CRAIG, Colo. (CBS4) -- A 36-year-old Craig woman who spent two nights stranded in the backcountry with her two young children last month was arrested Friday on child abuse charges.
Kaylee Messerly and the children, ages 3 years and 18 months, were found March 11 walking in open terrain approximately a mile from the car they'd spent the previous two nights in, according to details provided by the Moffat County Sheriff's Office.
A pilot from a search plane spotted them. Searchers in tread-equipped all terrain vehicles drove to them.
They discovered the youngest child, a girl, had passed away.
Messerly and the surviving child were suffering from exposure and were taken to hospitals. The 3-year-old was eventually flown to Children's Hospital in Aurora.
"We are grateful Kaylee has been arrested," said Lisa Hernandez.
Hernandez identified herself as the cousin of the young girls. She said the 3-year-old, Alena, had both legs amputated below the knees due to severe frostbite.
"It's definitely been a hard thing to stomach," Hernandez stated in an email. "That photo was her first day home from the hospital last week. She is such a happy girl and so full of life! But this week not so much."
Alena unfortunately needed two additional surgeries and is now battling an infection.
"She is still in hospital though, fighting," Hernandez wrote.
Her sister, Emma, was buried a week ago.
Messerly was arrested on two felonies, Child Abuse Resulting In Death and Child Abuse Resulting In Serious Bodily Injury. She remains jailed on a $50,000 personal recognizance bond and is scheduled to return to court for an advisement Thursday.
MCSO Lt. Chip McIntyre said an oil company employee discovered Messerly's unoccupied car stuck in mud and snow near the intersection of Moffat County Roads 54 and 103. The location about 10 miles north of Craig is remote and not well-traveled the winter, according to McIntyre.
"If the oil field worker had not gone down that road to check out equipment, who knows when we would have found the car," he said.
A search of online court records shows was in court March 8. She pleaded not guilty to two felonies and a traffic charge, and the case was scheduled to go to trial in June.
Authorities believe Messerly drove the children into the backcountry the next day.
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