Community comes together for Ashlynne's funeral
FARMINGTON — The outpouring of support for Ashlynne Mike carried her family as they said goodbye to the 11-year-old on Friday.
The Farmington Civic Center auditorium was filled to capacity Friday as attendees listened to stories about Ashlynne and offered support to her family. A family member announced from the stage that there were more than 3,000 people in attendance.
Tom Begaye Jr. was charged Wednesday with murder and two counts of kidnapping in connection to Ashlynne's abduction and death.
By 9 a.m., a line traveled from the Civic Center, down the sidewalk and around the corner to the intersection of Auburn Avenue and Arrington Street.
That celebration of her life continued as people stood along the burial procession route in Farmington and on Navajo Route 36 in Lower Fruitland.
Pamela Foster, Ashlynne’s mother, delivered the eulogy in the best way a mother knows how, by expressing the bond she feels for her child.
“How do I say good bye to a part of my soul?” Foster said.
As she stood near the white casket topped with an arrangement of pink, purple, white and yellow flowers, Foster described her daughter as the perfect baby who grew into the perfect toddler then into a bright girl.
“The day Ashlynne was born — this indescribable love — I looked into her small hazy eyes and I shed tears of joy,” she said. “I could have sworn she smiled at me as I cuddled her in the crook of my arms. In that instant, I realized that the sparkle in her eyes was my guiding light.”
She recalled Ashlynne as being a two-year-old who “ate dainty like a princess” and “gave out bottomless hugs.”
“Gary and I could have never asked for a more wonderful daughter. Everything she did made us proud. She was bursting with life, vitality and passion,” Foster said. Ashlynne's father is Gary Mike, who did not speak at the funeral service.
Gov. Susana Martinez attended and took the podium to talk about Ashlynne’s academic achievements and musical abilities. Martinez, as an audience member, at times wiped tears from her eyes, as did many others.
Ashlynne was an artist who exercised her creativity by playing “complex pieces of music” on the piano and xylophone, the governor said.
In a video played on the walls on either side of the stage, the audience saw Ashlynne’s talent as she played “Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy” on the xylophone.
Martinez said Ashlynne dreamed of becoming a musician as well as a music teacher.
“To do for others what her music teacher had done for her,” Martinez said.
Before the governor ended her remarks, she shared a message to Ian Mike, 9, who was kidnapped along with Ashlynne from a neighborhood in San Juan Chapter. He was released then helped the investigation by providing information to law enforcement, including an identification of the suspect.
“Ian, thank you for being so very brave for such a little boy. I know Ashlynne would be so proud of her little brother,” Martinez said.
Ashlynne attended the fifth grade at Ojo Amarillo Elementary School, where she was on the honor roll and had been named student of the month each year.
The school’s principal, Abena McNeely, said Ashlynne’s love for music and her talent will be missed by her fellow students and her teachers.
“Ashlynne had this quiet elegance around her,” McNeely said.
Pastor Neil Johnson of First Indian Baptist Church in Farmington shared advice before giving the closing prayer: to remember the good times and as long as the good times are remembered, the spirit never dies.
“After you leave the grave site, remember one thing, that’s only the body. Man can do whatever with the body but they can never destroy the soul,” Johnson said.
A number of speakers also expressed appreciation for the support the Mike and Foster families received this week.
This outpouring of appreciation was displayed in a video that showed tributes to Ashlynne from local, tribal, national and international communities.
Tributes came from places ranging from chapters on the Navajo Nation to communities across the United States including Denver; Garden City, Kan.; Bemidji, Minn.; Fort Hall, Idaho.
U.S. Sen. Tom Udall, D-N.M., and U.S. Rep. Ben Ray Luján, D-N.M., released statements of condolences and support for the family after the funeral service.
Many people who attended the service had never met Ashlynne or her family, but they wanted to show their support.
Delphinyia Clah has five daughters, a son and a granddaughter and lives near the Mike family. The Clah family bought colorful cross necklaces that they handed out to children at the funeral.
"We all grieve in different ways," she said. "For my girls, I think this is closure for them."
After the service, hundreds of motorcycles sounded like thunder while bikers, many of them wearing blue and purple ribbons, waited for the burial procession to start.
Many of the motorcyclists rode into Farmington from Shiprock in an honor ride that took place prior to the service.
After the service, Ashlynne was laid to rest at a small family cemetery at San Juan Chapter in Lower Fruitland.
The family stood at the entrance to the fenced-off area as pallbearers carried the white coffin to the grave and lowered it inside.
One by one, family members walked by the grave and each of them tossed a handful of dust onto the coffin before pallbearers started to bury it shovelful by shovelful.
As the pallbearers and other mourners buried the coffin, people standing outside of the chain-link fence released colorful balloons.
Geri Mike, a former Newcomb Elementary School fifth grade teacher, attended the burial ceremony. Mike, who is not related to Ashlynne, said she wanted to attend to see the community coming together.
"As a teacher, it brings me back to how young she was and how brilliant she could have been," she said.
As the ceremony came to the end, flowers covered the grave and a small xylophone was placed beside it, an homage to Ashlynne's love of music.
Noel Lyn Smith covers the Navajo Nation for the The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4636.
Hannah Grover covers Aztec and Bloomfield, as well as general news, for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4652.
Community reacts on Twitter
“I imagine Ashlynne flying on the milky way w/shining stars twinkling for her as her innocent sweet precious soul enters the heavens.” — @MeeksDaisy
“For the family and everyone who has been sadden... You will always be remembered!!! Ashlynne Mike” — @TheBlissins
“I pray that the family and friends oh Ashlynne continue to have strength to be strong for one another. Safe travels home babygirl” — @cheynicoleb
“today is the day they put you to rest baby girl may you rest in peace you'll definitely be missed by many R.I.P. Ashlynne Mike” — @iAmFastEddie
“they buried #AshlynneMike today. i hope her family gets all the love & support they need. no parent should experience this loss.” — @undacovaah
“So much support for you from all over the world, #AshlynneMike, so many tears & lessons.You will save other children. Never to be forgotten” — @DeannaU