NAVAJO NATION (KRQE) – It’s day four of the search for a missing elderly Navajo woman. Police have now identified a person of interest in the disappearance of 62-year-old Ella Mae Begay who is now being held and questioned.
Police said 21-year-old Preston Tolth is a person of interest in the case and was picked up for failure to comply with his probation for an unrelated aggravated assault charge. Police have been questioning him regarding the disappearance of Begay, but police said they have not gotten much information from him. “It is very concerning,” said Navajo Chief of Police Phillip Francisco. “We don’t want to give up looking.”
The Navajo Police Department said Begay has not been seen or heard from since Monday. Her family reported her missing Tuesday morning. In the days since, law enforcement and community members are searching in the Sweetwater, Ariz. area, looking for Begay and her silver Ford F150 that police said went missing when she did.
Police have now identified 21-year-old Tolth as a person of interest. Police said Tolth was at a home near Begay’s in Sweetwater the night before she was reported missing. Police responded to a disturbance at the neighboring house that included a verbal argument between Tolth and others, but no charges were filed. Then, when police returned to the area to respond to the missing person report of Begay, they remembered that disturbance nearby and wanted to question everyone who was in the area that night. Police said Tolth is the only one they could not find.
“We couldn’t find him,” Francisco said. “We wanted to talk to him. We know he was in the area. He was missing from the area. There were more interviews, and we wanted to talk to him as a person of interest.”
Police located Tolth Thursday in Thoreau, New Mexico, where he is known to reside. He was arrested on unrelated warrants out of Farmington and extradited to San Juan County. Police said they don’t know why he was in Sweetwater.
“He isn’t really saying,” Francisco said. “He hasn’t said anything about the whereabouts of Begay. He hasn’t admitted to anything.”
Police stopped short of calling Tolth a suspect and did not say that this is a kidnapping. Police said there was not a sign of a struggle, but police did say that they are concerned about Begay’s well-being and don’t think she left on her own. “We are hoping for the best result,” Francisco said. “We can’t speculate at this point.”
Police said Tolth and Begay are not family and do not know each other. Begay’s family said they held a candlelight vigil in the area Saturday night for Begay’s safe return. They’ve also set up a GoFundMe to help find her.