A 22-year-old Bemidji woman appeared in court Monday morning to face charges that she left her 6-year-old cousin to freeze to death on a subzero winter night.
Rachel Stacey Downer of Bemidji was arrested Friday on charges of second degree manslaughter. She was arraigned in Beltrami County District Court and released on $100,000 bond.
Downer's cousin, Mercedes Mayfield, was found curled on the front step of a Carter Circle apartment building early on the morning of Feb. 27 by the Mercedes' mother, Malika Peoples. Peoples placed a call to emergency services around 6:30 a.m. to report that her daughter was stiff, frozen and unresponsive, dressed in a winter coat and hat, with a boot on her left foot. The child's right boot and her mittens were found on an outside step.
The last time the child was seen alive was the evening before. Her mother, who had been hurt at work that day, went to sleep with a pain pill. Her cousin, who was supposed to be babysitting, left the apartment, accompanied by Mercedes, who helped her carry her things to the car. Downer told police Mercedes had shut the apartment's safety door gently, so it would not lock her out.
Temperatures that night hovered around 19 degrees below zero, with a wind chill of 30 below.
Rescue workers attempted to revive Mercedes, but she was pronounced dead at the scene. The Ramsey County Medical Examiner's office reported that she died from hypothermia due to exposure to the freezing cold.
According to the police complaint, Downer was supposed to be watching Mercedes and a 3-year-old sibling, as well as Downer's own 2-year-old son, while Peoples was at work. Peoples told police that she injured her arm at work and took pain medication to help her sleep while Downer watched the children. The family ate dinner together, then Peoples went to bed early. When she woke at 6 a.m., neither Downer nor Mercedes were in the apartment.
"Ms. Peoples said that she then called Downer and asked her why she had taken Mercedes home with her when she knew Mercedes had school," the complaint reads. "Ms. Peoples said that she then looked out her front window and saw her daughter lying on the front step. She then went outside and pulled her into the entryway and called 911."
Downer told police that she saw the sling on her aunt's arm, but "did not know how she was injured." After dinner, she gathered up her son and headed for her car. Mercedes came along to help her carry her things.
"She said she told her aunt that she was going to take Mercedes with her to stay at her apartment," the complaint read. "She said that she later changed her mind but did not tell her aunt about her change of plans. Downer stated that she gathered up her belongings and her son and that Mercedes helped her carry items to the car.
"Downer stated that Mercedes closed the outside door to the building lightly, so that it would not latch. She said that after the car was loaded up, that she watched Mercedes enter the building and that she then got in her car and left."
Downer's next court appearance is scheduled for Monday, March 24.