WARNING: The details in this story may be disturbing to some readers.
EDMONTON – A 21-year-old man has been charged with attempted murder after a child was found seriously assaulted Saturday afternoon, west of Edmonton in Parkland County.
James Clifford Paul, of no fixed address, has been charged with attempted murder, aggravated sexual assault, and kidnapping.
Superintendent Gary Steinke, with RCMP K Division, said Monday the accused knew the little girl.
“It was not an unknown, predatorial attack. He was known to her.”
Steinke described the situation as “life or death” when the girl was found. He said this case has had a huge impact on the community and the police officers.
“That’s part of our concern: taking care of the community and taking care of our police officers because they’re out there, they did their jobs, but it’s a tough one.”
“This arrest came about so quickly because local citizens picked up the phone and called investigators with the information they needed to take this dangerous criminal off the streets,” said Steinke.
“Our focus now is on helping the victim’s family and community deal with the impact of this horrendous attack.”
He said the girl, who is being treated at an Edmonton hospital, has not regained consciousness.
“She is in stable, but very serious, condition.”
WATCH: RCMP Superintendent Gary Steinke confirmed Monday that the six-year-old victim of an assault has not regained consciousness.
Shane Pospisil, a co-manager of the Paul Band, visited the girl and her parents Sunday at the Stollery Children’s Hospital in Edmonton, where she was listed in critical but stable condition. He said her parents are devastated and staying by her bedside. Several native elders are also at the hospital, praying she’ll pull through.
“They’re hurting right now big time, as I think all of us are who know the little girl,” said Pospisil, choking back tears.
Because the child cannot be identified, Pospisil called her “Christmas Angel” and said a trust fund for her likely in the same name will be set up soon. Offers of support for the family and the girl, everything from cash to teddy bears, have been coming in from across the country, Pospisil said. He received about 200 calls on Sunday night.
“For any of us who have kids, and I have three little girls all around the same age, it’s just unbelievable what’s taken place,” he said.
“We’re all trying to get through it.”
Emergency services, including STARS Air Ambulance, Parkland Fire Rescue and RCMP, responded to the Paul First Nation after 4 p.m. Saturday.
A spokesperson with STARS said a six-year-old girl with ‘traumatic injuries related to blunt trauma’ was airlifted to an Edmonton hospital in critical condition.
WATCH: The RCMP has laid charges against a suspect arrested in connection with the assault of a six-year-old girl on the Paul Band First Nation reserve west of Edmonton.
Global News spoke with several members of the child’s family who claim she was severely beaten and raped.
They claim on Saturday afternoon the child returned home after skating with friends, where she was left with an adult. When the others came back to the house the two were gone.
Initially, everyone thought they had gone to the rink again. But when they didn’t return, suspicions grew. Family members said a short while later the child was found naked and left for dead in the woods.
“This person that did that has got to be some kind of an animal, to not even think that he’s harming another human being,” said one relative.
A family member claims the child was beaten in the head and throat beyond recognition. They said she is in a coma at the Stollery Children’s Hospital.
“It’s so heartbreaking,” said another relative. “I can’t imagine… I mean, she’s just a little girl. And he’s a full grown man.”
Both Spruce Grove/Stony Plain RCMP and the Edmonton Major Crimes Unit are investigating the serious assault. Police have not confirmed the family’s details.
On Sunday, police tape could be seen surrounding a home on the reserve. The name of the young child is not being released to protect her privacy.
Steinke said Paul is known to police. He has a history with police and was already facing criminal charges – including unlawful confinement – prior to the most recent charges. He has been remanded into custody and is set to appear in court of Jan. 7, 2015.
Paul First Nation is located about 35 kilometres southwest of Stony Plain, near Wabamun Lake. The band released a statement on behalf of the family Sunday afternoon, asking for privacy.
“We trust the family’s wishes will be fully respected so they can focus all of their energy, attention and prayers on the victim’s immediate well-being and what we are all hoping and praying will be a speedy and full recovery,” the release said.
The full statement can be read below.
With files from The Canadian Press
*NOTE: This article was originally published on Dec. 21, and was updated with charges laid by RCMP on Dec. 22.