Navajo girl’s body found after abduction; community grieves

Inset: This undated photo provided by the New Mexico State Police shows Ashlynne Mike. Background photo shows an access road to the Shiprock pinnacle is taped off along Navajo Route 13, just a few miles from where Ashlynne Mike's body was discovered. The air and ground search for the abducted Navajo girl ended tragically Tuesday, May 3, 2016, when authorities found the 11-year-old dead near the towering rock formation that gives the New Mexico town of Shiprock its name. Ashlynne Mike was kidnapped from the Navajo Nation, FBI spokesman Frank Fisher said. | Photo of Ashlynne Mike courtesy of New Mexico State Police via AP; background photo by Jon Austria/The Daily Times via AP; St. George News

SHIPROCK, N.M. (AP) — The stranger walked with 11-year-old Ashlynne Mike into the hills of a remote area of the Navajo Nation known for its breathtaking views and the monolithic rock outcropping that stands as a beacon for miles.

As the sun faded, the stranger returned alone with a crowbar tucked in his jacket; the girl was nowhere to be seen. Her body was found hours later.

The 13 mile marker is posted off Navajo Route 36 near the San Juan Chapter, N.M., on Tuesday, May 3, 2016. An 11-year-old girl and her brother were abducted on Monday, May 2, 2016, near this mile marker off Navajo Route 36 near the San Juan Chapter, N.M., according to authorities. | Photo by Jon Austria/The Daily Times via AP; St. George News
The 13 mile marker is posted off Navajo Route 36 near the San Juan Chapter, N.M., on Tuesday, May 3, 2016. An 11-year-old girl and her brother were abducted on Monday, May 2, 2016, near this mile marker off Navajo Route 36 near the San Juan Chapter, N.M., according to authorities. | Photo by Jon Austria/The Daily Times via AP; St. George News

But as he came back, her distraught and scared 9-year-old brother started to run and kept running for more than 2 miles toward the lights he could see on the highway in the distance until a passer-by scooped him up and took him to police.

“He was so tired and just crying and crying for his sister. It was really hard for the FBI to get any information from him,” said the children’s aunt, Darrell Foster-Joe, as she recounted what the boy eventually told authorities.

The siblings were abducted after being dropped off at a bus stop after school about a quarter-mile from their home Monday afternoon. A man in a van offered to take them to watch a movie. The brother and another boy — a relative of the children — said no, but Ashlynne was somehow lured into the van.

Not wanting his sister to go alone, her brother jumped in too.

The abduction sparked a frantic air and ground search. But the immediate search was focused on the opposite side of the highway from where authorities needed to be looking.

On Tuesday, Ashlynne’s body was found after about 100 people from the community turned out to help look for her.

A 27-year-old man identified as Tom Begaye, of Waterflow, New Mexico, was arrested hours later in connection with the girl’s death and disappearance, FBI spokesman Frank Fisher said.

Shawn Mike, Ashlynne’s cousin and the father of the boy who stayed behind, said he didn’t believe the family knew Begaye. Mike said the man who took Ashlynne and her brother tried twice to get his son to get into the vehicle with the other children.

“My son said he just waved,” Shawn Mike said. “He said the vehicle just sped off, and as it was driving off he just saw Ashlynne waving toward him.”

Family and friends gather along Navajo Route 13, just a few miles from where Ashlynne Mike's body was discovered, in south of Shiprock, N.M., on Tuesday, May 3, 2016. Police gleaned some information about the suspect from the younger brother of Ashlynne, whose body was found Tuesday near a distinct rock formation that the rural town of Shiprock, N.M., is named for. Authorities are poring over parts of the Navajo Nation in search of the man who snatched the children and killed Ashlynne. | Photo by Jon Austria/The Daily Times via AP; St. George News
Family and friends gather along Navajo Route 13, just a few miles from where Ashlynne Mike’s body was discovered, in south of Shiprock, N.M., on Tuesday, May 3, 2016. Police gleaned some information about the suspect from the younger brother of Ashlynne, whose body was found Tuesday near a distinct rock formation that the rural town of Shiprock, N.M., is named for.  | Photo by Jon Austria/The Daily Times via AP; St. George News

Heartbroken, the community paused Tuesday night for a moment of silence. Hundreds of residents packed the Navajo Nation’s San Juan Chapter House, a tiny community hall south of Shiprock, while hundreds more stood outside of the building in support of Ashlynne’s family. Her father sat silently at the front of the room, listening as the girl’s principal remembered her as a kind child who was a part of the school band, and local leaders offered condolences.

Ashlynne, who played xylophone, had performed just last week, said her cousin Shawn Mike.

“As a dad, you would like to see your daughter grow up and see her have a family of her own one day. And unfortunately, Ashlynne won’t experience any of this,” he told The Associated Press after the vigil.

Residents also gathered for a vigil in nearby Shiprock, the largest town on the Navajo Nation.

Federal authorities remained tightlipped about their investigation, even after Begaye’s arrest. He is expected to appear before U.S. Magistrate Judge B. Paul Briones in Farmington on Wednesday, according to the FBI.

It’s unclear how long it could take for medical investigators to determine the cause of the girl’s death.

Tips flooded in from across the reservation that spans parts of New Mexico, Arizona and Utah as well as the San Juan Chapter where Ashlynne lived.

Authorities described the kidnapper as having a teardrop tattoo under his left eye and two earrings. He drove a maroon van with a luggage rack but no hubcaps.

Two vehicles are seen in the distance near the area where Ashlynne Mike's body was discovered, in south of Shiprock, N.M., on Tuesday, May 3, 2016. Police gleaned some information about the suspect from the younger brother of Ashlynne, whose body was found Tuesday near the distinct rock formation that the rural town of Shiprock, is named for. Authorities are poring over parts of the Navajo Nation in search of the man who snatched the children and killed Ashlynne. | Photo by Jon Austria/The Daily Times via AP; St. George News
Two vehicles are seen in the distance near the area where Ashlynne Mike’s body was discovered, in south of Shiprock, N.M., on Tuesday, May 3, 2016. Police gleaned some information about the suspect from the younger brother of Ashlynne, whose body was found Tuesday near the distinct rock formation that the rural town of Shiprock, is named for.  | Photo by Jon Austria/The Daily Times via AP; St. George News

A fifth-grader, Ashlynne attended Ojo Amarillo Elementary School in Fruitland, New Mexico. Her aunt described her as a fun-loving, quiet girl. She sometimes visited Foster-Joe at her home in nearby Hogback to play games with her cousins.

An Amber Alert for Ashlynne was issued around 2:30 a.m. Tuesday. It wasn’t clear why it took hours for authorities to get word out about the abduction, and FBI Special Agent in Charge Terry Wade declined to answer related questions during a news conference.

Community members who heard about the abduction via radio and social media congregated to join in the search Monday around 9 p.m. and again Tuesday morning, said Graham Binaal, a Shiprock resident who helped spread the word about the search.

“Once someone put it out there that there was this missing child, then the word just spread from there,” he said.

New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez joined Navajo President Russell Begaye in the call for prayers for the family.

Written by FELICIA FONSECA, Associated Press, reporting from Flagstaff, Arizona, and MARY HUDETZ, Associated Press. Susan Montoya Bryan contributed to this report from Albuquerque, New Mexico.

Email: news@stgnews.com

Twitter: @STGnews

Copyright 2016 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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1 Comment

  • RealMcCoy May 4, 2016 at 12:39 pm

    I think a Native American justice is warranted here: Bury him up to his neck in the sand, douse him with honey, then let nature do the rest…

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