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22-year-old cousin of victim arrested in 6-year-old’s hypothermia death

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BEMIDJI, Minn. -- A 22-year-old Bemidji woman was arrested Friday in the death last month of a 6-year-old girl from hypothermia outside a Bemidji apartment complex.

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Rachel Downer faces charges of second-degree manslaughter and felony neglect in the death of Mercedes Mayfield, 6, according to a release issued by Bemidji Police Chief Mike Mastin. Downer is Mercedes' cousin.

Downer is expected to be charged Monday, Mastin said.

On Feb. 27, emergency personnel, including police, fire, ambulance and the Beltrami County Sheriff's Office, responded to a weather-related medical call at 6:23 a.m. Officers found Mercedes unresponsive, and she had signs of being exposed to the frigid elements. She was pronounced dead at the scene. The girl was wearing a jacket, boots, hat and mittens, officials said.

The death occurred during an extreme cold snap. Overnight temperatures that day were in the 25-below range, with wind chills of 40 below and colder, according to data from the National Weather Service Office in Grand Forks, N.D.

Mercedes' body 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 from Ramsey County said Mercedes died of hypothermia.

Mastin said investigators in his department have been working on the case nonstop, coordinating with the sheriff's office, the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, Beltrami County Social Services and the Beltrami County Attorney's Office.

"This case has been very hard on our department," Mastin said. "A majority of us have kids, and it's a challenge to work through that, keeping your focus, but it also provided motivation for us so that this little girl was provided justice."

The family requested that Mercedes' name not be released until the investigation was complete, Mastin said.

"It is helpful to remind people that this is not 'CSI'; things don't happen instantaneously like people would like. There are a lot of procedures to follow, and that takes time," Mastin said. "We have been working on this every day since it happened."

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