Grief and anger spread across the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation Wednesday when people learned that dogs reportedly had mauled and killed a little girl while she was out sledding in the late afternoon Tuesday.
At the Red Cloud Indian School, stunned staff members struggled with their own grief and concern for their students after learning of 8-year-old Jayla Rodriguez's death. Jayla was a third-grader at the school, according to Superintendent Ted Hamilton.
"We're all very close here," Hamilton said Wednesday. "There were a lot of tears today."
"It's a big tragedy. A lot of people are upset," said Fred Pond, director of the Community Action Program office in Pine Ridge.
Police Chief Ron Duke said that a pack of dogs was responsible for the girl's death, and that investigation was ongoing. An autopsy was planned.
Officers were unsuccessful in their attempts to find any roaming dogs after the attack in the Crazy Horse housing area at Pine Ridge was reported around 5 p.m. Officers were out again Wednesday to round up any unrestrained dogs, Duke said.
According to Duke, the Department of Public Safety is working with Bureau of Indian Affairs investigators to learn what happened.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation is also looking into the circumstances surrounding the child's death, according to FBI spokesman Kyle Loven in Minneapolis, Minn.
Parents of Red Cloud students in kindergarten through fourth grade were contacted Tuesday night and told to keep their children home Wednesday, Hamilton said.
"We felt that they needed to be with their parents," Hamilton said. Families were invited to come to the school to speak with counselors, he said.
Extra counselors were at the school on Wednesday to help the staff and older students cope with Jayla's death. Special prayer services and talking circles were held for middle and high school students.
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When the younger students return today, activities will focus on family and talking about the cultural significance of death for the Lakota people, Hamilton said. It is important to work with the students to help them adjust to Jayla's death, he said.
Jayla had attended Red Cloud since kindergarten. She was part of a class of 21 students.
"We need to come together as a community and work together. We also want to ask the community for prayers for the family," Hamilton said.
Hamilton did say that the abundance of unrestrained dogs on the reservation is a challenge. The Lakota have a cultural connection to dogs, but as lifestyles have changed from more rural to urban living, free-ranging dogs are an issue.
One Pine Ridge woman, who asked not to be identified, said it can be dangerous to walk through a community where dogs are not tied up or in a fenced yard. Last summer, a group of stray dogs chased her son home.
"One dog will come out and then others will come out," she said. "Something needs to be done about the dogs."
Duke said dog packs are a concern on the reservation, where dogs usually run free and congregate in uncontrolled groups.
As a newly elected member of the Oglala Sioux Tribal Council, Duke said developing a strong animal-control policy will be one of his priorities. It is not uncommon for dogs to attack people, he said.
Outgoing Councilman Garfield Steele said Wednesday that several residents of Pine Ridge complained to him about a pack of vicious dogs that prowls a creek bed near where the girl died.
"It's time we took care of this problem," Steele said, adding that not only are roaming dogs a hazard, but also cattle and horses are constantly causing problems on reservation highways. Lives have been lost in vehicle crashes because of the wandering animals, he said.
"The people have to take responsibility for their livestock and animals," Steele said. "Everyone in general has to do their part."