By Scott North and Jackson Holtz Herald Writers
An outspoken anti-immigration activist who was at the center of a series of violent crimes in Everett earlier this year now stands accused of the home-invasion killings of an Arizona man and his 9-year-old daughter.
Shawna Forde, 41, and two associates in her Minuteman American Defense group are charged with two counts of first-degree murder, one count of first-degree burglary and one count of aggravated assault, according to the Pima County Sheriff’s Department in Arizona.
The May 30 killings were believed to be premeditated and part of a plan to steal money and drugs to finance the Minuteman group she leads. Forde’s own family said that the woman weeks ago had discussed using robberies to raise money for her cause.
Pima County Sheriff Clarence Dupnik told the Green Valley News and Sun that Forde was trying right up until her arrest Friday “to get together a large amount of money to further sophisticate the type of operation she’s interested in.”
Forde denied the charges.
“No, I did not do it,” the newspaper quoted her saying as she was led out of the sheriff’s office in front of reporters Friday afternoon.
Raul Flores, 29, and his daughter, Brisenia, 9, were killed when a group of armed people, including a woman, forced their way into the home. The child’s mother traded gunfire with the attackers. She survived but remains hospitalized with gunshot wounds.
Pima County officials said the intruders had been looking for the couple’s other daughter to shoot her, too, but she wasn’t home.
Forde was arrested without incident in Sierra Vista, a few miles from the Mexican border.
Also charged in the case are Jason Eugene Bush, 34, who was being treated for a gunshot wound he is believed to have received during the attack. He has a history of auto theft from Chelan County, in Eastern Washington. The third defendant is Albert Robert Gaxiola, 42.
Pima County Sheriff’s Department spokeswoman deputy Dawn Barkman told The Herald that Forde “was the ringleader of this group and of this attack. She made the order for Bush to go in and shoot these individuals.
“She’s just truly an evil person to do something like this,” Barkman said.
Detectives believe there are additional suspects and are aggressively continuing their investigation, Barkman said.
The shootings occurred in the tiny hamlet of Arivaca, about 60 miles south of Tucson and 10 miles north of the Mexican border, an area of heavy illegal traffic in drugs and people.
It is in an area where Forde and her group, Minuteman American Defense, regularly operate. The group claims to conduct desert surveillance and undercover investigations aimed at curbing illegal immigration and drug smuggling.
Forde has been active in the Minuteman movement for years, although even before Friday’s arrest, many groups and leaders kept their distance.
Before she headed to Arizona earlier this year to start another season of prowling the desert with her group, she made it clear that she was preparing for violence.
“I will stay the course and lead in this fight with every once (sic) of strength and conviction I have,” she wrote in an e-mail message to supporters. “I will not waist (sic) it on matters that do not pertain to this very mission. It is time for Americans to lock and load.”
Forde has a long and troubled history in Snohomish County, including juvenile convictions for felonies, prostitution and other street crime. Some of her past was recounted by The Herald in a profile that appeared Feb. 22.
Forde was at the center of a flurry of violence that began Dec. 22 when her ex-husband was shot in his Everett home. A week later, she reported being beaten and raped by strangers at the same house.
On Jan. 15, Forde was found in a north Everett alley with apparent gunshot wounds.
She claimed the violence was all retaliation for her activities targeting criminal groups operating on both sides of the border between Mexico and the U.S.
The cases here remain under investigation by Everett police.
Forde’s ex-husband was seriously wounded during the Dec. 22 shooting. Reached Friday, he was distraught hearing that a child died. He declined to comment on his former wife.
Forde’s mother, who lives in California, said she was not surprised to hear of her daughter’s arrest.
Rena Caudle said Forde visited her before heading to the border this year. She talked of staging home invasions, Caudle said.
“She sat here and said that she was going to start a group where they went down and start taking things away from the Mexican mafia,” Caudle said. “She was going to kick in their doors and take away the money and the drugs.”
Caudle said she wasn’t sure what to make of that at the time, in part because Forde has a history of exaggeration and lying.
Then, early on May 30 — a few hours after the shootings — Caudle said, Forde called her and reported she was taking refuge in a “safe house” in Arivaca.
Forde “was very frightened,” Caudle said. “She says, ‘I’m in hiding.’ I said, ‘What is going on?’ She said. ‘You won’t believe what is going down here … The mafia, they are kicking down doors and they are shooting people and they are looking for me.’”
Pima County sheriff’s Lt. Michael O’Connor told reporters in Arizona that Raul Flores had connections to Mexican drug cartels and his involvement was known to the Drug Enforcement Agency.
People in the Minuteman movement reacted to news of the arrests with sadness — and some contempt for Forde.
Jim Gilchrist, president of the California-based Minuteman Project and a longtime Forde ally, said his group is separate and “we disassociate any affiliation between her, her organization and ours.” On Friday he posted a message of condolence to the victims’ families.
Jeff Schwilk, founder of the San Diego Minutemen and an outspoken critic of Gilchrist, said he and others long ago recognized that Forde was unstable and dangerous. He said Gilchrist should have done the same.
“The warning had been out in Arizona to stay away from this woman,” he said. “Unfortunately, this conclusion was very tragic.”
Scott North: 425-339-3431, firstname.lastname@example.org.
TV news report on the arrests, from KOLD13 in Tucson, Ariz.
Border militia activist one of three charged in Arivaca double murder, from KOLD13 in Tucson, Ariz.
Man, young girl killed in So. Ariz. home invasion, from the Associated Press
Woman who survived Ariz. home invasion shot back, from the Associated Press
Previously in The Herald
Forde has a long and troubled history in Snohomish County. Some of her past was recounted by The Herald in a profile that appeared Feb. 22.
That violence remains under investigation by Everett police.