Bemidji girl frozen to death still unidentified
BEMIDJI, Minn. — A 6-year-old Bemidji girl was found dead of exposure to the winter elements Thursday morning at her apartment complex.
The girl’s name is being withheld pending notification of next of kin and autopsy results. She was a first-grader at Horace May Elementary School. Officials said they expect to release the name today.
Bemidji police Capt. James Marcotte described the death as “tragic” and said it is under investigation. Marcotte said Beltrami County dispatch received two telephone calls at 6:23 a.m. Thursday, one from the victim’s mother and the other from a neighbor.
Marcotte said officers and medical personnel arrived on the scene within minutes of the 911 calls and were directed to a 6-year-old girl who was located inside the front entrance to the apartment building. She was wearing a jacket, boots, hat and mittens when emergency personnel arrived.
Marcotte said the child had signs of being exposed to the frigid elements and was pronounced dead at the scene. She was transported to Sanford Bemidji Medical Center and later her body was sent to the Ramsey County Medical Examiner’s Office in St. Paul. A preliminary autopsy report is expected to be complete by today or early next week.
Police are working on a timeline of events between the time she was last seen and how long she was exposed to the elements, officials said.
Marcotte was unable to confirm whether the child froze outside the security door and was moved inside. The external door on the building at Washington Avenue Apartments has a buzzer system. It is not known whether the door was locked at the time she was found.
Marcotte said he had not spoken with the child’s mother, but that he was unaware of any incidents with the family.
The incident happened on another frigid day in Bemidji this winter, as overnight and early temperatures Thursday were in the 25-below range with wind chills of 40 below and colder.
According to the wind chill index from the National Weather Service office in Grand Forks, N.D., with wind chills of 40 below, frostbite can set in in less than 30 minutes.
Since Dec. 1, there have been 21 recorded deaths due to cold weather, according to the Minnesota Department of Health. From Dec. 1, 2012, to March 30, 2013, a total of 46 deaths attributed to extreme cold and cold temperature were reported.
“The weather we have been experiencing in Minnesota has been very frigid,” Marcotte said. “When you go outside you need to cover up.”
Marcotte could not recall any prior incident when a child had succumbed to the elements, but said the city has had incidents where adults had perished due to exposure to cold weather.
Jim Hess, superintendent of Bemidji Area Schools, was in St. Paul preparing to give testimony to the Senate Education Committee on Thursday morning when he heard of the girl’s death and said he returned as quickly as he could.
At a news conference, Hess said the 6-year-old had just enrolled in first grade at Horace May Elementary within the past few days after transferring from J.W. Smith Elementary, where she attended kindergarten and part of this school year.
The family also has two younger siblings enrolled at Horace May. Hess said students and staff will have the support of school psychologists and social workers to cope with the child’s death. Psychologists and social workers are scheduled to be available throughout today.
Hess quashed rumors that the girl was outside waiting for the school bus.
“This would have been way, way, way too early for the bus,” Hess said. “The bus wouldn’t arrive there until much later.”
Police are awaiting results of the forensic examination before releasing the child’s name. The Bureau of Criminal Apprehension and Independent School District 31 are assisting in the investigation. In addition to police, Bemidji Ambulance, Bemidji Fire Department and Beltrami County Sheriff’s Office responded to the initial call. Police are asking anyone with information related to the death to contact them at (218) 333-9111.
The Washington Avenue Apartments and Carter Place Townhomes include 18 units on a cul-de-sac. The units are managed by D.W. Jones Management, which also manages Ridgeway Court, Conifer Estates and Kestrel Pines in Bemidji.