A year after girl killed, Navajo Nation to get alert system

A year after girl killed, Navajo Nation to get alert system. (AP Photo)

More than a year after a Native American girl was killed and her tribe was criticized for not having an alert system in place when children go missing, the Navajo Nation has signed a contract to purchase the software it needed to get the notification system running by the end of this month.

The tribe, whose reservation is the largest in the U.S. and spans three western states, came under fierce criticism in 2016 after 11-year-old Ashlynne Mike was reported missing. She never made it home from her school bus stop and was found dead the next day, killed by a stranger who sexually assaulted her and struck her twice in the head with a crowbar.

An Amber Alert that would have sent information about her via cellphone messages and information to the media did not go out until the day she was found. The case raised questions about gaps in communication and coordination between tribal and local law enforcement.

Navajo Nation President Russell Begaye said Wednesday that the new notification system will help make life safer on the vast reservation.

“We always pray that we will never have another abduction, but we need this in place so that the whole nation can be alert and help make sure that a child is recovered safely and quickly,” he said in a statement.

This May 6, 2016 file photo shows a portrait of 11-year-old Ashlynne Mike, who was abducted and murdered in 2016. (AP Photo)

The tribe has relied on New Mexico, Arizona and Utah to activate Amber Alerts. Before an alert is issued, officers must go through a list of requirements to establish a case. If they meet the criteria, they can start the process of asking the states to issue an Amber Alert.

That procedure was used during Ashlynne’s abduction. Ashlynne’s father, Gary Mike, has sued the tribe, claiming it failed to send the alert about his daughter in a timely manner.

Prosecutors have said Ashlynne and her younger brother were lured into a van after the pair got off the bus and started walking home. The boy was left in the desert and later found his way to a highway, where he was picked up and authorities were notified.

The man convicted of the crime — Tom Begaye, no relation to Russell Begaye — was sentenced in October to life in prison.

Tom Begaye of Waterflow, N.M., was arrested in connection with 11-year-old Ashlynne Mike’s disappearance and death via AP

After the abduction, Navajo officials began working on getting federal approvals and training for an alert system. It then took several months to acquire funding to purchase the software.

Once the new system is installed, it will be managed by the Navajo Department of Emergency Management.

The tribe will be able to push alerts over radio, television and text messaging to 11 counties within the reservation’s borders.

Ashlynne’s case drew the attention of elected officials, including U.S. Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona, who sponsored legislation to expand the Amber Alert system in Native American communities across the nation.

McCain has called the case devastating, saying that FBI data shows more than 7,500 Native American children have been listed as missing in the U.S.

The measure is pending in the House after getting Senate approval two weeks ago. It has the bipartisan support of lawmakers from Montana, New Mexico and North Dakota.

“This is part of a broader effort to raise awareness and bring better systems of justice to Indian Country and to give law enforcement agencies at all levels the tools they need to prevent crime and bring criminals to justice,” said Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, a Democrat from North Dakota and a co-sponsor of the bill.

 Associated Press

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Part-Choctaw Girl Taken From Foster Home To Live With Blood Relatives In Utah

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Part-Choctaw girl taken from Santa Clarita foster home.

By Red Power Media, Staff | Mar 21 2016

A part-Choctaw girl was removed from her foster home under the Indian Child Welfare Act to be sent to live with family in Utah.

The 6-year-old girl named Lexi, was taken by social workers, despite efforts by the foster family and supporters to try to block the move.

On Monday, under the watchful eye of various cell phone cameras, social workers arrived at the home of Rusty and Summer Page in Santa Clarita California, shortly before 3 p.m. to take Lexi, so she can be placed with Choctaw Nation blood relatives in Utah.

The move was taken under the federal Indian Child Welfare Act, which was enacted in the 1970s to help protect the interests of Native American children.

The Pages, who took in Lexi four years ago to live with them had been fighting the move, but last Friday, they lost their appeal to keep her. They say they want to adopt Lexi and say the girl considers them and their three children to be her family.

The Page family has made a plea to let Lexi stay with them at least until they can take the case to the California Supreme Court to file a stay of the removal order, which they planned on doing Monday.

Lexi was supposed to be taken away on Sunday, but Department of Children and Family Services agents postponed the meeting after a large group of supporters crowded the neighborhood to stand against her removal.

Dozens of people remained in a Santa Clarita neighborhood tonight to demonstrate against authorities' plans to take a 6-year-old girl from her foster family's custody and place her with Choctaw Nation blood relatives who live in Utah.

Dozens of people demonstrate against authorities’ plans to take a 6-year-old girl from her foster family’s custody and place her with Choctaw Nation blood relatives who live in Utah.

In a statement, a court appointed attorney for Lexi said, “Her family in Utah have been waiting to receive her for over 3 years, during that time they have traveled to California monthly and she has visited their home as well.

“The injustice here is not that she is leaving California but rather that her foster parents pursued litigation which prevented her from joining her family sooner.”

In another statement, the Choctaw Nation said it wants what is best for Lexi.

“The Choctaw Nation desires the best for this Choctaw child. The tribe’s values of faith, family and culture are what makes our tribal identity so important to us. Therefore we will continue to work to maintain these values and work toward the long-term best interest of this child,” it said.