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Ashlynne Mike, 11, mourned by more than 3,000 at New Mexico funeral

Pallbearers carry the coffin containing Ashlynne Mike on

Pallbearers carry the coffin containing Ashlynne Mike on Friday, May 6, 2016, in Farmington, N.M. Credit: AP / The Daily Times / Jon Austria

FARMINGTON, N.M. — She was a budding musician and talented artist, a girl whose death at the hands of a man who lured her into his van spread grief far beyond her home on the Navajo Nation.

More than 3,000 people turned out Friday for Ashlynne Mike’s funeral in Farmington, New Mexico, weeping as images of the 11-year-old girl were displayed overhead and the sounds of her xylophone rang out in the auditorium. A headstone created for her grave read “our little angel in heaven.”

The crowd far outnumbered the community of Lower Fruitland, where Ashlynne was raised with her father and siblings. Entire families, hugging each other and their children, sat before her small white coffin. Many wore yellow T-shirts. Navajo Nation Council Speaker LoRenzo Bates said yellow represents hope, strength and resilience, and it was one of her favorite colors.

New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez called on the mourners to carry on the kindness Ashlynne showed the world.

“I cannot imagine the pain Ashlynne’s loved ones feel right now,” the governor said. “But even as we mourn her, we should celebrate her life and remember what a beautiful little girl she was, inside and out.”

More than 200 miles away in Albuquerque, Tom Begaye Jr. waived his right to a preliminary and detention hearing, and a judge ordered him to remain in custody on charges of kidnapping and murder. Public defender James Loonam was assigned to represent him, and did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

An FBI agent’s affidavit says Begaye, a 27-year-old Navajo who lived down a stretch of highway from the children’s home, persuaded Ashlynne and her 9-year-old brother, who had been playing near their bus stop after school, to climb into his van. The boy told police that the man took them deep into the desert, and then walked off with his sister to an even more remote spot, before returning alone.

Begaye told investigators he assaulted the girl and struck her twice in the head with a crowbar, and that she was still moving when he left her, according to the affidavit.

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