Rachel Downer was charged today with second-degree manslaughter in connection with the February 27 death of her cousin, six-year-old Mercedes Mayfield.
Downer, a 22-year-old Bemidji resident, was tasked with babysitting Mayfield the night before the girl was found frozen to death outside her mother's apartment building, the criminal complaint says. But instead of staying at Mayfield's mother's place and looking after the girl, Downer decided to head back to her apartment.
Tragically, she didn't make sure Mayfield was safely inside her mom's apartment building before she left, and temperatures in the Bemidji area that night fell as low as 20 below, with windchills twice that cold.
The criminal complaint explains how Mayfield ended up stuck outside after dinnertime:
[Downer] said that she told her aunt that she was going to take Mercedes with her to stay at her apartment. She said that she later changed her mind but did not tell her aunt about the change in plans [Mayfield's mother was already in bed at this time]. Downer stated that she gathered up her belongings and her son and that Mercedes helped her carry items out to her 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 got in her car and left.The next morning, Mayfield's mother, Mailka Peoples, who was taking pain medication for an arm injury at the time, awoke to her alarm at 6 a.m., but Mercedes wasn't in her apartment.
The complaint explains what happened from there:
Peoples said that she then called Downer and asked her why she had taken Mercedes home with her when she knew Mercedes had school. She said Downer told her she did not take Mercedes with her. Ms. Peoples said that she then looked out her front window and saw her daughter lying on the front step.When authorities arrived, they found Mayfield "still and frozen" and "unresponsive." She was wearing a winter coat and a hat. A provisional autopsy concluded that her cause of death was "hypothermia due to exposure to hypothermic conditions."
The door into Peoples's apartment building is controlled by a buzzer, the complaint says. It's unclear what efforts Mayfield made to get inside between when Downer left and the next morning.
Since Mayfield was found dead, Downer has posted a number of tributes to her cousin on her Facebook page:
Downer faces up to a decade behind bars.