Navajo Nation in shock after arrest made in 11-year-old girl's death

Ashlynne Rebecca Octavia Mike was born on November 13, 2004, according to her mother. Photo from Facebook

Update: Federal murder and kidnapping charges were filed against Tom Begaye on Wednesday. According to the U.S. Attorney's Office, Begaye was arrested at a sweat lodge outside of Shiprock, New Mexico, on Tuesday.

Leaders and members of the Navajo Nation are reeling following the arrest of a suspect in connection with the death of an 11-year-old girl on the reservation.

The tribe observed a moment of silence on Tuesday evening as prayer vigils were held in honor of Ashlynne Mike. The young girl was found dead earlier in the morning after going missing in the Fruitland area on the New Mexico portion of the reservation.

Authorities have since arrested 27-year-old Tom Begaye in connection with Ashlynne's disappearance and death. He's also suspected in the kidnapping of Ashlynne's 9-year-old younger brother, who was found on Monday night wandering alone on a highway.

Begaye is due to appear before Magistrate Judge B. Paul Briones on Wednesday but so far no charges have been filed, according to a review of the federal court's electronic records system. He is from Waterflow, a community in New Mexico right outside the reservation border.

The incident has sent shock waves throughout the reservation. President Russell Begaye said Ashlynne's disappearance and death highlights the need for effective emergency response system to protect the tribe's most vulnerable citizens.

YouTube: Ashlynne Mike Message by Navajo Nation President Russell Begaye

"One life taken in this tragic way is one too many. We need to do everything we can to implement a system that will enable members of the Navajo Nation to more readily assist in looking for perpetrators, especially when an abduction has taken place," Begaye said in a statement on Tuesday.

An Amber Alert was issued for Ashlynne but not until early Tuesday morning, about nine hours after her family reported her missing to tribal law enforcement in Shiprock. It went out in conjunction with authorities in New Mexico.

“There is a protocol and process in place. The New Mexico State Police have a criteria in which they have to obtain information by protocol from an agency source before they issue an Amber Alert,” Jesse Delmar, the director of the Navajo Nation Division of Public Safety, said in a press release. “Everything was handled according to the protocol and policies in issuing an Amber Alert.”

The incident appeared to unfold so quickly that it's not clear whether the timing of the Amber Alert was an issue. According to the tribe, Ashlynne and her brother, Ian, were abducted on Monday afternoon while they waited at a bus stop near Ojo Amarillo Elementary School in Fruitland. A missing person's report was filed at 6:53pm, Mountain Time, the tribe said.

Less than 30 minutes later, at 7:15pm, Ian was found alone on the side of Navajo Route 13 by a motorist, who brought the boy to the police station in Shiprock. Ian told tribal officers that he and his sister had been driven to an area in the direction of the Shiprock Pinnacle, the natural formation that gives the community its Navajo and English names.

A memorial to Ashlynne Mike at the bus stop on the Navajo Nation where she went missing on May 2, 2016. Photo by Strong Warriors / Facebook

"Ian Mike told the Shiprock Police that driver who abducted the two children had taken them toward the Shiprock pinnacle where he came upon a dead end road and let the boy out," the tribe said in its account of the situation. "The abductor released the boy from his vehicle then proceeded on with Ashlynne Mike."

At around 11:30am on Tuesday morning, Ashlynne was found dead near the pinnacle, according to the tribe.

“The Navajo Nation Council joins our communities and the entire Navajo Nation in grieving for the devastating loss of this young and innocent life. We offer our thoughts and prayers to Ashlynne’s family, friends, classmates, and the many others who were a part of her life and we pray that you find comfort in knowing that she is with our Creator now,” Speaker LoRenzo Bates of the Navajo Nation Council said in a press release.

Ashlynne's and Ian's mother posted increasingly distraught messages on Facebook following their disappearance on Monday afternoon. She felt particularly helpless because she is currently living in California -- she said another son was in Shiprock and had been helping out with the search for his siblings. The children have been living with their father in Shiprock.

"It has been another sleepless night, my tears continue to flow and there is no end to it, my arms are aching to hold my baby girl, to cuddle her and tell her she is safe and I can't," Pamela Foster wrote on Wednesday morning.

A Navajo citizen has set up a GoFundMe page to help the family in their time of need. Foster has endorsed the effort.

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