Church leader says murder suspect betrayed him
LOWER FRUITLAND — A member of this small rural community and fellow church member of Tom Begaye Jr. said Thursday he was betrayed by the 27-year-old man who is accused of kidnapping and killing 11-year-old Ashlynne Mike.
Rufus Dickie told The Daily Times in an interview he tried his best to help Begaye and his brother after the death of their parents in 2014. He said that when he met the brothers in the spring of 2015, their home was in disrepair and they lacked basic necessities, such as food and clothing.
"They were lost without their parents," he said, adding later. "I didn't have much food in my own fridge, but what I had I gave to them."
Dickie said he met the brothers through a local chapter of the Native American Church. Begaye's mother, Agnes Begaye, was an active member of the church, according to her obituary in The Daily Times.
The NAC is a Native American religion founded in the mid-19th Century that combines indigenous and Christian beliefs. The religion is known for its use of peyote, a hallucinogenic plant, in religious ceremonies.
Dickie said he never knew Begaye to be violent and described him as an outgoing person.
"I knew him in the sunshine," Dickie said. "But I didn't know him at home behind closed doors."
Dickie said he felt betrayed by the man he called his brother. Dickie said he and Begaye were together in a sweat lodge ceremony praying for Ashlynne and her family moments before Begaye's arrest.
Begaye was charged Wednesday with murder and kidnapping on allegations he kidnapped Ashlynne and her 9-year-old brother, Ian, while they played Monday afternoon in Lower Fruitland and then bludgeoned Ashlynne and left her to die on a remote road near the Shiprock pinnacle.
Attorney James C. Loonam was appointed by a federal judge to represent Begaye. He could not be reached for comment late Thursday.
Dickie expressed sorrow for the family of Ashlynne Mike, to whom he is related by clan. He said he could not understand or explain the actions of Ashlynne's killer.
"That's my big question," he said. "And the only answer I have is capital W-H-Y. Why."
Begaye and his brother, Shawn, lived together at a home on U.S. Highway 64 in Gadii'ahi, west of Shiprock, according to court records.
A small pink tricycle and a toy musical keyboard were outside the residence Thursday afternoon. Broken electronics and car tires littered the yard and the Shiprock pinnacle towered above the horizon.
Neighbors in communities alongside the highway said Thursday they were shocked by Begaye's alleged actions.
Larry Etcitty said he has lived in the area for three years, but he did not know the Begaye family.
"I couldn't believe it," he said. "It's terrible."
The young brother and sister were playing in an irrigation ditch near their home Monday afternoon in Lower Fruitland when they disappeared.
Dickie said Begaye came to his home that afternoon to help craft a gourd rattle. He said Begaye was there for about an hour and then left in his maroon-colored van, which he was given to him by an aunt.
Dickie said he did not see Begaye for the rest of the day.
Police said Tuesday Ian Mike was found by a motorist Monday night walking alongside Navajo Route 13 near the Shiprock Pinnacle.
Ian told police he and his sister were kidnapped and Ashlynne was somewhere in the desert surrounding the pinnacle, according to a criminal complaint. Navajo police searched unsuccessfully throughout the night for the girl.
Dickie said Begaye was at his residence again on Tuesday morning. An Amber Alert had been issued for Ashlynne by then and Dickie said neighbors were discussing the girl's abduction.
He asked Begaye about his van, which matched the description of the suspect vehicle and Dickie said Begaye seemed surprised by the comparison. Dickie said Begaye told him he was leaving to pick up a friend in Farmington.
Dickie said while Begaye was gone, FBI agents arrived at his residence and asked about the van.
An unidentified neighbor had reported seeing the vehicle at Dickie's residence at the time of the girl's disappearance, according to the criminal complaint.
Dickie said he led the agents to the sweat lodge, located about a quarter-mile from his residence, where he had planned to meet Begaye.
He said agents spoke with Begaye when he arrived at the lodge. They took photos of Begaye and his vehicle, according to Dickie.
Dickie said the sweat lodge ceremony began at noon as scheduled.
Ashlynne's body had been found on a remote road six miles south of the Shiprock pinnacle about an hour before.
He said Begaye did not act unusual, though he seemed quieter.
He said they sang songs and prayed on behalf of the Mike family at the ceremony.
"There were tears," Dickie said. "The sweat ceremony was so emotional."
He said the ceremony continued for several hours. After it concluded, Begaye was arrested, according to Dickie.
Begaye allegedly admitted in an interview with investigators that he killed Ashlynne, according to the criminal complaint. He told investigators he saw Ashlynne and Ian playing and he offered them a ride.
He then drove the children to a dirt road near the pinnacle while Ashlynne "was crying and begging to be taken home," the complaint states.
Begaye told police he then took the girl behind a hill, stripped her naked and sexually molested her, according to the complaint.
As the girl was crying, he allegedly struck her twice in the head with a tire iron and left her, still moving, to die in the desert, the complaint states.
Dickie said he has cooperated fully with the FBI's investigation into the girl's murder.
He said his heart ached for the Mike family. "We are still shedding tears," he said, crying.
Dickie said he and other members of the Native American Church provided emotional support and guidance to the brothers after their parents' deaths. He said he told Begaye to behave and warned him against using drugs and alcohol.
"I trusted him with my family," he said. "I trusted him with my daughter. And he betrayed me."
A funeral for Ashlynne is scheduled to take place today at 10 a.m. at the Farmington Civic Center.
Steve Garrison covers crime and courts for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4644.