2018 National Symposium Indian Country Participation

A surviving family’s perspective: Pamela Foster, mother of Ashlynne Mike

“May 2018 marks the second year of living without my beautiful daughter, who will never make it home.”

Pamela Foster expressed how with each anniversary of Ashlynne’s murder, she relives the nightmare, experiencing again the feeling of being crushed to the core. Even now, she remarked, the feelings of helplessness are still very much alive. She never expected to face such a tragedy and did not expect to have to understand the crime of abduction. She said in the Navajo culture, they do not speak of or think about abductions, as they do not want to create or call forth such evil.

On May 2, 2016, Foster received news her daughter Ashlynne and brother Ian were abducted on the Navajo Reservation in New Mexico. She received a call from her older daughter that they were taken in a red van. Foster said she immediately called her local police department but was transferred from one department to another, all in different towns.

Foster was desperately trying get someone to understand that she was in great distress, worry, fear and anger about what happened to her children. “I seriously thought that a missing persons call would get law enforcement on their toes and into action,” she said. “That did not happen.”

She turned to social media to share information and ask for help. Foster was in California and could not just get in her car and start searching. Hours had now passed and the sun had begun to set. In late evening, she received word Ian was seen running in the desert by an elderly couple. Although reluctant to get into the couple’s vehicle, he did because he was desperate to help his sister. Foster said she is grateful that this family helped him.

Foster described the frustration she felt because outside agencies could not search until authorization was given from the Navajo Nation. An AMBER alert was finally issued the next day around 2:30 p.m. “I can’t even begin to describe the pain that I was in,” she said. “I was happy my son had been found, but my daughter was still missing.”

Overwhelmed with fear and emotion, Foster paced the floor waiting to be given information, wrestling with questions and searching for what to do. She prayed to God as the search for Ashlynne ensued.

The next day, May 3, Foster continued posting information on social media, begging the public to please help search for her daughter. She spoke about the calls she received that morning, none of which brought any good news. Around noon she received a call, and upon hearing muffled sounds of crying on the other end of the phone, she knew the news was not good. Foster said she was heartbroken when she learned her daughter was found but had been murdered.

“The best way I can describe the way I felt in that moment is to compare it to a near death experience, seeing flashes of Ashlynne’s life, from her birth through all the milestones of her precious life,” said Foster. “What I held to be so precious was taken from us.”

Foster spoke of how she wrestled with the evil of her daughter’s murderer. She said her faith helped her survive the torturous pain that was to follow.

“This monster abducted my children with the motive to rape and kill,” she said. ”Since the death of my daughter, I have come to know that evil is not some kind of supernatural force, but it walks among us. It breaks my heart that the last thing she saw was him.”

“I know she was probably calling for us and was frightened for her little brother Ian. Only God knows when my baby girl took her last breath; she was precious and she did not deserve to die this way. To this day we all struggle with the reality that our daughter, little sister and friend was taken from us. I have become her voice, because hers was taken from her. At her eulogy, I spoke for her.”

In the weeks and months following Ashlynne’s murder, Foster was determined to bring justice for her daughter, her family and her community. She organized a petition to bring the death penalty on the reservation, yet that effort did not succeed due to the tribe’s traditional values and beliefs.

She continued to find ways to advocate for what she felt needed to happen, spending hours writing to representatives in Congress, seeking help on a bill to ensure the Navajo Nation and all Indian tribes would have the ability to rapidly respond to reports of missing children and use AMBER Alert systems.

Foster recognized the diligent work of Senators John McCain and Heidi Heitkamp, and Congressman Andy Biggs, in bringing the AMBER Alert in Indian Country Act into Congress in the spring of 2017. She shared how during this time, she felt her spirit had died. Foster said she had no quiet time and was constantly bombarded by the media.

In a struggle to carry on, Foster put her energy into working for justice for Ashlynne and for the passage of the Act and having it signed into law. With each visit to Washington D.C., and in meetings with lawmakers, Ashlynne’s story became better known to legislators. Although she was exhausted, Foster said she pushed through daily, for her daughter.

On October 20, 2017, Ashlynne’s murderer was convicted and sentenced to life in prison for her abduction, rape and murder. On March 28, 2018, Navajo Nation leaders met with Congressman Biggs to commemorate the passage and renaming of the legislation to the Ashlynne Mike AMBER Alert in Indian Country Act during a press conference held at the Arizona State Capitol. On April 13, 2018, President Trump signed Ashlynne’s Act into law.

Foster said Ashlynne’s death has brought to light the broader issues of missing and murdered Native women and children, human trafficking and exploitation, and all of the evil and criminal actions surrounding what happened to Ashlynne and other victims like her. “I see changes happening, but they are happening very slowly. I believe if there was some kind of system in place at the time of the kidnapping, we may have had a greater chance of finding Ashlynne alive.”

Foster said she feels her daughter’s presence through her continued work to bring awareness to the issue of child protection, and the larger problem of missing and murdered women and children in Indian Country. “I hear Ashlynne saying, ‘Mommy please do something to help the children.’ This is my reason for advocating and standing strong to fight for protection and justice for Native women and children.”

Foster thanked and challenged the participants to do everything possible to ensure that when a child goes missing, time is spent actively searching for the child and investigating the case, rather than being held up by bureaucracy or searching for what to do. “If you have tribes in your state, what are you doing to help them?”