Community honors memory of slain girl at vigil

Family and friends gather at San Juan Chapter house to remember 11-year-old Ashlynne Mike

Noel Lyn Smith
Residents embrace at a vigil for Ashlynne Mike on Tuesday evening at the San Juan Chapter house in Lower Fruitland.

LOWER FRUITLAND — Words of support for the family of Ashlynne Mike were shared Tuesday evening during a candlelight vigil at the San Juan Chapter house.

Mike, 11, was abducted Monday with her brother, Ian Mike, along mile marker 13 on Navajo Route 36 near the San Juan Chapter.

The search for Ashlynne ended Tuesday morning after her body was found six to eight miles south of the Shiprock pinnacle.

Dozens of people gathered inside the chapter house meeting room while hundreds stood outside Tuesday night.

Gary Mike, Ashlynne’s father, spoke briefly about his daughter.

“I miss her in my heart,” Mike said, adding he always told her that he loved her.

“Keep your children close, watch over them, please. They’re God’s gift to you,” Mike said to the parents in the audience.

“I cannot express how I feel, the hurt I feel. May you never experience something like this,” he said before returning to his seat alongside his two sons, one daughter and extended family members.

Shawn Mike, a spokesman for the Mike family, speaks outside the San Juan Chapter house in Lower Fruitland on Tuesday at a vigil for his cousin, Ashlynne Mike, who police say was abducted and murdered.

Ashlynne attended the fifth grade at Ojo Amarillo Elementary School, which is part of the Central Consolidated School District.

The school’s principal, Abena McNeely, said students were informed Tuesday about what had happened to their classmate.

“Ashlynne was one of my babies, but I was particularly close to her,” McNeely said before hugging the youngest of the Mike children.

McNeely added that Ashlynne played the xylophone in the school band and performed last week.

She said the school's staff and students talked about the situation, and students were told “to stick together” because they are Bobcats, in reference to the school mascot.

McNeely also pleaded with community members not to live the “isolated lifestyle.” It is important for people to know their neighbors and “to be responsible for each other,” she said.

“Just yesterday, I saw them, and now it’s over,” McNeely said.

From left, Klandre Willie and her mother, Jaycelyn Blackie, of Aztec, participate in a candlelight vigil on Tuesday for Ashlynne Mike at the San Juan Chapter house in Lower Fruitland.

CCSD spokesman James Preminger said that in response to Ashlynne’s abduction, the district is now requiring parents to meet buses in the afternoon to pick up all students. If there is no parent at the bus stop, the student will remain on the bus and return to school.

The staff will then contact a parent to pick up the child, Preminger said. The student will remain at the school until a parent picks up the student, he said.

The change was authorized by Interim Superintendent Colleen Bowman Tuesday after she met with district administrators, Preminger said. He added the change will remain in effect for the time being.

During the candlelight vigil, pastor Loren Johnson of At the Cross Community Church, which is located within the chapter boundaries, recited prayers in the Navajo and English languages.

“Our hearts are heavy, our minds are full of questions, so God, that’s why we are looking to you,” Johnson said in his prayer.

As Johnson prayed, the Mike children bowed their heads.

“Even if we didn’t know the family, it affects us in a binding way. It reached out to the whole reservation,” Johnson said.

Mourners packed the San Juan Chapter house in Lower Fruitland on Tuesday to honor Ashlynne Mike, an 11-year-old who police say was abducted and murdered.

Later, San Juan Chapter President Rick Nez asked the audience to sing the hymn “Amazing Grace” with him.

Among the tribal, county and state officials who spoke, state Rep. Sharon Clahchischilliage, R-Kirtland, read a message from Gov. Susana Martinez to the family and community.

Navajo Nation Council Delegate Amber Kazabah Crotty shared condolences from the tribal council and called for community members to continue supporting each other.

“Our babies should not be targeted,” Crotty said.

In addition to the candlelight vigil, a prayer circle was held by the Sisters in Circle at the Shiprock Chapter house, and a family meeting was at the Tsé Daa K’aan Chapter house.

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