EDMONTON – A few days before a six-year-old girl was found battered and near death on an Alberta reserve, she was singing and smiling at her school Christmas concert.
The aboriginal girl had been missing for almost two hours Saturday when family members discovered her outdoors on the Paul First Nation near Duffield, west of Edmonton.
Various media reports have said she was naked in the snow in the woods.
RCMP arrested a man known to the girl later that night. James Clifford Paul, 21, faces charges of attempted murder, aggravated sexual assault and kidnapping.
Shane Pospisil, a co-manager of the Paul band, visited the girl and her parents Sunday at the Stollery Children’s Hospital in Edmonton, where she was listed in critical but stable condition.
He said the child lying in the hospital bed looked nothing like the one he saw so happy, wearing a fancy dress at the concert last week.
“I just remember a girl that was smiling from ear to ear and I recall her sitting on Santa’s knee,” Pospisil said Monday.
He said her parents are devastated and staying by her bedside. Several native elders are also at the hospital, praying she’ll pull through.
“They’re hurting right now big time, as I think all of us are who know the little girl,” said Pospisil, choking back tears.
Because the child cannot be identified, Pospisil called her “Christmas Angel” and said a trust fund for her likely in the same name will be set up soon.
Offers of support for the family and the girl, everything from cash to teddy bears, have been coming in from across the country, Pospisil said. He received about 200 calls on Sunday night.
“For any of us who have kids, and I have three little girls all around the same age, it’s just unbelievable what’s taken place,” he said. “We’re all trying to get through it.”
RCMP Supt. Gary Steinke described the attack as “horrific.”
He told reporters that it took almost two hours from the time the child’s family noticed she was missing until they found her, but would not give further details, including whether she might be suffering from hypothermia.
He described the girl’s injuries as being “very serious” and life-threatening when she was first flown to hospital. He said she has not regained consciousness.
He credited a quick arrest in the case to tips from the public that helped track down the suspect.
“Local citizens picked up their phones and called investigators with the information they needed.”
The suspect was arrested on the nearby Alexis First Nation, about 30 kilometres northeast of the Paul reserve. He is to appear in Stony Plain provincial court Jan. 7.
He has no fixed address and is known to police in other jurisdictions, said Steinke. Court records show Paul faces an assault charge from August near Morley, west of Calgary, as well as assault and mischief charges near the Alexis reserve in 2013.
Steinke said the man was not a stranger to the girl.
“It was not an unknown predatorial attack. He was known to her.”
News photos show yellow police tape surrounding a home on the reserve, as well as a gas station.
Steinke wouldn’t provide other details of the case and said police are turning their attention to helping the girl and people on the reserve.
“This is a horrific incident. It’s impacted the community. It’s impacted the police officers,” he said.
“Our focus now is on helping the victim’s family and the community deal with the impact of this horrendous attack.”