Meeting focuses on hope in wake of girl's death

Noel Lyn Smith
Pamela Foster, second from left, and Gary Mike, parents of Ashlynne Mike, receive visitors during a community meeting on Wednesday at the Nenahnezad Chapter house.

NENAHNEZAD – A message of hope and a plea for a strengthening of community relations were the focus of a meeting Wednesday night at the Nenahnezad Chapter house as residents here continued to grieve the death of Ashlynne Mike.

The meeting was organized to carry those messages and express support for the Mike family, San Juan Chapter President Rick Nez said.

Ashlynne, 11, and her brother, Ian, 9, were abducted from Lower Fruitland on Monday afternoon. Her body was found Tuesday morning near a dirt road six miles south of the Shiprock pinnacle.

Tom Begaye Jr. has been charged with murder and two counts of kidnapping in connection to Ashlynne's abduction and death. Begaye, 27, was taken into custody Tuesday evening at a residence in Waterflow.

Many community members wore red shirts, one of Ashlynne’s favorite colors, in support of the family as speeches were made, including one from Central Consolidated School District Interim Superintendent Colleen Bowman.

She pleaded with parents to talk to their children about safety.

“We have lost a fine, young, bright student, but it is a teaching tool for all,” Bowman said about the tragedy.

Shawn Mike, a cousin of the girl, asked the audience to refrain from spreading rumors about the crime.

"Please do not gossip if you do not have the facts. Don't spread it. You can cause a lot of harm to people," he said.

He announced a funeral service for Ashlynne will be held at 10 a.m. Friday at the Farmington Civic Center.

Shawn Mike, cousin of Ashlynne Mike speaks during a meeting on Wednesday at the Nenahnezad Chapter house.

Donations to help the family can be made at Wells Fargo Bank under “Ashlynn Mike Memorial Benefit Fund.” A gofundme site was set up this week, and the family was contacted about the account. The gofundme account is in Ashlynne Mike's name and was created by K'e Diné.

"We researched that, and everything is confirmed," Shawn Mike said about the gofundme site.

In addition to monetary donations, food can be donated to the family at the Nenahnezad, San Juan, Tsé Daa K’aan and Upper Fruitland chapter houses.

Two community events have been adjusted in honor of Ashlynne.

The Shiprock Marathon will take place as planned this weekend, according to Tom Riggenbach, the marathon’s race director. The marathon includes a 5k/10k run, the Kids Marathon, a pasta dinner, and a health and wellness expo on Friday, followed by a half marathon, marathon and marathon relay on Saturday. The events will take place at the Shiprock Youth Center, 4198 U.S. Highway 491.

The marathon course runs along Navajo Route 13, a few miles north of the site where Ashlynne Mike’s body was found. Ian Mike was found walking along the route Monday night.

Riggenbach said there will be a Christian blessing of the course this morning and a traditional Navajo blessing ceremony on Friday prior to the event. The marathon will also feature several tributes to Ashlynne.

“Everybody is encouraged to wear yellow,” Riggenbach said, explaining that yellow was another one of Ashlynne’s favorite colors, and people wearing yellow will be a “positive symbol of hope and renewal.”

Another portion of the marathon that will honor Ashlynne will take place at 5 p.m. Friday during the Kids Marathon.

Since January, many local children have been logging miles with the goal of completing 25 miles by Friday and finishing the final mile Friday.

Mourners arrive for a community meeting on Wednesday at the Nenahnezad Chapter house.

Riggenbach said hundreds of children have registered to run the last mile, including 92 Ojo Amarillo Elementary School students. The students plan to run the mile in memory of Ashlynne Mike, who was a fifth-grader at the school.

Because so many children have registered, Riggenbach said the runners will start in waves, and the first wave will include the Ojo Amarillo students.

Riggenbach said members of the community will join the children running the final mile in Ashlynne Mike’s honor. He said after the run, they will release yellow balloons.

“I think Friday will be a really emotional, powerful day,” Riggenbach said.

The Just Move It program was scheduled to take place on Tuesday at the San Juan Chapter house but was canceled out of respect for the Mike family, said Roberta Diswood, co-coordinator for the fitness series at the Northern Navajo Medical Center in Shiprock. Just Move It is a program that offers free, noncompetitive runs and walks in communities in and near the Navajo Nation.

The program also canceled tonight’s event at the Nenahnezad Chapter house, and the fitness series will resume at 6 p.m. Monday at the Upper Fruitland Chapter house, Diswood said.

Reporter Hannah Grover contributed to this report.

Noel Lyn Smith covers the Navajo Nation for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4636.