- Associated Press - Tuesday, January 13, 2015

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) - A North Dakota mother has been charged with child abuse after authorities say she left her two young daughters to die in a parked car with no heat during a frigid winter day on an American Indian reservation.

According to court documents, Michelle Wounded Face abandoned her daughters, aged 2 and 4, in the car for more than three hours on Jan. 3 on the Fort Berthold Reservation. The frightened children were inadequately dressed for the cold on a day when the average temperature was 1 degree and a wind chill advisory was in effect, FBI Special Agent Megan Bennett said in an affidavit.

“The vehicle motor was not running,” Bennett wrote. “They were shivering. (One child) was dressed in a tank top-style shirt and (the other child) had no shirt. Neither girl was wearing socks or shoes.”

The girls survived the ordeal.

U.S. Attorney Timothy Purdon declined to comment on the case Tuesday, including the whereabouts of the children, citing the ongoing investigation. A request for comment was left with the public defender’s office, which is representing Wounded Face.

Wounded Face, 24, is a member of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe in South Dakota who was living in New Town on the reservation.

At a preliminary hearing Monday, Magistrate Judge Charles Miller determined Wounded Face did not understand the proceedings and was displaying signs of poor mental health. Wounded Face “poses a danger to herself, her children and the community,” Miller said, adding that he expects to order a mental competency evaluation.

The child abuse charge carries a maximum punishment of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

Bennett said Wounded Face raised suspicion on Jan. 3 when she showed up at the tribal police department with her children and made what officers said were confusing statements, including one about President Barack Obama being mad at her. Authorities said she later stole a vehicle from some people who were ice fishing on Lake Sakakawea.

Wounded Face told the arresting police officer that her children were with her boyfriend, Bennett said. Officers determined that her boyfriend was at work. They later found her car, with the girls inside, along with an AR-15 rifle, the affidavit said.

“When I asked Michelle if she left her car with the intention that her children should be dead when she returned to it, she told me, ‘honestly, yeah,’” Bennett wrote.

Investigators say Wounded Face also told them she had bought a gun because people were threatening her and her family.

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Follow Blake Nicholson on Twitter at: https://twitter.com/NicholsonBlake

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Information from: KXMC-TV, https://www.kxnet.com

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