EVERETT — An Everett woman who attracted national attention by suggesting Mexican drug cartels targeted her for a series of violent attacks now acknowledges she told police they ought to look closer to home for suspects — including among her own son’s friends.
Shawna Forde, 41, said she is convinced there are links between the Dec. 22 shooting of her ex-husband at their north Everett home, her reported rape and beating at the same house a week later, and an attack on Jan. 15 in a nearby alley that left her with apparent gunshot wounds to her right arm.
More than a dozen people who’ve known Forde for years say the recent flurry of violence is just the latest episode in a life marked by tumult, disruption and multiple brushes with the law. Few are willing to speak for publication, in part because of her current troubles.
In interviews and Web postings, Forde repeatedly maintained that the violence is connected to her role as a leader of Minutemen American Defense. The group she founded conducts desert surveillance and undercover investigations aimed at curbing illegal immigration and drug smuggling at the Mexico border in Arizona, she said.
She first called The Herald newsroom Dec. 30, asking whether a story was planned on the beating and rape she’d reported to police a few hours earlier. Detectives asked the newspaper for time to sort out what happened. Before police released information, Forde’s group on Jan. 2 posted an account on its Web site, detailing what she said occurred at her home. The report for a time featured photographs displaying what appear to be injuries to Forde’s face, thighs and buttocks.
That triggered a blogosphere backlash, including Web site postings accusing Forde of staging a hoax for political and personal reasons. A few days later she was being treated for gunshot wounds.
During a two-hour interview at The Herald on Feb. 5, Forde acknowledged telling Everett detectives, since the night of her ex-husband’s shooting, that their investigation should focus on local street toughs who until last summer were burglarizing Everett-area homes and trafficking in stolen firearms.
One member of the ring was Forde’s own son, Devon Duffey, 19. He went to prison in October and now is serving more than two years at the state penitentiary in Walla Walla for being a felon in possession of firearms, records show.
In her interview with The Herald, Forde at first speculated for several minutes about drug cartel involvement in her case, but then switched directions and cast suspicion on her son’s criminal associates.
Her story changed when she was asked to describe the role she played in sending her son to prison.
Could her son’s friends have been trying to hurt her and her ex-husband?
“I’ve brought that up — not the cops — me,” Forde said. “Yeah. That is a very strong possibility.”
Before being imprisoned, her son associated with gang members and “was doing some really crazy stuff,” Forde said.
Forde’s ex-husband declined to be interviewed for this story. He was home alone when ambushed by a narrow-faced stranger dressed in khaki-colored clothing. The gunman shot him multiple times in the arms and upper body, then fled.
Everett police Sgt. Robert Goetz confirmed that after her ex-husband’s shooting Forde directed attention toward her son’s associates. In keeping with department policy, however, Goetz was tight-lipped about what avenues detectives are examining or what they’ve discovered.
“We are investigating wherever the evidence leads us,” Goetz said.
He said Forde was interviewed by police regarding both of the attacks she reported — the assault on her at the house and the shooting in the alley. She hasn’t allowed detectives to question her in depth regarding her ex-husband’s near-fatal shooting.
“We’ve made several attempts to schedule a meeting with Ms. Forde. We’ve not been successful,” Goetz said.
Forde on Wednesday said she hasn’t been avoiding detectives but was advised not to talk with them about her ex-husband without an attorney.
She’s also been trying to recover from possible nerve damage to her wounded arm and focusing on the details of her divorce, which became final Feb. 4.
Forde said it is ridiculous for anyone to think she had anything to do with her ex-husband’s shooting. The attack occurred roughly two weeks after she returned to Everett from a three-month stretch engaged in Minuteman border operations.
“If I was going to do something like that I would have done it while I was in Arizona,” Forde said.
At least six names
Forde’s history is complicated and hard to track down. She was adopted at age 5 and has been married four times — which means she has had at least six names. Her employment history includes numerous jobs and different careers: working as a youth counselor, building airplanes for the Boeing Co., cutting hair in beauty salons.
She’s split much of the past two years between Everett, where she grew up, and the southwestern border states, where she’s rubbed elbows with other Minutemen.
Exactly what Forde does on the border is unclear. She reports being interviewed about immigration issues by dozens of journalists; a handful of articles appear to have been published.
Her Web site features shaky videos, often focusing on the garbage left in the desert by people sneaking into the country. On one film clip, Forde claims to have found a place in the desert where human smugglers regularly rape women. On another, she suggests border agents have found bodies of drug smugglers whom she claims were duped by terrorists into carrying radioactive materials into the U.S., hidden inside loads of marijuana.
On the video, Forde says the smugglers’ bodies can’t be touched because “the radiation is so heavy (it) will kill you on contact.”
Forde is circumspect when questioned about how her group works with law enforcement agencies. In the interview at The Herald, she described presenting what she called “after-action reports” to a man she declined to identify, except to say he is a former employee of the Central Intelligence Agency.
Within Minutemen circles, Forde is controversial. Hal Washburn, vetting officer for Washington state chapter of the Minutemen Civil Defense Corps, said Forde was encouraged to leave the group over questions about honesty and her inability to follow orders. San Diego Minutemen, on its Web site, lists her among people they won’t work with, calling her “unstable.”
Forde said she’s a victim of rivalries and jealousies among Minutemen, in part because she is a woman. She acknowledged that her life often has been tumultuous, although she believes it has been quieter in recent years.
“It’s a choice because drama gets tiring,” she said. “You have to realize: I’ve been a victim of circumstances a lot of times. I have felt victimized over and over. It is almost comfortable now.”
