BOISE – Less than three weeks after her daughter turned 11 years old, JoLeta Jenks picked out the clothes the girl would be cremated in and prepared to greet relatives traveling to south-central Idaho for her funeral.
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 boy survived.
The girl 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 death has also baffled authorities who helped find the children and are now trying to nail down an exact timeline of events, such as when the children started walking, as a prosecutor builds a case against the father.
“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. Robert Aragon, 55, was 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. He was charged with second-degree murder and felony injury to a child.
The children lived with Aragon. He was taking them to visit their mother when his car got stuck in a snowdrift near state Highway 75, north of Shoshone.
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.
A visibly upset Aragon cried during an initial appearance Monday in 5th District Court, when a judge said the second-degree murder charge carries a maximum penalty of life in prison.
A preliminary hearing is scheduled Jan. 7.
A Blaine County deputy responded to a call about two missing children at about 7 p.m. on Christmas night, according to the Sheriff’s Office. Jenks said she called 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.
Femling said the boy was delusional from hypothermia and had discarded his jacket and pants, stripping down to his long underwear. The child was treated at a nearby hospital and released.
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 about 2.7 miles from where the two set out, barely visible under windblown, drifting snow when a search dog located her along a local road about 2 a.m. Dec. 26. 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.