Justice for Ashlynne

NATIVE AMERICAN GIRL’S DEATH MAY SAVE COUNTLESS LIVES

All eleven-year-old Ashlynne Mike and her nine-year-old brother Ian did was accept a ride home from their school’s bus stop in Lower Fruitlands, Arizona. When it was over, Ashlynne had been raped and murdered and her brother Ian was left wandering in the desert.

On October 27, 2017, 27-year-old Tom Begay Jr. was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole for the brutal crimes that are prompting massive changes in the way child abductions are handled in Indian Country.

At the sentencing hearing, Ashlynne’s mother, Pamela Foster, spoke about the heartbreak she felt when she found out her two children were missing.

“My world spun so fast I fell to my knees and cried,” she said in court. “I prayed like I have never done before and I cried for my children and for their safety, and for some kind of clue that they would both be found unharmed and alive, and my tears have never stopped flowing since. Anger, worry and fear set in immediately, and to my heartache I watched the minutes turn into hours. We went into a panic, wondering and being frightened for the children.”

She learned that evening her son Ian was alive but Ashlynne was still missing. “Where could my precious baby be? We were full of questions that no one had answers,” said Foster. “The next afternoon our precious daughter Ashlynne’s lifeless body was found. I was devastated. How could my sweet baby be gone?”

“We are grateful he admitted to doing what he did so that we can have closure in this chapter,” said Gary Mike, Ashlynne’s father. “Tell your children you love them.”

Jim Walters, Program Administrator for the AMBER Alert Training and Technical Assistance Program and the original Liaison for the AMBER Alert in Indian Country initiative, attended the hearing.

“With everyone else in the courtroom, I cried as she spoke of the two children reaching out and touching hands; afraid and helpless,” said Walters. “The family will never be whole and the pain will never end.”

The tragedy began on May 2, 2016, when Begaye drove 45 minutes from his home to a remote area of the Navajo Reservation to watch children getting off the school bus.

After offering Ashlynne and Ian a ride home, Begaye stated that he took the children to a remote spot near Shiprock Peak; raping, beating and strangling Ashlynne, and then leaving her, still breathing, in the desert.

Begaye released Ashlynne’s brother, who walked for miles before a motorist picked him up. However the driver could not get cell phone reception in order to call 911. An AMBER Alert was not issued until the following morning.

Immediately following the abduction, the AMBER Alert Training and Technical Assistance Program and the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) partnered with the Navajo Nation to provide technology support, and additional training and technical assistance to support the full development of an AMBER Alert Plan for the Navajo Nation. This plan includes agreements between New Mexico, Arizona and Utah, with all of the states committing their assistance to the Navajo Nation in issuing and managing AMBER Alerts.

Senators John McCain of Arizona and Tom Udall of New Mexico also introduced the AMBER Alert in Indian Country Act of 2017 which would expand the AMBER Alert child abduction warning system on Native American reservations by clarifying that Indian tribes are eligible for Department of Justice (DOJ) grants that help assemble AMBER Alert systems for tribal law enforcement agencies. Under current law, that funding is only available to states. This bill would provide America’s 567 federally recognized tribes with the ability to develop AMBER Alert programs with their state and regional partners.

“This tragedy reminds us that we need to do more to protect our children from predators,” said Udall. “We need to use every tool available to ensure that these appalling events do not repeat themselves.”

In 2018, the AMBER Alert Training and Technical Assistance Program will hold a series of regional training programs for tribal communities to assist in developing AMBER Alert programs and improving their ability to respond to endangered missing and abducted children.

The AMBER Alert Training and Technical Assistance Program will also work with NCMEC, state AMBER Alert Coordinators and Missing Persons Clearinghouse Managers to provide training, technical assistance and policy development to increase the number of AMBER Alert plans in tribal communities.

“The tragedy of Ashlynn’s case highlights the need for comprehensive child abduction recovery plans on tribal lands,” added Walters. “No community is immune from the predators who would take a child and commit such a terrible crime. Our tribal, state, local and federal partners must work together to insure that Native American children enjoy the same protections, resources and efforts as those in the cities and counties around the country.”

Walters said what happened to Ashlynne sends a call to action to anyone involved in the AMBER Alert program, especially to those who work with Native American communities.

“We should be dedicated to making sure that communities are prepared to respond to the unimaginable and that they are equipped with the very best training and resources,” said Walters. “We should all be committed advocates for these families and their lost children; and to doing our part to help bring home the missing.”

