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CRAIG, Colo. (KDVR) — A 3-year-old child and her mother had parts of their bodies amputated due to frostbite after getting disoriented in a snowy, frigid part of Moffat County in March.

A second child, 18 months old, died of accidental hypothermia during the incident.

According to the arrest warrant for Kaylee Messerly, the mother who is now charged with child abuse, hospital physicians called the frostbite case “one of if not the worst cases (sic) they had ever seen at Children’s Hospital.” The records show the child had both of her feet amputated, and doctors amputated the mother’s toes.

“This has been horrifying,” said Amy Messerly, the children’s aunt. “It’s been probably nightmare after nightmare after nightmare, and it doesn’t seem to be stopping.”

She said Alena, the child whose feet were amputated, seems to be doing ok.

“I love her, and from what I know, she’s doing really well. My sister visits with her often enough. She’s spunky. She’s sassy, and she’s not quiet about what she wants or what she needs,” she said.

Amy recently developed a GoFundMe page to raise money for a headstone for Emma Mae, the child who died in March.

“Emma was the cutest ever. She was such a character. She had so much personality and reminded me a lot of my sister in so many different ways,” she said. “She always had these cute little faces that she would do. She was our little weirdo – and I mean that in the most sincere way possible. She just was – she was a baby,” said Messerly, crying. “I will never forget her little face.”

Amy said the last time she saw Emma Mae was the day her sister took the girls for a drive. “I walked in the door and (Emma) waddles over to me, and she’s got half a mini donut in each hand, and she walks up to me and she looks at me, and she just put both of them underneath of her armpits and just looked at me like, ‘I dare you to take them from me,’” Amy said. “She was just the cutest character ever.”

Mom tests positive for meth and blames snow

The arrest warrant shows Messerly told authorities she had gotten “disoriented and lost” after her vehicle got stuck in the mud near Moffat County Road 54 around March 9.

“She shut her car off, then she could not get it to start again,” an investigator reported Messerly said. “She and her children sat in the car for about four hours, hoping that someone would come along and help them.  After no one came along, she realized she probably had sat in the car too long, she decided to take her children and began walking towards what she thought was a house.  She stated it turned out that what she thought was a house, was not, instead it (sic) to be a pump house.  It soon became dark, then it started snowing.”

Investigators said Messerly and someone else who was with her when she was lost – the name was redacted from the report – tested positive for meth during the course of the investigation.

However, the toxicological examination performed on the heart and urine of the child who died were negative, according to the arrest warrant.

Messerly blamed snow near a methane gas well for any positive meth tests. She told an advocate that she had been eating snow around an oil rig tank that had the words “methane gas” on the side.

“I don’t think my sister was in her right mind when they had interviewed her,” Amy said. “I mean, she was out there for two nights, and she just found out that she had lost her baby. I feel like they should not have questioned her right then, and I feel like I don’t really know what she had said.”

Messerly’s lab results indicated she had methamphetamine, amphetamines, and THC in her system after she was rescued.

An investigator reported that Messerly later admitted that she had done a “hot rail,” prior to getting lost with her kids, by heating up meth and using a glass tube to ingest it. According to the investigator’s report, Messerly said she was “trying to get clean.”

“My sister loves every one of her children, and she would do anything for any one of them. For anyone to judge whether my sister did the right thing or not is not okay. My sister, above all else, made sure that those babies and my nephew were always taken care of,” Amy said. “I don’t think that any of her past can judge whether she was in the wrong or in the right.”

Department of Human Services involvement

Messerly, 35, also tested positive for meth when she gave birth to one of her children, according to the arrest warrant, but the Department of Human Services in Moffat County did not file a Dependency and Neglect case at the time. An investigator also alleged that DHS did not file a Dependency and Neglect case last month either.

According to the Colorado DHS, which provides oversight and assistance to county-run DHS programs, Dependency and Neglect cases are not criminal cases but rather civil court proceedings. Parents are encouraged to make positive changes “for the benefit of children’s best interests and safety,” said Madlynn Ruble, a spokesperson for CDHS. “Children involved in a D&N case are placed under the jurisdiction of the juvenile court for their safety and protection while their caregivers receive services and support.”

Lt. Chip McIntyre, a Moffat County Sheriff’s investigator reported that he filed a motion in Moffat County District Court to compel the Moffat County DHS to file a petition for Dependency and Neglect.

“Pursuant to Colorado Revised Statutes 19-1-303 and 19-1-307 the Moffat County Department of Human Services is forbidden to discuss any information regarding child abuse or neglect investigations except as indicated therein,” said Tia Murray, the Director of DHS in Moffat County.

Murray said, “it is the Department’s policy to comply with the state regulations regarding child welfare as found in Colorado Rules Manual, Volume 7, CHILD WELFARE SERVICES.  The Rules Manuel (sic) may also be found at 12 CCR 2509-4.”

“CDHS is not allowed to discuss or share confidential information about families who may or may not be involved in child welfare or specific case,” said Ruble.

But, Ruble told the Problem Solvers the CDHS Child Fatality Review Team is required to review, “child and youth fatalities, near fatalities and egregious incidents of abuse and neglect” if the family was known to child welfare within the past three years and the incident was caused by child abuse or neglect.

“The CDHS Child Fatality Review Team works independently of child welfare in order to take an objective look at systemic opportunities so we can proactively support parents and keep kids safe. At times, the recommendations are specific to a particular county, so that county receives support to improve their child welfare practice. Oftentimes, systemic recommendations require engagement from multiple stakeholders and partners,” said Ruble.