the scene of the brutal killing of her mother."

In an affidavit included in the custody case opened Monday, Catherine Cox said a designated caretaker agreement signed by the 16-year-old mother named her and her husband to be Emma's custodians if she was unable to care for her.

Senyk wrote in his order that the state law allowing for such agreements was repealed in 2000, yet the agreement made clear that Belmonte wanted the Cox family to assume legal and physical custody of Emma.

Catherine Cox also wrote in the affidavit that she and her husband had paid for the expenses of raising the girl, including items such as diapers, formula, clothing and health care.

Permanent custody isn't established yet and will be settled in further court proceedings.

A hearing on April 14 will consider setting a time for Teeple to see the infant. The motion to be heard at that time also asks for a custody evaluator to be appointed to issue a report and recommendations.