Tom Begaye, a 27-year-old Navajo man, appeared before a federal magistrate on murder and kidnapping charges Wednesday for the death of Ashlynne Mike, an 11 year old girl whose body was recently found.
Begaye allegedly lured Ashlynne into his white van, sexually assaulted her, then murdered him with an iron tire.
Begaye was quiet as he faced the victim’s relatives and other tribal members in court. Outside, they yelled “bastard” and “go to hell” as he was led away.
The crime has sent shockwaves through the Navajo Nation’s small tribal communities that line the San Juan River in New Mexico’s northwest corner. The grief that overwhelmed searchers when they found the girl’s body Tuesday, the morning after she disappeared, has shifted to anger and disbelief that one of their own could commit such a heinous crime.
Begaye wasn’t well-known in the community, but at least one woman, Sher Brown, recognized him as someone who regularly joined her brother at sweat lodge ceremonies and church meetings.
The case raises questions about law enforcement responses in remote areas of the Navajo Nation. The tribe doesn’t have its own Amber Alert system, so it must rely on outside agencies to spread the word about child abductions.
“If they would have put out an Amber Alert right way, I believe they might have saved her life,” said Rick Nez, the president of the Navajo’s San Juan Chapter.
Ashlynne and her brother were playing Monday with their cousin after being dropped off at their bus stop after school when Begaye offered them a ride, according to the criminal complaint.
Not wanting his sister to go alone, her brother went, too. Their cousin refused, as did the victim’s older sister moments earlier.
Ashlynne was bloodied but still moving when Begaye left her hours later, he told investigators. Her brother, also abandoned, tried to find her but gave up as darkness fell. He ran for help, toward some distant lights, and was finally scooped up by a passing driver who brought him to police.
Word spread quickly. A frantic search ensued, but the dozens of community members who combed the area Monday night came up empty.
It wasn’t until 2:30 a.m. Tuesday that officials sent out an Amber Alert. Protocols were followed, but NavajoPresident Russell Begaye — who isn’t related to the suspect — acknowledged that the tribe “needs to implement an effective response system in which modern technology is utilized more effectively.”