NEWPORT, N.H. — In what authorities described as a tragic accident, a 2-year-old girl was found dead outside her family’s new apartment here Monday morning after wandering into subzero degree temperatures wearing only her pajamas.
From her living room window around 7 a.m., Charlotte Karon saw the toddler lying face down at the base of her back stairs, agonizingly close to safety.
“I saw two people standing there looking down and I wondered why they weren’t doing anything,” said Karon, who lives next door. “Then I heard a scream and a woman came flying out of the apartment, picked the child up, and ran inside.”
Police said the toddler, who was barefoot, left the apartment in the middle of the night through an unlocked door and could not find her way back. She was “overcome by the extreme temperatures,” said the town’s police chief, James C. Burroughs.
“It does not take long to become disoriented when you are that cold and that small,” Burroughs said. “The tragic nature of this accident is hard to fathom.”
Preliminary findings from an autopsy revealed the child died of exposure to the elements and hypothermia, police said. The temperature was minus 8 degrees when the child was found.
Police did not identify the child, but relatives said her name was Sofia Van Schoick.
The child’s grandfather, Lindsay Van Schoick, said the family moved to the two-story duplex on Maple Street last week from Vermont. His daughter, Courtney Van Schoick, 20, was looking for a new start for her and her twins, Sofia and her brother, Camden.
Police said Van Schoick last saw her daughter at 1 a.m. The mother was sleeping upstairs, while her twins slept downstairs, Lindsay Van Schoick said. Police believe the toddler left the apartment between 4 a.m., when a neighbor heard a scream from outside, and 7 a.m., when a neighbor found her body and called 911.
Courtney Van Schoick declined to comment Monday. On her Facebook page, she had shared a video taken Sunday of her daughter riding in the back of her minivan with a pacifier in her mouth, pointing at something that had caught her eye.
“We were having so much fun yesterday . . . I am so greatful [sic] I have this,” Van Schoick wrote. “I love you baby girl.”
Lindsay Van Schoick spent Friday night with his grandchildren and dropped them off at the Newport apartment on Saturday.
He called his granddaughter “Pedie,” short for peanut, because she was so small.
“Bird was her first word,” he said. “And just three months ago, she started identifying animals and making the noises they made. She was really good at making duck noises.”
In August 2013, his son Kendall died in a car crash at age 19. The arrival of his daughter’s twins helped ease his grief.
“They gave me a reason to get up in the morning and smile,” he said.
The child’s mother had recently moved into the apartment. The mother’s boyfriend was also present in the apartment Monday morning, police said.
Although the family had moved to Newport so recently that they had not met their neighbors, several people left flowers and stuffed animals at their home.
“We are a very close-knit community,” Burroughs said. “People naturally want to rally around the family.”
Burroughs said investigators are still determining the chain of events that led to the child’s death.
He said that it was too early to say whether criminal charges are warranted but that “all signs point to this being a tragic accident.”
Burroughs encouraged families to assess the security in their homes and make sure their outside doors have a deadbolt and chain lock if they have young children.
“Take all the precautions to keep the uninvited out and your loved ones protected,” he said.Danny McDonald of the Globe staff contributed to this report. Travis Andersen can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @TAGlobe.