A rural community on the edge of the nation's largest American Indian reservation mourned the death of an 11-year-old girl Tuesday as authorities pored over remote stretches of the Navajo Nation in search of the man who abducted her and her younger brother.
A stranger kidnapped Ashlynne Mike and her brother, Ian, after the school bus dropped them off Monday afternoon, authorities and family members say. The man approached them and a third boy, asking them if they wanted to see a movie. The boys said no, but Ashlynne was somehow lured into the man's van.
The girl's brother didn't want his sister to go alone so he went with her, relatives say. Police gleaned some information about the suspect after a passing driver found the boy later Monday.
Scared and in the dark, he had run more than 2 miles to the highway from a desolate spot where the kidnapper had taken the children. He told authorities the man and his sister walked out into the hills but the man came back alone.
The boy was distraught, said Darrell Foster-Joe, the children's aunt.
"He was so tired and just crying and crying for his sister," she said. "It was really hard for the FBI to get any information from him."
Tips are flooding in from across the reservation that spans parts of New Mexico, Arizona and Utah as well as the close-knit tribal community where Ashlynne lived. The FBI said it's following up on all leads.
"We're leaving no stone unturned," FBI Special Agent in Charge Terry Wade told reporters during a brief news conference. "We will solve this case and give Ashlynne Mike's family the justice they deserve."
Authorities described the kidnapper as a light-skinned Native American in his 20s or 30s with a teardrop tattoo under his left eye who drove a maroon van with a luggage rack but no hubcaps.
Wade acknowledged that some parents are worried about the safety of their children as they go to and from school. Ashlynne lived in the vast reservation's San Juan Chapter, a community that has been on edge since word spread that the girl was missing.
She attended Ojo Amarillo Elementary School in Fruitland, New Mexico, and lived about a quarter-mile from the bus stop. Her aunt described Ashlynne as a fun-loving, kind and quiet girl.
An Amber Alert was issued around 2:30 a.m. Tuesday. It wasn't clear why it took hours for authorities to get word out about the abduction, and Wade declined to answer related questions during the news conference.
The search for the girl included federal, tribal, state and county officers on the ground as well as a New Mexico State Police helicopter. About 70 or 80 residents also fanned out across the area where the girl was found, said Graham Biyaal, who helped organized the community search.
Jesse Delmar, a public safety director for the Navajo Nation, said the girl's body was found in a secluded area south of the distinct rock formation that the town of Shiprock is named for.
"We were very hopeful that we would find her in good shape," Delmar said. "We found her but it didn't turn out well."
A local radio station alerted residents to the abduction and gave a description of the suspect's vehicle, San Juan Chapter manager Stanley Wauneka said.
"People are nervous and asking a lot of questions," he said.
A prayer vigil was planned for Tuesday evening.