Lola Bear Stops, the Pierre woman whose body was found Jan. 6 in a wooded area on the bank of the Missouri River in south Pierre, died of exposure, said Hughes County State’s Attorney Roxanne Hammond.
A man walking along a path near the site the morning of Jan. 6 saw her body lying near a large tree on the river bank, perhaps 250 yards east of the Downs Marina in Pierre. Police quickly identified her body, but it took months before the investigation was complete to determine the cause of death.
“We have reason to believe she was alone for part of that evening (Jan. 5-Jan. 6),” Hammond told the Capital Journal recently. “It was an unattended death. There is no reason to think there was foul play. Pierre police did a very thorough investigation.”
The temperature in Pierre dropped to 20 degrees above zero in the early hours of Jan. 6 after a high temperature of 44 degrees on Jan. 5, according to the National Weather Service office in Aberdeen. There were several inches of snow on the ground in the wooded, shaded area away from the river bank area and the wind blew as high as 39 mph Jan. 5 and 26 mph on Jan. 6.
In the area next to the river around the large tree where Lola Bear Stops' body was found, where the westering sun's light could hit the ground, the snow had melted by the afternoon of Jan. 6 when the high temperature was 40 degrees.
Renee Bear Stops of Pierre, who is married to Lola Bear Stops’ brother, Brady Bear Stops, said the family is glad the investigation has been completed and that there was no foul play involved.
“We just want to thank the community for all the support during that time,” she said.
The onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in March was one of the reasons the investigation took longer than perhaps it normally would, said Renee Bear Stops, who initially was called in by police to identify Lola’s body.
“We just got her belongings back last week and we gave them to her kids on Friday,” Renee told the Capital Journal this week.
She speaks for the family, especially for her sister-in-law’s children.
“It’s helping with their healing. The kids are at peace (with the investigation’s results) and they can sleep better at night.”
Bear Stops was 40 and is survived by her seven children, several grandchildren, and her mother, Juanita (Poor Bear) Bear Stops of Pierre; siblings Brad (Renee) Bear Stops of Pierre, Amber Bear Stops, Mark Bear Stops and Wacinhin Waste Win “Rae”, all of Sioux Falls; and Pete Bear Stops Jr., of Miller.
Along with her seven children — Delia of Yankton, and Matea, Frances, Dionne, Daniel, Juanita and Aaron, all of Pierre — Lola’s survivors include her grandchildren, one born since her passing, Renee said.
“She is buried with the rest of her relatives in Wanblee,” Renee said.
The place where Lola died is a place she loved to hang out, a wooded area on the edge of town where she could gather with friends, or just spend time alone, looking out over the river and watching sunsets, Renee said.
One of the things Lola’s children were happy to receive was their mother’s cellphone, which contained photos she had taken of that spot by the river that weekend, Renee said.
“She took a photo of the sunset.”
Lola’s children and other family members used flowers and other things to make a memorial at the site.
“They visit that site often. They feel close to their mom when they are there.”
“They remember their mother every day and the good things she was to them,” Renee added.
(Tate Gabriel of Pierre started a Go Fund Me account for Lola Bear Stops' family in January. https://www.gofundme.com/f/lola-bear-stops)