ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) – A 3-year-old girl from America’s northernmost community died and her younger sister suffered hypothermia after their mother and the mother’s boyfriend left them in a locked bedroom with a window open to a temperature of minus 30 degrees to air out the room because the girls wet their beds, authorities said.
The mother, 28-year-old elementary teacher Esther G. Edwards-Gust, was apparently on the lam Saturday, a day after she and 29-year-old Richard Tilden Jr. were indicted in the child’s death. Tilden was in custody.
The couple shared a home with Edwards-Gust’s 1- and 3-year-old daughters in the Inupiat Eskimo community of Barrow.
Police say the two girls last month were trapped overnight in their bedroom with a window open to temperatures that dropped to 30 degrees below zero. Both children were diagnosed with extreme hypothermia and flown to an Anchorage hospital, where the 3-year-old died.
Tilden later told authorities he’d been drinking the night before and opened the bedroom window to air out the room because the girls wet their beds, according to court documents. He also said the door’s latch was broken, making it impossible for anyone inside the room to open it.
A grand jury on Friday indicted Tilden and Edwards-Gust on charges including manslaughter and criminally negligent homicide. Tilden also faces second-degree murder and assault charges. He was arrested last month.
A warrant has been issued for Edwards-Gust’s arrest. Police didn’t immediately return a message Saturday, and a home listing for Barrow’s police chief was disconnected. A person who answered the phone at the borough jail said Edwards-Gust was not in custody there.
Tilden called 911 when he discovered the 3-year-old was unresponsive and not breathing Feb. 2.
Officers said Tilden smelled of alcohol when they were at the apartment, court documents said. The news was first reported by the Anchorage Daily News.
Tilden later said he bought two bottles of whiskey from a bootlegger and began drinking the night before the children were found in the bedroom with the open window and broken door latch, authorities said. Two empty bottles were found in the apartment.
Tilden also told officers he opened the bedroom window because the girls wet their beds, and he didn’t close it before going to bed. In earlier interviews, Edwards-Gust told officers the girls were sleeping in their beds when she went to work that morning.
According to the documents, Tilden woke up about 12:30 p.m. on Feb. 2 and noticed both girls needed to be changed after soiling themselves. It was during the changing process that he noticed the older girl was unresponsive.
He was arrested the same day on assault charges. After being in police custody for hours, officers said his blood-alcohol level was 0.164, more than twice the legal driving limit.
Edwards-Gust, who teaches in Barrow, was briefly in custody after traveling to Anchorage to be with her surviving daughter.
Anchorage Police spokesman Lt. Dave Parker said Saturday that Edwards-Gust was initially arrested on assault charges, then set free at the request of the Barrow district attorney. Parker said he believed Edwards-Gust returned to Barrow.
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