Searching for Answers in Little Girl's Snowy Demise

BOISE, Idaho — Less than three weeks after her daughter turned 11, JoLeta Jenks picked out the clothes the girl would be cremated in.

Sage Aragon died, apparently of hypothermia, after she and her 12-year-old brother, Bear, tried to trudge through 10 miles of snow on Christmas Day to see their mother after their father's car got stuck in a snowdrift.

The girl who wanted to be a lawyer when she got older, and then decided she'd rather be a judge, was pronounced dead a short time after a rescue dog found her Friday.

"She was just starting to grow up," Jenks said Tuesday. "I don't know why this had to happen."

The boy survived and the children's' father, Robert Aragon, has been charged with second-degree murder and felony injury to a child.

As prosecutors builds a case against the father, authorities are trying to nail down an exact timeline of events, such as when the children started walking.

"You try to connect the dots on this thing and you can't, it's just difficult to understand," said Blaine County Sheriff Walt Femling, whose agency handled the search for the children.

Robert Aragon, 55, was being held on $500,000 bond at the Blaine County Jail, about 60 miles north of where mourners planned to gather Wednesday to grieve the death of his daughter.

The children lived with Aragon. He was taking them to visit their mother for the holidays when his 1988 Buick Century got stuck in a snowdrift north of Shoshone.

"I told him there was a storm coming," Jenks told the Associated Press in a telephone interview.

After the sedan got caught in the snow, authorities allege Aragon let the children out to walk to their mother's house while he and his cousin Kenneth Quintana, 29, stayed behind to free the car. Jenks said she eventually called Aragon because she was concerned after no one arrived at her home on Thursday.

Aragon had driven back to his hometown of Jerome after letting the kids out to walk to her house, Jenks said.

"I could not believe it," she said.

A public defender assigned to represent Aragon did not respond to calls from The Associated Press on Tuesday. A visibly upset Aragon cried during an initial appearance Monday, when a judge said the second-degree murder charge carries a maximum penalty of life in prison.

A preliminary hearing is scheduled Jan. 7.

Jenks said she called 911 for help after she phoned Aragon and learned the kids were on foot. A search and rescue team found the boy at a rest area near the highway shortly before 10 p.m.

Sheriff Femling said the boy was delusional from hypothermia and had discarded his jacket and pants, stripping down to his long underwear, and taking off his tennis shoes.

Snow had drifted 4 feet deep in some places and deputies had to crawl over the drifts to reach the rest area and retrieve the boy, Femling said. The child was treated at a nearby hospital and released.

"He did the right thing, he found some shelter," Femling said.

The rest area was about 4.5 miles from where the children started walking. Femling said the girl walked about four miles with her brother and then turned back.

The girl was found by a search dog about 2.7 miles from where the two set out, barely visible under windblown, drifting snow. Femling said she was wearing a brown down coat, black shirt, pink pajama pants and tan snowboots.

The girl was pronounced dead at a Ketchum hospital. Initial 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.

"I've never seen anything like this, it was a 10-mile walk, the way they were dressed, it's just all mind-boggling," Femling said.

Records show Aragon was convicted in February for misdemeanor drug possession. In 1994, he was found guilty of drug possession with the intent to deliver or manufacture.

Quintana, the cousin who was with Aragon on Christmas Day, said his relative has been wrongfully accused.

"There's no way that he could have known what was going to happen," Quintana told the Times-News.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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