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6-year-old girl dies of exposure in southeast Bemidji

BEMIDJI -- The death of a young girl Thursday has impacted a family, two Bemidji schools and the entire community.

A 6-year-old Bemidji girl was found dead of exposure to the winter elements Thursday morning at her apartment complex. Her 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 incident as "tragic" and said it is under investigation. Marcotte said Beltrami County Dispatch received two telephone calls at 6:23 a.m. Thursday, "one was from the victim's mother and the other was 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 female 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 in Bemidji and later to the Ramsey County Medical Examiner's office in St. Paul. A preliminary autopsy report is expected to be completed 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 not able to confirm whether or not the child froze outside the security door and was moved inside. The external door on the Washington Avenue Apartment building has a buzzer system. It is not known if the door was locked at the time she was found.

Although Marcotte said he had not spoken with the child's mother, he said he was not aware 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.

A first-grader

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 the press 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 children enrolled at Horace May, Hess said. He said students and staff at Horace May 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, the 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 incident 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 Kestral Pines in Bemidji.


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