Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Death of girl, 8, remains cloudy

Authorities refuse to discuss matter

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The death of an eight-year-old Manitoba girl continues to be shrouded in secrecy as police and community leaders refuse to discuss any details.

And that has many living in Pukatawagan on edge as the rumour mill churns out several unconfirmed stories about what happened on the isolated northern reserve last weekend.

"There's a lot of speculation going around," said Jermaine Bighetty, 18, in a telephone interview this week.

The Free Press has learned a family member of the victim has been identified as a suspect, although no charges have been laid. RCMP say an autopsy was conducted on Monday, but the cause of death has not been made public. So far, the Mounties have only deemed it "suspicious."

Several residents told the Free Press it appears the girl was smothered in what may have been a wrestling-type move on her. Some have described it as accidental, while others claim it was deliberate.

RCMP wouldn't address specific questions on the case this week, including whether the family member is in custody or has been released pending further investigation and possibly an opinion from senior Manitoba justice officials.

RCMP say members of the Winnipeg-based serious crime unit, Thompson-based major crime unit and the north district crime-reduction enforcement support team have been brought in to assist with the ongoing investigation.

However, Cpl. Miles Hiebert did refute a claim from some Pukatawagan members that a second body, connected to the girl's death, was discovered this week. He said police are only investigating one death.

There was even more silence from Chief Arlen Dumas and council in Pukatawagan, who repeatedly told the Free Press they would provide a statement but ultimately refused to return phone calls.

Over a three-day period, Dumas was repeatedly said to be in "meetings" and unable to speak, even though council members and the band office said he would respond.

Pukatawagan is more than 800 kilometres north of Winnipeg and is one of the most troubled reserves in Canada. Approximately 2,000 people live in the community, which can only be accessed by air or train.

In their only news release on the incident, RCMP say officers were called to a residence last Saturday for a report of an "unresponsive" child. She was rushed to the local nursing station where she was pronounced dead.

The girl's name has not been released.

Bighetty, and several others residents who did not want their names published, told the Free Press there have been other alarming incidents in recent weeks in Pukatawagan, including one connected to the same house where the girl died.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 6, 2013 A10

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