Rosemary Begay had prepared for the possibility that her daughter Nicole Joe, 40, would die after her struggles with alcoholism led her to a liver disease diagnosis.
However, on Christmas Day Begay received a call that her daughter was killed -- not by her disease, but allegedly beaten to death and left out in the cold by her boyfriend.
“In a lot of ways we knew her death was coming,” Begay said sobbing. “But not because of a tragedy like this.”
Joe’s boyfriend, Vaughn Seumptewa, was arrested on Monday for second-degree murder after an early morning argument between the couple escalated into Seumptewa throwing Joe to the ground, jumping on top of her and repeatedly hitting her in the head until she lost consciousness. He then left her unconscious body outside his apartment in the 2200 block of East Cedar Avenue, according to Flagstaff Police.
Joe’s family is still struggling to understand her death five days after her murder.
“It feels like a dream,” Joe’s sister Sarafina “Sophie” Joe said, her voice shaking. “I think we are having a hard time accepting it because of the way she died.”
Joe was described by her sister and mother as a deeply caring but flawed individual, who suffered for years because of alcoholism and abuse from men.
Sophie Joe said her sister was someone always on the edge of sobriety, consistently relapsing then becoming sober to be a “good mother” for her daughter Kyra Joe, 12, and her son Ayden Hemstreet, 7.
“My sister struggled with alcohol for a very long time,” Sophie Joe said. “She would get on the wagon and fall off like anyone else recovering but she always had faith she would get sober for her kids. She loved her children and they were her number one motivator.”
Joe’s family did not personally know Seumptewa but Sophie Joe said her sister dated him on and off for three years and never introduced him to any of her family, preferring to hang out with him when she was drinking.
“Nicole never introduced him to us and he was someone she liked to socialize with but would never bring him home,” Sophie Joe said of Seumptewa. “She liked to mingle and socialize and when she would drink with him and other people so she could stay numb from all the pain she was feeling.”
Flagstaff police have not publicly stated that alcohol was involved the night Nicole Joe was killed, but her sister said that she is sure alcohol played a part in her sister’s death and expressed anger that Seumptewa would hit Nicole Joe, knowing she was diagnosed with cirrhosis of the liver.
“I am angry at alcoholism, which I know is the reason my sister is dead. I know how alcohol changes people and how it must have changed Vaughn,” Sophie Joe said. “I am angry at Vaughn for beating on my sister when he knew how frail she was because of her cirrhosis. I don’t know what kind of upbringing he had but when you are being raised as a man you don’t beat on women, children or the elderly, and he beat my sister.”
Begay said she is upset that she has had to see Seumptewa’s mug shot on the news and across social media.
“I don’t know who the man who killed my daughter is but I am upset that I keep seeing his face on the news and on Facebook,” Begay said. “He took her away from us and I hope he can find forgiveness in himself for what he did.”
Begay said her daughter was “destroyed by alcohol,” but emphasized the “loving mother and sister” that graced their family on many occasions, a woman who did everything to lift up her kids and her sister.
Sophie Joe said she and her sister shared a strong bond and knew things about each other that nobody else knew.
“She was my best friend,” Sophie Joe said. “I knew her smile and I knew her sadness. We would grieve together and help each other. We always knew what the other is thinking. I held on so tight to her and now someone took her away.”
Nicole Joe’s daughter Kyra said she had cried for days after learning that her mother had died, but she was trying to stay strong for her brother and remember the good memories she had with her mom.
“Right now I am OK, but I still can’t believe she is gone,” Kyra said. “I am going to miss singing in the car with her, watching movies and talking to her about anything.”
Kyra said she remembers watching the movie “Little Rascals” and laughing with her mother. Her grandmother is caring for both children.
A GoFundMe account has been started to help Joe’s family cover funeral expenses. If you would like to donate head to this link https://www.gofundme.com/nicole-joes-funeral-expenses.
Seumptewa is currently in custody at the Coconino County Detention Facility.
Seumptewa has a long criminal history that consists of multiple assault charges, prescription drug possession and an aggravated DUI.
He spent one year in prison for an aggravated assault in 2011 and more than two years for a 2013 conviction for unlawful use of transportation and aggravated DUI.
This is the fifth recorded murder this year in Flagstaff. Police recorded zero homicides in 2016.
Months of dry, warm days this fall and winter have continued to make and break records, but that is far from the only notable weather that has passed through Flagstaff in 2017.
The city saw everything from near-record snowfall in January to monsoon rains that were well above average. June was punctuated by a seven-day streak of temperatures above 90 degrees that was the second longest in Flagstaff's history.
Here's how the weather played out in 2017.
