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Mom of Slain Navajo Girl Urges Tribes to Use Amber Alerts

(AP Photo/Mary Hudetz)

The mother of a Navajo girl who was abducted and killed in 2016 is urging tribal officials to take advantage of tools and funding that have been made available for responding to reports of missing Native American children.

Pamela Foster's comments Tuesday came during a training session in Albuquerque for tribes to implement the alert system. Organizers say more than 20 tribes are participating in the training.

A federal law signed last year expanded the alert system to tribal land. It gives tribes direct access to grants and training long available in other jurisdictions. The law is named for Foster's daughter Ashlynne Mike. She was 11 when she was kidnapped near her school bus stop and killed. An Amber Alert wasn't issued for her until early the next morning.

In 2007, the Navajo Nation was among 10 tribes that had participated in the pilot project through the U.S. Justice Department to expand Amber Alerts into Indian Country. But while other tribes, including the Pueblo of Laguna west of Albuquerque, found success in issuing alerts and establishing systems in coordination with state authorities, the Navajo Nation became what one expert called an "outlier."

Swaths of three different states — Utah, Arizona and New Mexico — are within the boundaries of the Navajo Nation, the largest reservation in the U.S., and that has complicated coordination efforts, said Jim Walters, who leads the federally funded training program. In Ashlynne's case, family reported her and her brother missing to police in the early evening, and police learned before nightfall from her younger brother that a man in a red van had taken both of them into the desert. The boy had been able to run away and meet an elderly couple along the road who took him to police. Shiprock police sent a basic description of the suspect and his vehicle to partnering agencies about an hour later, but it wasn't until 2 a.m. that an Amber alert was issued, a delay that officials blame on getting information from the tribe to outside authorities who could issue an alert.

Ashlynne's mother recalled on Tuesday how she and her family had turned to agencies seeking help in their search. Since 2016, New Mexico has become the first state in the county where all tribes have access to the Amber Alert plan, said Chyrl Jones of the federal Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention.The state has 23 total tribes and pueblos.

Nationwide, a 2018 survey included in a Justice Department report to Congress found that out of 100 tribes questioned, 76 participated in their state's Amber Alert plan, while 25 tribes reported having a system to disseminate information about abductions.

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