GREAT FALLS — HaHaax Vielle was sentenced this week in connection with the disappearance of his niece, 3-year old Arden Pepion, who is still missing.
Arden was last seen on April 22, 2021, in the vicinity of Joe Show East Road off of US Highway 89, several miles southeast of Browning; at the time, she was with Vielle. They were reportedly practicing shooting when Vielle noticed that Pepion wasn’t near him; he saw her footprints leading to the river, which was about 50 yards away.
Prosecutors allege that Vielle did not notify law enforcement of her disappearance for several hours.
Vielle was charged with negligent endangerment and child neglect for failing to adequately supervise Pepion in potentially dangerous conditions. Vielle’s failure to notify authorities in a "reasonable amount of time," and then leaving and returning to the scene, were factors in the child neglect charge.
The case was set for a bench trial on October 27, but at the last minute a plea agreement was reached.
Tribal prosecutors confirmed to MTN that Vielle pleaded guilty to negligent endangerment and was sentenced to nine months in jail. The jail time was suspended in lieu of house arrest.
If he violates the conditions of the plea deal, he could have to spend nine months in jail and an extra 4.5 months if the judge so chooses.
Vielle was also fined $1,000; $500 of that amount was suspended.
A charge against Vielle’s girlfriend, Kimberly Higgins, was dropped. She had been charged with accountability for failing to notify authorities in a reasonable amount of time after becoming aware that Pepion was missing in dangerous conditions.
The plea deal says Vielle agrees to take full responsibility, absolving Higgins of any wrongdoing.
A formal search for Pepion lasted 10 days, but searchers only found footprints leading to the Two Medicine River and a boot believed to be hers in the river. The search since has since been scaled back, but people continue to volunteer to search for her.