FBI: Suspect in custody in murder of Navajo girl – USA TODAY
SHIPROCK, N.M. â Authorities arrested a New Mexico man Tuesday in the abduction and slaying of an 11-year-old Navajo girl.
Tom Begaye, 27, of Waterflow was arrested on charges that he murdered Ashlynne Mike and dumped her body in a remote part south of Shiprock, a town onÂ the Navajo reservation,Â FBI spokesman Frank Fisher said in a news release.Â Investigators seized a maroon-colored van believed to be used in the abduction at Begay’s residence.
Authorities said they would not give more information until Begaye appears in court Wednesday in Farmington.
âWeâre leaving no stone unturned,â FBI Special Agent in Charge Terry Wade told reporters during a brief news conference. âWe will solve this case and give Ashlynne Mikeâs family the justice they deserve.â
Ashlynne and her 9-year-old brother, Ian, were abducted Monday afternoon while they were playing near their home in the Lower Fruitland community near Waterflow, Fisher said previously. The family reported the children missing at 6:56 p.m. MDT Monday (4:56 p.m. ET). An Ambert Alert was issued around 2:30 a.m., a decision that drew criticism from Navajo leaders.
Authorities believe the abduction occurred around 4 p.m. Monday. One of the children’s cousins, Shawn Mike, said his 9-year-old son spotted the pair as he was approached by a man in a maroon-colored van on Navajo Route 36. Shawn Mike said Â the man offered to take his son to see a movie, but the boy declined. His son saw both Ashlynne and Ian inside the vehicle at the time.
âAs they drove away, Ashlynne was waving at him,â Shawn Mike said.
Ian was found minutes after the family reported the abduction. A motorist spotted him walking alongside Navajo Route 13.
The search for the girl included federal, tribal, state and county officers on the ground as well as a New Mexico State Police helicopter. About 70 or 80 residents also fanned out across the area where the girl was found, said Graham Biyaal, who helped organized the community search.The boyÂ was taken to Shiprock, where he told a Navajo officer thatÂ “a man in a red van was chasing him,” according to the release. HeÂ told police that heÂ and his sister were kidnapped andÂ drivenÂ to a spot near the Shiprock pinnacle.
The search came to an end around 11 a.m. Tuesday after Ashlynne’s family discovered her body six to eight miles south of the pinnacle.
Family and friends tearfully comforted each other several miles south of the rock formation about an hourÂ after the body was found. They scheduled a vigil for Ashlynne Tuesday night.
The Mike family members are part of the Navajo’s San Juan chapter,Â president Rick Nez told The Daily Times. They attended Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners at the chapter house.
“This is our innocent, preciousÂ child we’re talking about,” he said.
Tragedy in a ‘tight-knit community’
Lower Fruitland is a “tight-knit community,” said Shawn Mike, Ashlynne’s cousin. But that trust was shattered by her death.
âIt goes to show we need to remind our children, our kids, about the danger that lives out there,â he said.
The arrest may seem like too little, too late for some who criticized law enforcement officials, saying authorities delayed in sending an Amber Alert notification on Ashlynne’s disappearance. Navajo Nation President Russell Begaye said in a statement the tribal government needs to implement an effective emergency response system in the wake of the girl’s death.
“There should be no delay when using technology to report the abduction of our people,” he said. “We have perpetrators out here who take advantage of our children and this is totally unacceptable.”
Nez echoed those concerns:Â âAs soon as the child was abducted, they should have put out the Amber Alert.â
Wade, the FBI special agent, declined to answer related questions during the news conference, saying they would be addressed at a later time.
Jesse Delmar, director of the tribal division of public safety,Â said in a press release Thursday afternoon every protocol was followed in the issuance of the Amber Alert. A criminal investigation must be launched before an Amber Alert can be issued.
“There is a protocol and process in place,” he said in a statement. “The New Mexico State Police have a criteria in which they have to obtain information by protocol from an agency source before they issue an Amber Alert. Everything was handled according to the protocol and policies in issuing an Amber Alert.”
The Navajo Nation does not have access to the Amber Alert system and tribal police have noÂ protocol in place to report a missing child, authorities said in a release. He said the Navajo Nation Division of Public Safety received funding from the federal government in the early 2000s to connect tribal authorities to the Amber Alert system, but the project was never completed.
Authorities said the project needs to be completed as soon as possible because time is of the essence during a child abduction investigation.
Contributing: The Associated Press; The Daily TimesÂ reporters Hannah Grover and Noel Lyn Smith.