Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Navajo Girl's Slaying Shocks, Angers Small Tribal Community

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Navajo Girl's Slaying Shocks, Angers Small Tribal Community

Article excerpt

SHIPROCK, N.M. * On the far side of a desert hilltop in the shadow of the Shiprock Pinnacle, a towering monolith sacred to the Navajo Nation, the stranger ignored the cries of an 11-year-old girl.

Hours had passed since the man had talked the girl and her brother into his van while they were playing near their home after school.

She begged to be taken home, but he led her away from her 9-year- old brother, to an even more remote spot, where he sexually assaulted her. Then he hit her twice in the head with a tire iron and left her for dead before driving off and leaving the boy as well, alone, as night fell.

Details about the final moments of Ashlynne Mike's life began to emerge Wednesday from court documents and family members as the suspect, Tom Begaye, 27, a Navajo man from a neighboring community, appeared before a federal magistrate on murder and kidnapping charges.

A criminal complaint outlined the crime based on statements Begaye made to investigators after his arrest.

Begaye was quiet as he faced the victim's relatives and tribal members in court. Outside, they yelled "go to hell."

The crime has sent shockwaves through the small tribal communities that line the San Juan River in New Mexico. The grief that overwhelmed searchers when they found the girl's body Tuesday, the morning after she disappeared, has shifted to anger and disbelief that one of their own could commit such a heinous crime.

Begaye wasn't well-known in the community, but at least one woman, Sher Brown, recognized him as someone who joined her brother at sweat lodge ceremonies and church meetings.

It was inside a sweat lodge, where Navajo men traditionally participate in spiritual cleansing, that an FBI agent and tribal investigators found Begaye on Tuesday night. His vehicle was parked outside, matching the boy's description of a maroon van with no hubcaps. The girl's brother later identified Begaye as the driver.

"How can a man of that nature who did what he did go into a sweat lodge after?" Brown said through tears.

Begaye was told during Wednesday's court appearance that he could face life in prison if convicted. …

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