Ashlynne Mike's parents continue advocacy

Events held at San Juan Chapter as one-year mark of girl's abduction and murder approaches

Noel Lyn Smith

LOWER FRUITLAND — Almost a year after their 11-year-old daughter's death, Gary Mike and Pamela Foster continue to call on tribal officials to establish an Amber Alert system on the Navajo Nation.

The parents of Ashlynne Mike spoke today at an event to remember their daughter and to heighten awareness of child safety about the ongoing need for a system that notifies the public when a child is abducted on the reservation.

"This alert should be applied to every part of our country, and yet we still cannot have that on some of our reservations," Gary Mike said.

Gary Mike hangs a banner that displays a photo his daughter, Ashlynne Mike, during an event to remember the 11-year-old on Saturday at the San Juan Chapter house.

Ashlynne Mike was kidnapped, alongside her brother, Ian Mike, on May 2, 2016, in the San Juan Chapter. Her body was discovered on May 3, 2016, approximately 6 miles south of the Shiprock pinnacle.

Tom Begaye Jr., of Waterflow, has been charged in connection to her kidnapping and murder.

He remains in federal custody, and a status conference regarding his case is scheduled for June 12 in federal court in Albuquerque, according to court documents.

Although the family continues to feel the emotion of that day, they remain committed to implementing a notification system and advocating for children's safety, Gary Mike said.

"Our tragedy shall not be repeated because of you. If you can take this knowledge from here back to your home, back to your community and apply it there, we can prevent tragedies like this," Mike said.

Balloons released in memory of Ashlynne Mike rise into the sky on Saturday at the San Juan Chapter house. The 11-year-old was kidnapped and murdered last May.

Foster is also asking community members to tell Congress to support a bill introduced this month by U.S. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., to expand the Amber Alert system on reservations.

The bill would expand the child abduction warning system by clarifying that tribes are eligible for U.S. Department of Justice grants that help assemble the system for law enforcement agencies, according to a press release from McCain's office.

The Navajo Nation received grants from the Justice Department to help create an Amber Alert system in 2007, a portion of which went unspent and was returned tot the federal government, and to implement a sex offender registration and notification program in 2011.

Foster has organized a petition calling for federal lawmakers to support McCain's bill.

"I think this what all our little children deserve. …They're so precious. We need to take action and do something about it," she said.

Links to the petition are available on Foster's Facebook page and on the Facebook page for Protecting our children for Ashlynne Mike.

Among those who signed the petition today was Albuquerque resident Melissa Craig, who has befriended Gary Mike and his family within the last year. Last February, Craig's 1-year-old grandson, Jayden Dayea, was killed in Albuquerque by his mother's boyfriend, who was charged with child abuse resulting in death.

Since then, Craig has been raising awareness about child abuse and is helping advocate for an Amber Alert system on the Navajo Nation by visiting chapter houses and asking residents to issue resolutions in support of implementing a system.

"I don't understand why we don't have an Amber Alert system. We cannot wait for another tragedy to happen," she said.

In comments during today's event, Navajo Nation Council Delegate Amber Kanazbah Crotty said she supports the effort by Gary Mike and Pamela Foster, adding that the tribe continues to make progress on a child abduction warning system. But with tribal land located in three states and up to eight cellular companies providing service, a universal system needs to be established, she said.

"We know the challenges that you may have with your cellphone, with your providers, and we're calling on our federal and state partners to work with us," Crotty said.

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