Ashlynne’s mother also has hope her daughter’s death will prevent other parents from sharing the same experience.

“This is a nightmare we can never wake from and it pangs my very soul in knowing he gratified himself in brutally assaulting my daughter,” said Foster. “This monster terrorized my angel and caused a paramount of pain upon her and it breaks my heart and angers me that the last living thing she saw was him and looking into his evil eyes.

“This monster desecrated our traditions and cares not of others and knows nothing of the value of life,” she said. “We just lost a future leader and a great one and she was to carry on our traditions.”

With resolve, Ashlynne’s mother emphasized for the judge and everyone in the court that she will still keep the traditions of beauty, balance, order and harmony practiced by the Navajo, holding life to be precious and sacred.

“Although she is no longer physically with us we thank God that a piece of her lives in all of her siblings and my hugs are just a little bit longer. As survivors no amount of justice, restitution and praying will ever bring our daughter back. Our baby is now in the spirit world never to be hurt again and by the grace of God this monster has finally admitted to his crime.”

What Can You Do to Bring AMBER Alert to Your Community?

On October 20th, 2017 attorneys, investigators, family and community members will gather in a courtroom in Albuquerque, New Mexico to hear the judge sentence a man to prison for the abduction and murder of an 11 year old Native American girl.   That case, more than any other in recent memory drew attention to the fact that Native children simply don’t enjoy the same access to AMBER Alert as other children across this country.

History has taught us that when a child is abducted time is the enemy.  Research has shown that in cases where homicide is the outcome, approximately 76% of those victims are killed within three hours of the abduction.  We also know that there is generally a sequence of events that follows an abduction.  The abductor will take the child away from initial contact site to another location both to avoid detection and to allow for the opportunity to carry out whatever fantasy or motivation that compelled them to take the child.

It’s during this time that the child is at greatest risk.  The abductor may release the child on their own or they may just as easily kill the child to avoid apprehension. It is these dynamics that make it crucial that officials immediately assess the circumstances of the abduction, deploy resources and alert the public to increase the probability of safely locating the child before the abductor can harm them.

The AMBER Alert is the tool that supports this process and improves the chances of safely recovering the abducted child.  AMBER Alerts have resulted in the safe recovery of 868 children.  It exists in all 50 states because Congress took the steps to support state efforts to refine, standardize, and support this work.

The PROTECT Act, signed into law on April 30, 2003, comprehensively strengthened law enforcement’s ability to prevent, investigate, prosecute, and punish violent crimes committed against children.  The Act codified the previously-established National AMBER Alert Coordinator role in the U.S. Department of Justice and lead to the development of a national AMBER Alert strategy.  The responsibility for this program has been assigned to the Assistant Attorney General for the Office of Justice Programs.

The AMBER Alert plans created through the PROTECT Act created a nationwide system that enabled law enforcement agencies across the country to alert the public when a child was abducted.  Unfortunately, while all 50 states and many regional areas have implemented AMBER Alert Plans, tribes have not been able to keep pace.  Today, the vast majority of tribes do not have a child abduction response plan in place and may not be ready to act in the event of a child abduction.

Being ready means having the system in place before it is needed.  Being ready means training first responders before they get the call. Being ready means having agreements in place with State AMBER Alert officials before a child goes missing. Being ready means educating the members of our community and making them part of the effort to protect children from monsters like the one who will receive his sentence in that Albuquerque courtroom.

As a parent, tribal leader, police officer or community member, we all have responsibility to do something.  To stand up and ask why we are not ready and what we have to do to get ready before something happens in our community.  Be the first one to stand up.  Make a statement by taking action.  Ask your tribal public safety officials if your community has access to the AMBER Alert in your State or region.  Ask if there is a plan in place and if first responders are trained to act in the event of a child abduction.  Ask tribal council what is happening in your community to protect children and what you can do to help.

There are resources out there.  The US Department of Justice, through the AMBER Alert Training and Technical Assistance Program will train first responders, child protection officials, and community members at no cost to the tribe.  They will connect your community with the State AMBER Alert program and the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) to make sure that every resources possible is available when a child goes missing.

Go to https://www.tribaldatabase.org/resources/training-2/ and sign up for the 1-hour video-based training, “Building AMBER Alert in Indian Country.” At the end of the training you can complete a quick online survey to receive help in bringing AMBER Alert to your community. You can also reach out to us by email at tribaldatabase@ncjtc.org or call 877-712-6237 (877-71-AMBER).

Be the person who is the champion for children in your community.  Make the call.