Wednesday, February 21, 2024

Man held in case of missing Navajo woman.

Family Pleads for Information on Missing Native American Woman

The family of Ella Mae Begay, a Native American woman who disappeared from her home on the Navajo Nation almost two years ago, pleaded with the man accused of assaulting her and stealing her truck to reveal her whereabouts during a court hearing on Friday. Begay’s family members emphasized the pain and anguish they have experienced since she disappeared and appealed to the alleged perpetrator to help them find closure.

Begay, who was known for her master weaving and cautious nature, never drove around at night. When her gray pickup truck was seen leaving her home in Sweetwater, Arizona, in June 2023, her family knew something was amiss. Prosecutors have now charged Preston Henry Tolth, 23, with Begay’s assault and carjacking. The indictment was under seal until this week.

Tolth was ordered to remain in custody pending trial after a judge deemed him dangerous and stated that his acts of extreme violence against Begay were senseless and cowardly. Begay’s case has received national attention, with various tribal leaders, legislators, and law enforcement agencies calling for greater attention to Indigenous victims of sexual and domestic violence.

Efforts to Address Violence Against Indigenous Communities Continue

Notably, a year after Begay’s disappearance, her niece, Seraphine Warren, began walking from the Navajo Nation to Washington D.C. to bring attention to the decades-long epidemic of violence that disproportionately affects Indigenous people. Begay’s family members have also met with U.S. Interior Secretary Deb Haaland, who recently hosted the first in-person session of the Not Invisible Act Commission aimed at developing recommendations for preventing and responding to violence affecting tribal communities.

Details Emerge from Investigation into Begay’s Disappearance

During Friday’s hearing, prosecutors shared more information about what happened the night Begay disappeared. Begay’s daughter called authorities when she saw a man breaking into her home. The suspect rummaged around and took some drinks, then left and walked down the road in the direction of Begay’s home. The daughter called the police again after seeing her mother’s truck leaving the home and being unable to reach her. Tolth later admitted to federal agents that he assaulted Begay multiple times, causing her bleeding, and that he was unsure if she was dead when he drove away.

The indictment against Tolth marked an important step towards discovering what happened to Begay. Federal prosecutors confirmed that shoe prints found between the two homes matched shoes belonging to Tolth, and bloody clothing that belonged to Tolth was found at a relative’s home. Authorities also discovered that Tolth got into a fight with his father on the night in question, resulting in him being left on the side of the road, about 11 miles from Begay’s home. Tolth has a prior criminal history, including charges of aggravated battery, resisting arrest, residential burglary, and drug possession.

The Begay family reiterated their plea for information and closure, and authorities continue their investigation into Begay’s disappearance and Tolth’s culpability.

Copyright 2023 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.

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