Authorities have arrested a man in the abduction and murder of an 11-year-old Navajo girl, who was taken with her younger brother while the pair played outside their New Mexico home.
Ashlynne Mike was lured into a maroon van after she and her brother got off the bus in Lower Fruitland as they returned home from school about 4 p.m. Monday, officials said.
Though he reportedly said no when the man asked if they wanted to see a movie, 9-year-old Ian Mike said he got into the van because he didn’t want his sister to go alone.
The siblings were brought to a deserted part of the Navajo Nation, the country’s largest American Indian reservation, where the man and Ashlynne walked off without the little boy, CBS News reported.
When the man came back without his sister, Ian ran more than two miles to Navajo Route 36, where he was found about 7 p.m. that night, officials said.
"He was so tired and just crying and crying for his sister," Darrell Foster-Joe, the children’s aunt, told CBS. "It was really hard for the FBI to get any information from him."
Ashlynne was found dead off a dirt road about eight miles south of Shiprock Monument just before noon Tuesday. The fifth-grader’s body was 26 miles from where she had been taken, officials said.
Officials declined to comment on any injuries she may have suffered.
Tom Begaye, 27, of Waterflow, N.M., was arrested Tuesday evening in connection to Ashlynne’s murder.
Investigators have not said if the two children were known to the suspect or if this was purely random.
"We're leaving no stone unturned," FBI Special Agent in Charge Terry Wade told reporters before the arrest. "We will solve this case and give Ashlynne Mike's family the justice they deserve."
Authorities previously described the kidnapper as a light-skinned Native American man in his 20s or 30s with a teardrop tattoo under his left eye.
Emergency responders launched a massive search for Ashlynne after her brother was found.
Federal, tribal, state and county officers combed the area on the ground as a New Mexico State Police helicopter took to the skies to search for the little girl. About 70 or 80 residents also reportedly fanned out across the area where the girl was discovered.
But Rick Nez, president of the San Juan Chapter of the Navajo Nation, criticized tribal police’s response to the abduction.
An Amber Alert for Ashlynne was sent out about 2 a.m. Tuesday.
Navajo Nation President Russell Begaye stood behind the Amber Alert system in the Nation, saying in a statement: “Our Nation has just gone through a tragic event. I am pleased to know that both Navajo and outside law enforcement were able to work together and share information. This led to the arrest of an individual who is believed to have caused a horrendous crime on one of our Navajo children."
He also said a system needs to be put in place to help the community search for suspects when a crime is committed.
“One life taken in this tragic way is one too many," he said in a statement. "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.”
The suspect is not related to the Navajo Nation president, the nation's public safety director told The Associated Press.
Devastated community members gathered for a vigil for Ashlynne after her body was found, laying flowers, candles, balloons and stuffed animals down near the San Juan Chapter of the Navajo Nation.
The little girl was remembered as someone who loved to joke around with her little brother and played the xylophone, the Navajo Times reported.
She attended Ojo Amarillo Elementary School in the Central Consolidated School District, which paid tribute to Ashlynne on its website.
“Our hearts are broken. Our students are family,” Superintendent Dr. Colleen W. Bowman wrote, noting that counselors were available to speak with students and staff about her passing.
“I also ask our parents and staff to tell their children how much they love them. It is important to honor Ashlynne’s memory and for our students, parents, community members, and staff to continue to move forward with their lives.”
Begaye is scheduled to appear before a U.S. Magistrate judge in Farmington Wednesday.