Investigation underway into death of 5-year-old girl on Spirit Lake Reservation
No charges have yet been filed, and the investigation is still active and ongoing.
When Aaron Thompson completes probation next month, he had expected to regain full custody of his two children. But on Wednesday, May 6, he received a call from Spirit Lake Tribal Social Services that his daughter Raven, 5, was found dead, and his son Zane, 7, is hospitalized in Fargo.
In the days since then, he has struggled to learn more information about his son's condition – beyond being told to prepare for the worst – or what happened to his daughter.
"She brought out the best in everybody," Thompson said in an interview with WDAY-TV's Matt Henson Monday. "I can't imagine who would want to hurt her."
U.S. Attorney for North Dakota Drew Wrigley said FBI investigators are in the "intensive" phase of gathering time-sensitive information and conducting interviews following the death of the child last week on the Spirit Lake Reservation. No charges have yet been filed, and the investigation is active and ongoing, Wrigley said.
"We are leading a very active federal investigation into the death of a minor child on reservation lands," Wrigley told the Herald Monday. "There were several other children that have also come into the focus of this investigation. They have been removed from harm's way by tribal human services authorities."
Wrigley said the FBI has been involved since the beginning of the investigation. Generally, he said, his office is unable to confirm or deny the existence of an investigation, but he said this case is a clear exception where information needs to be released to reassure the public that an investigation is being conducted.
"I've been assured by a tribal official that the children for whom there may be concerns have been removed from the situation," Wrigley said.
FBI spokesperson Kevin Smith said agents are currently pursuing leads to make sure there are no other victims. He added that the FBI is working with the Bureau of Indian Affairs and the medical examiner’s office, as well as the North Dakota U.S. Attorney’s Office.
Cause and manner of death are part of the ongoing investigation, which is classified as a death investigation, Smith said.
"This is an absolute top priority matter, both for federal law enforcement and the United States Attorney's Office as the prosecuting authority," Wrigley said.
The Herald on Monday morning reached out to Spirit Lake Tribal Social Services, but the person who answered the phone there hung up when information was requested. Also, the Bureau of Indian Affairs declined to give information about the incident, and suggested the Herald submit a request under the Freedom of Information Act.
Thompson said his greatest hope in speaking out is to give a voice to Raven.
"The system definitely failed me. ... A piece of me died when my daughter died," he said. "My son is the only thing giving me hope."
The Spirit Lake Reservation is in northeast North Dakota, along the shores of Devils Lake.