A five-year-old boy who was in the care of Alberta Children’s Services died after being attacked by dogs on a First Nation north of Slave Lake.
The attack happened the evening of Sunday, March 5, at a home on the Whitefish Lake First Nation #459, which is about 375 kilometres north of Edmonton.
RCMP from High Prairie and Alberta Health Services EMS both responded to a 911 call just after 5:30 p.m.
When emergency crews arrived at the community, they found the boy dead in the yard of a home. Officials said his injuries were consistent with a dog attack.
It’s believed three dogs were involved. On Friday, RCMP said two of the dogs belonged to the owner of the home, and it’s unclear of the third was a stray.
“One was a mixed-breed, and the other two were Rottweiler-mixes,” said RCMP Cpl. Troy Savinkoff.
Residents had already identified and destroyed two dogs believed to be involved in the attack, RCMP said, adding the officers who responded found and killed the third.
Savinkoff said all three carcasses were sent off for forensic and medical testing, which will include determining if the dogs had rabies.
The young boy’s body was also brought down to medical examiner’s office in Edmonton. No information on an autopsy was available, as of publishing.
Family members from the father’s side said Friday they were notified several days after the child’s death and feel like they are in the dark.
“This is a human life, our family, our baby,” said a family member who Global News is not identifying.
“It’s heartbreaking, it’s sad. We are running around trying to find answers.”
About 900 people live on-reserve, according the Whitefish Lake First Nation #459. Chief Albert Thunder, adding the nation has about 3,000 members in total.
He said it has been devastating and heartbreaking for the community to experience such a loss.
“You can’t control these things. These things — they happen. They happen in big cities. They happen in in other communities and we never would have thought it would happen in Whitefish, but it did.”
On Friday while in Edmonton to attend a grieving circle, Thunder said it’s one thing to hear about a tragedy like this in the news — but another for it to happen in your own community.
“It really hits home. The whole community right now is actually really, really impacted. We’re all hurting,” Thunder said.
“When things like this happen to an adult, you kind of expect it and all that stuff, you’re kind of ready for it.
“But when it’s a child — especially a five-year-old child — it really affects the whole community, especially the parents, the foster parents, the guardians, the grandparents, the whole everybody, the mom and dad.”
The boy was in the care of children’s services when he died, sources confirmed. Thunder said the community runs its own children and family services.
“We do have a tripartite agreement with the province and the feds and Whitefish that we take care of our own children, our own foster care.”
On Wednesday night, the First Nation held a mass where residents gathered, held hands, prayed and sang.
“When a community comes together, you know, especially with a tragedy like this, we put all differences aside because we all come to the point where we need to just tackle the situation head first,” Thunder said.
He said there are no words to take away the pain the family is feeling: ” The best thing that we can do as a community is just be there.”
Global News reached out to the Office of the Child and Youth Advocate, but did not hear back.
However, the OCYA released a summary report on 10 years of investigations that spanned from April 2012 to March 2022 and showed 634 kids died or were seriously injured while involved in the system in some way. More than half (57 per cent) were Indigenous.
The boy is the seventh child involved in the system, in some capacity, to be seriously injured or killed so far this year.
According to the Alberta government, the following children, youth and young adults have recently died or experienced a serious injury:
- March 5 — five-year-old died while receiving services (in care)
- March 3 — 11-year-old died while receiving services (in care)
- Feb. 28 — two-year-old died while receiving services (in care)
- Feb. 14 — two-year-old died while receiving services (not in care)
- Feb. 10 — 19-year-old died while receiving services (not in care)
- Feb. 9 — one-month-old died while receiving services (not in care)
- Feb. 4 — 19-year-old died while receiving services (not in care)
“Any time a child receiving interventional care dies or is seriously injured there is a rigorous investigation into what happened,” said Dan Laville, the director of communications for Alberta Children’s Services.
RCMP from High Prairie, as well as the Western Alberta District General Investigative Unit and Peace River Forensic Identification Section, are all investigating the boy’s death.
No charges have been laid, RCMP said.
“Obviously the RCMP are involved, we are doing an investigation and should anything criminal come through that investigation we would lay the appropriate charges,” Savinkoff added.
— With files from Melissa Ridgen, Global News