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.”
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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.