Waterflow man arrested in girl's murder

Tom Begaye, 27, is expected to appear in court Wednesday on allegations he murdered 11-year-old Ashlynne Mike and dumped her body near the Shiprock pinnacle

Steve Garrison
  • Police say Ashlynne Mike, 11, and her brother, Ian, 9, were abducted Monday in Lower Fruitland.
  • Family members on a search team found Ashlynne's body Tuesday morning near the Shiprock pinnacle.
  • A manhunt involving multiple agencies ensued as police searched for the suspect and his vehicle.
  • On Tuesday evening, the FBI announced it had arrested Tom Begaye, 27, in connection with the case.
Ashlynne Mike

SHIPROCK — A 27-year-old Waterflow man was arrested Tuesday night in the abduction and slaying of an 11-year-old Navajo girl.

FBI spokesman Frank Fisher said in a press release that Tom Begaye was arrested and will appear at a court hearing Wednesday morning to answer charges he murdered Ashlynne Mike and dumped her body in a remote area near the Shiprock pinnacle.

Fisher said no further information will be released until after Begaye's court appearance in Farmington.

Navajo police Capt. Ivan Tsosie said in a press release Tuesday night that Begaye was arrested Tuesday afternoon at a residence in Lower Fruitland. The suspect vehicle, a maroon-colored van, was also seized from the residence, the release states.

Law enforcement officials also responded to criticism Tuesday about a perceived delay in 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.

Fisher previously said at a press conference that Mike and her 9-year-old brother, Ian, were abducted while they were playing near their home Monday afternoon in Lower Fruitland.

Gary McDaniel, a civil deputy with the San Juan County Sheriff's Office, informs the crowd outside the San Juan Chapter house in Lower Fruitland on Tuesday evening that a suspect was arrested in the abduction and murder of Ashlynne Mike. The FBI said that 27-year-old Tom Begaye has been arrested in connection to the girl's death.

The Mike family reported the children missing at 6:56 p.m. Monday, according to the Navajo police press release.

Fisher said less than 5 minutes after the report was made the boy was found by a motorist walking alongside Navajo Route 13.

The boy was taken to Shiprock, where he told a Navajo police officer "a man in a red van was chasing him," according to the release.

The boy then explained to police that he and his sister were kidnapped and driven to a spot near the Shiprock pinnacle. With the boy's assistance, Navajo police officers searched the area around the pinnacle until 4 a.m. Tuesday, but they were unable to locate Ashlynne, the release states.

An access road to the Shiprock pinnacle area is taped off along Navajo Route 13 south of Shiprock on Tuesday. The site is a few miles from where 11-year-old Ashlynne Mike's body was discovered.

An Amber Alert was issued for the girl at 2:27 a.m. Tuesday. A New Mexico State Police press release stated the children were abducted at about 4 p.m. Monday.

The children's family and community volunteers joined law enforcement Tuesday morning in the search of the Shiprock pinnacle area.

Fisher said the search was called off at about 11 a.m. after the girl's body was found six to eight miles south of the pinnacle. Bob Rodgers with the New Mexico State Police Search & Rescue said at the scene that the body was located near a dirt road south of Navajo Route 13.

Family and friends tearfully comforted each other several miles south of the rock formation about an hour after the body was discovered. Tsosie said in the press release the girl's body was found by members of her own family.

Family and friends gathered Tuesday along Navajo Route 13 south of Shiprock, just a few miles from where 11-year-old Ashlynne Mike's body was discovered.

Meanwhile, Navajo chapter members gathered at the San Juan Chapter House in Lower Fruitland to discuss the girl's disappearance. A community meeting there was canceled after chapter officials learned of the girl's death and a memorial service was scheduled for later in the day.

Chapter president Rick Nez told The Daily Times the Mike family was a member of the chapter and attended Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners at the chapter house.

"This is our innocent, precious child we're talking about," he said.

A cousin of Ashlynne, Shawn Mike, was at the chapter house Tuesday afternoon.

He said his 9-year-old son was also approached Monday afternoon on Navajo Route 36 by a man in a maroon-colored van. He said the man offered to take his son to see a movie, but his son declined.

He said his son saw both Ashlynne and Ian inside the vehicle at the time.

“As they drove away, Ashlynne was waving at him,” he said.

Shawn Mike said Lower Fruitland is "a tight-knit community," but that trust was shattered by Ashlynne's death.

“It goes to show we need to remind our children, our kids, about the danger that lives out there,” he said.

This image, provided by San Juan Chapter Vice President Robert C. Begay, shows the kind of van involved in the abduction of Ashlynne and Ian Mike on Monday. The FBI confirmed Tuesday that the suspect was driving a vehicle like this one.

Nez complained Tuesday afternoon about how long it took authorities to issue the Amber Alert after the children's disappearance.

“The Navajo Nation, they are always slow to respond,” he told The Daily Times. “As soon as the child was abducted, they should have put out the Amber Alert.”

Fisher declined to respond to that criticism at the press conference, stating the agency was focused on the murder investigation. However, he said a criminal investigation must be performed before an Amber Alert can be issued.

Terry Wade, special agent in charge of the FBI's Albuquerque field office, said at a press conference Tuesday afternoon any issues regarding the Amber Alert would be addressed at a later time.

Terry Wade, special agent in charge of the FBI's Albuquerque field office, speaks during a press conference on Tuesday at the Bureau of Indian Affairs office in Shiprock about the death of 11-year-old Ashlynne Mike.

Jesse Delmar, director of the tribal division of public safety, said in a press release Tuesday afternoon every protocol was followed in the issuance of the Amber Alert.

"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."

Navajo Nation President Russell Begaye said the Nation needs to implement an effective response system to communicate information to the public during an emergency.

"There should be no delay when using technology to report the abduction of our people," the president said. "We have perpetrators out here who take advantage of our children and this is totally unacceptable."

Tsosie said in the press release that the Navajo Nation does not have access to the Amber Alert system and tribal police have no protocol in place to report a missing child. 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.

Tsosie said the project needs to be completed "as soon as possible," because time is of the essence during a child abduction investigation.

Fisher said numerous local, state and federal law enforcement agencies were involved in the investigation, including the San Juan County Sheriff's Office and the Farmington Police Department.

Steve Garrison covers crime and courts for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4644. 

Reporters Hannah Grover and Noel Lyn Smith contributed to this story.