Research this year found the warming and drying effects of climate change are responsible for declining water levels on Mormon Lake. A U.S. Geological Survey researcher determined lower lake elevations correspond with reduced precipitation and prolonged droughts the region experienced in the mid 20th and early 21st century as well as an increase in average annual temperatures by about 1 degree Celsius over the past century.
Summer rains in the Southwest are also in danger due to global warming, according to a team of researchers from Princeton and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Flagstaff could see up to a 40 percent decline in summertime monsoon precipitation if carbon dioxide emissions double compared to 1990 levels, the researchers found.
Casey Dennison’s heroin addiction landed her in prison for two years after she received convictions for forgery and theft – crimes tied to her addiction.
In prison, she built sobriety, and the prospect of release into the world was not a comfortable one.
“I was terrified,” Dennison said. “But all I knew was that I didn’t want to go back to the life I was living.”
Her good friend, Robin Hebert, a person with whom she had been in the Exodus drug and alcohol treatment program at the Coconino County jail before she went to prison, told her about a place she could come to rebuild her life. With luck, space would be available when Dennison was released.
There was, and her life has changed.
Dennison is one of eight women living at Juniper House in Flagstaff. Juniper House is a re-entry program for women addicted to drugs or alcohol leaving incarceration. The program is run by Catholic Charities Community Services.
“Providing stable housing can reduce recidivism and the toll taken on our community,” said Camie Rasband, housing manager for Catholic Charities. “Success of the program shows in the reduction of recidivism, increase in employment and income and increased self-sufficiency.”
According to information compiled by Catholic Charities, in the two years of the program’s existence, 33 women have passed through the doors of the five-bedroom, four-bathroom Juniper House. The average stay has been a little over six months, but there is no time limit on how long the women can stay. Of the 25 women who have left Juniper House, six moved back in with family, seven moved into rental homes, three moved to an inpatient treatment facility, six returned to jail for probation violations, and three were told to leave because they did not comply with the program. The annual budget for the program is currently $45,000.
The women who enter pay $325 a month and have 30 days to begin working toward gaining an income. Until they get income, they are supported with scholarships. While at Juniper House, the women are assigned case managers to help them create a plan and find services available to them to find stability in their lives, but it is up to the women to create their own strategies for moving back into productive lives.
Dennison said that she maintained contact with Hebert while in prison, and Hebert told her about Juniper House. Hebert, who was the first resident of Juniper House, has served as a sort of “house mother” to the other women entering the home.
Dennison became a resident in April.
“The process has been amazing,” she said. “I honestly don’t know where I’d be without this program. I’ve had so many opportunities come my way. I have a support network I’ve never had before.”
Dennison currently works as a Forensic Peer Support Specialist for a nonprofit called Hope Lives. Hope Lives is dedicated to getting people with mental illnesses and addictions out of the revolving door of the criminal justice system.
“It allows me to give back to the community I took so much from in my active addiction,” Dennison said, adding that she directs clients to services, helps them build job skills and get people through the court system while advocating for them. “Some of us need help rebuilding happy lives.”
Hebert, who told Rasband that she would commit to spending two years at Juniper House to help create an environment of stability for the women, has a full-time job with the county’s Criminal Justice Coordinating Council. She is also a full-time student at Coconino Community College and is striving to complete her desire for a degree in the field of criminal justice at Northern Arizona University.
“Life is good,” Hebert said. “And since I’ve been in school, live has been exhausting.”
Dennison and Hebert have decided that they are preparing to move out of Juniper House and find housing together. Both have their feet on the ground and have learned to live life without heroin. Their plan is to create their own supportive environment because, to them, communal living is a necessity against the life-and-death struggle of addiction.
“This house has given me so much stability,” Hebert said. “Addiction is an isolating experience. Recovery is learning to connect. I want to give that opportunity to somebody else.”
Hebert paused and added, “The thought of moving onto what’s next is scary. This is a family to me.”
Evelyn Mitchell, another resident of Juniper House, was also in the Exodus program in the jail and currently is a participant in the county’s Recovery Court, which takes nonviolent, drug- or alcohol-addicted offenders through a yearlong program giving them the skills needed to break the cycle of recidivism.
“I really like that Juniper House is here for people like me,” Mitchell said. “Juniper has given me a good, stable place. I don’t have to stay in a shelter or on the street.”
Mitchell has a job at a local motel as a housekeeper. She is an electrical technician by trade and is applying, but her job prospects are hampered because she currently doesn’t have a driver’s license.
She plans on moving back to the Valley after she completes Recovery Court.
“I will miss them,” Mitchell said of her roommates and staff at Juniper House. “They’re good people. We’re all doing our best. I’m just happy that they’re here for us.”