Damage to Ashlynne Mike mural prompts its removal

Gang-related symbols, other graffiti left on mural painted after girl's May 2016 abduction and murder

Noel Lyn Smith
Farmington Daily Times
Upper Fruitland Chapter made the decision on Monday to cover a mural dedicated to Ashlynne Mike after the artwork was vandalized last weekend.

UPPER FRUITLAND — After a mural dedicated to Ashlynne Mike here was vandalized last weekend, the Upper Fruitland Chapter made the decision to paint over it.

The mural covered the walls of the Navajo Route 562 tunnel and was created after the 11-year-old girl was abducted and murdered in May 2016.

Its removal on Monday came a day before her alleged assailant, Tom Begaye Jr., pleaded guilty to six charges, including first-degree murder, kidnapping and aggravated sexual abuse, in federal court in Albuquerque.

More:Begaye pleads guilty in Ashlynne Mike killing

The artwork, which was approved by the chapter last year, included Ashlynne Mike's name and depictions of a teddy bear, hearts, music notes, balloons and a xylophone, which was the instrument she played.

Gray paint now covers the mural but the words, "one love," and a pair of feathers remain visible above entrances to the tunnel that connects the community to Navajo Route 36.

The removal generated response on social media on Tuesday, with some commenters expressing outrage and disappointment that Ashlynne Mike's family was not contacted before the action was taken.

A portion of a mural memorializing the late Ashlynne Mike is pictured on May 9, 2016, in Upper Fruitland. It was painted over on Monday after it was vandalized.

Acting chapter manager R. Christian said today unknown individuals outlined the mural's images in black paint, left gang-related symbols and drew a middle finger.

The damage occurred over the weekend, and the incident was reported to chapter officials, Christian said.

"It's a shame it got vandalized. ...They tagged the whole thing up," she said.

More:Suspect in killing of Navajo girl expected to change plea

When asked if another mural could be done, Christian said it would be a project to talk about with community members and interested individuals can propose it during a chapter planning meeting.

The next meeting is scheduled for Sept. 5, she added.

Alvis Kee was chapter manager when the mural was created by a group of artists in May 2016.

Kee said in a telephone interview today an Albuquerque-based artist approached the chapter about painting the mural, and the artist created a similar tribute to Ashlynne Mike in Albuquerque.

A portion of a mural dedicated to the late Ashlynne Mike remains visible on the north side of the Navajo Route 562 tunnel in Upper Fruitland.

He said he gave permission because it was a way to heal the community, and it showed support for the family.

He also remembered that chapter members helped with donations to complete the artwork.

"We thought it would be a great gesture. …It was a nice mural," Kee said.

Carl Slater, senior public information officer for the Navajo Division of Transportation, said Navajo Route 562 and the tunnel are managed by the Bureau of Indian Affairs.

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