Girl freezes to death in Bemidji, caregiver charged - KMSP-TV

Girl freezes to death in Bemidji, caregiver charged with manslaughter

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Rachel Downer, 22 Rachel Downer, 22

A 22-year-old Bemidji woman has been charged with second-degree manslaughter after a 6-year-old under her care was found frozen to death at her apartment building.

Early morning temperatures in the Bemidji area were -27 with a wind chill of -40 on Thursday, Feb. 27 when 6-year-old Mercedes Mayfield was found frozen and unresponsive.

The Ramsey County medical examiner's office confirmed the girl died of exposure to hypothermic conditions.

According to the criminal complaint, the girl's mother, Mailka Peoples, said she found her daughter Mercedes lying unconscious on the front step of their apartment building at 924 Carter Circle. Police noted she was wearing a winter coat and hat and a boot on her left foot. The right boot and her mittens were found on the outside step.

Peoples said Rachel Downer, later identified as Peoples' niece, had been caring for her 3-year-old and Mercedes on Feb. 26 while she was at work. When Peoples arrived home, she said Downer was in her apartment with the 3-year-old and Mercedes arrived home at 5 p.m. from after-school activities. Peoples said she injured her arm at work and had been given pain medication, so Downer would stay at her apartment that evening.

Upon waking up at 6 a.m., Peoples said Mercedes was not in her room and Downer was also gone. Downer told Peoples over the phone she did not take Mercedes with her when she left, though she told her aunt and police she initially planned to do so.

Downer said before she left the apartment, Mercedes helped carry her items to her car and had closed the outside door lightly so that it would not latch, and after the car was loaded, she said she watched Mercedes enter the building. Downer then left.

The outside door to the building is controlled by a security system and a call system is used to buzz entrants who don't have a key.

Downer's next court appearance has been set for Monday, March 24.

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