TWIN FALLS, Idaho – The father of an 11-year-old girl who died, likely of hypothermia, after trying to walk 10 miles in the snow on Christmas Day has been charged with second-degree murder and felony injury to a child.
Robert Aragon, 55, of Jerome, made an initial appearance Monday in 5th District Court, where Judge Mark Ingram appointed a public defender for him. The judge denied Aragon's request to lower his $500,000 bond. He was being held in the Blaine County Jail.
Aragon was emotional during the short hearing. He banged his head on the defendant's table as Ingram read the charges against him, The Times-News reported. After Ingram noted that second-degree murder carries a maximum penalty of life in prison, Aragon said "Oh my God" as he banged his head on the table one final time.
Sage Aragon and her 12-year-old brother, Bear, were with their father on Thursday when his truck got stuck in a snow drift near state Highway 75, north of Shoshone in southcentral Idaho, according to the Lincoln County sheriff's office.
The children live with Aragon in Jerome and he was taking them to visit their mother, JoLeta Jenks, in West Magic.
After the truck got caught in the snow, authorities allege Aragon let the children out to walk to their mother's house while he and another adult stayed behind to free the vehicle.
Jenks said she called Aragon because she was concerned after no one arrived at her home on Thursday. Aragon had driven back to Jerome after letting the kids out to walk to her house, Jenks said.
"They didn't even call me, telling me they were walking," she told the Times-News.
Jenks called the police and a Blaine County search and rescue team found the boy at a rest area near the highway shortly before 10 p.m. on Thursday night.
Adults in the search effort described the snow as knee-deep for them.
The boy was found wearing only long underwear, Blaine County Sheriff Walt Femling said in a news release. Apparently delusional from hypothermia, the child had discarded his jacket, pants and shoes, the sheriff's office said. He was treated and released at a nearby hospital.
The rest area was about 4.5 miles from where the children started walking.
At some point the children separated and their mother said her son told her they disagreed about whether to keep going or turn back.
"(Bear) kept on telling her: 'Let's go, Sage, let's go, Sage,'" Jenks said, recalling what her son told her. "She said, 'No, I'm going back.'"
The little girl was found about 2.7 miles from where the two set out, barely visible under windblown, drifting snow when search dogs located her along a local road about 2 a.m. Friday. She was wearing a brown down coat, black shirt, pink pajama pants and tan snowboots, the sheriff's office statement said.
"I thought she was alive because they said they found her," Jenks said. "I was excited."
The girl was pronounced dead at a Ketchum hospital; preliminary autopsy results indicate she died of hypothermia.
Officials say temperatures in the area at the time the girl was missing ranged from 27 degrees above zero to minus 5.
Jenks and Aragon are not married. While she said she doesn't understand the decision Aragon is accused of making in letting the children walk to her house, Jenks added, "I don't need to sit and yell. I know he's going through hell right now."