Forde said many of her challenges originate from a rough start in childhood, including both physical and sexual abuse. Court records show she spent years bouncing between the street and juvenile lockups, where she served time for repeated convictions involving theft, burglary and prostitution.
The paper trail also leads to a Snohomish County courtroom where, at 11, Forde’s tiny fingerprints were taken as she pleaded guilty to her first felony.
“That was a very sad little girl, let me tell you,” Forde said after being shown paperwork documenting the day. “That little girl was really in a lot of pain.”
Forde said she has been diagnosed with attachment disorder. According to the Mayo Clinic and other sources, the condition often affects people who receive poor care when small. Children with the diagnosis can develop lasting difficulty in maintaining stable, healthy relationships.
Forde was born in Everett and wound up in foster care as a toddler. Her adoptive mother, who was interviewed for this story on the condition that her name not be published, said Forde was deeply troubled when she joined her family at 4. The girl became a source of turmoil, repeated mental health treatment efforts and attempts at intervention, she said. Forde was taken into state custody when she turned 12 after being convicted of burglary.
“She had sticky fingers from Day One,” the woman said, recounting how Forde at 7 stole a diamond necklace valued at several thousand dollars from family friends during a dinner visit at their home.
Allegations of abuse
Although Forde said many harsh things about her adoptive parents, she was later angered to learn that a reporter approached her adoptive mom. She dismissed the woman as a liar and insisted that the worst abuse came at the hands of her adoptive father, who died last year. Although she claimed the man was charged with sexual abuse there is no indication in court records that a criminal case was ever filed. In 1984, a Seattle attorney briefly sought the court’s permission to bring a civil lawsuit against Forde’s adoptive parents on behalf of the then-17-year-old Forde. Today, the lawyer doesn’t recall the case.
Forde’s adoptive mother said her husband was cleared of the abuse claim and that their adopted daughter later sought his forgiveness.
“I said ‘What was in the past was in the past,’” the woman recalled. “She apologized to her dad for what she had done.”
Forde’s birth mother, Rena Caudle of Redding, Calif., said personal misfortune early in her life left no choice but to seek a more stable environment for the young Forde in another family’s care. She said her daughter was abused by one of those people before her adoption. She said Forde still struggles with problems that took root in her childhood.
Forde is kind and generous, she said, especially to those less fortunate — though also prone to dishonesty.
“That’s been an issue at times,” Caudle said. “But I still love her.”
Caudle said her daughter sought her out in the mid-1980s after Forde lost a child to sudden infant death syndrome while married to her first husband in Alaska. That marriage ended in divorce and allegations of domestic violence.
Forde’s second marriage also had a rocky start. In 1989, her future husband sought court protection from Forde. He told the court that Forde had physically attacked him and threatened to hurt herself with a knife, records show.
That man’s former wife, Laura Ollis, said the restraining order was sought after a romantic spat involving her ex and Forde. Ollis, who now lives in another state, said Forde, then 22, showed up at her work and began shouting for her.
Forde was “stabbing herself with some little knife,” she recalled. “She just went totally psycho out there.”
At the time, Forde was pregnant with her son. Although she admits cutting herself with a knife, she said Ollis isn’t being truthful about where the incident occurred or other details.
Those events eventually led to a felony forgery charge against Forde. Prosecutors alleged Forde took paperwork from the court and altered it to appear as if her future husband had been ordered to pay her money.
The case ultimately was dismissed for lack of evidence. By then Forde had married the man, whom prosecutors listed as the victim in the forgery case.
That marriage ended in 1993. A third marriage in 1994 lasted for about five years. She married a fourth time in 2000.
In January 2007, The Herald published a business announcement that described Forde as the owner of a beauty salon located in a high-rise office building along Colby Avenue in Everett’s downtown. Later that month, she was charged with stealing a small container of chocolate milk from an Everett grocery store. Forde later said the theft was a misunderstanding and that she pleaded guilty in order to put the case behind her.
Throughout the spring of 2007, Forde increasingly became involved in Minuteman activities, including organizing an anti-immigration rally in downtown Everett that drew about 100 people and a handful of protestors. The featured speaker was Jim Gilchrist, president of the California-based Minuteman Project.
In June 2007, Forde announced her candidacy for Everett City Council, promising to make certain police weren’t blocked from checking on the immigration status of suspects.
As her political career was taking shape, a personal crisis was building in Forde’s family.
On March 20, 2007, three young men showed up at the beauty salon on Colby where Forde worked. One pulled a baseball bat from under his jacket and clobbered the man who owns the salon. The victim required hospital treatment to close his head wounds.
Police quickly tracked down two men who matched the attackers’ descriptions. One was Forde’s son, Devon Duffey, then 17. A high school dropout, he told police he only occasionally lived with his mother. He also admitted responsibility for the beating.
He led police to the weapon and offered what prosecutors later characterized as “several poor excuses” for the felony assault. One was that the attack was prompted by his dislike for gay men, an assertion that led the investigating officer to treat the beating as a potential hate crime under the state’s malicious harassment law. Duffey also accused the salon owner of stealing from his mother, something Forde denied ever telling her son, court papers show.
Forde told the court her son had been out of the house for more than a year, and she “refused to allow him to live at home due to his dishonesty, lack of respect, theft of property from the home, and concerns about substance abuse.”
The teen was locked up for the assault. Not long after release he got additional punishment when he was caught trying to shoplift clothing from a department store.
Forde’s son told police he was a member of the Hoover Crips gang, court papers show. Shoplifting with him that day was another teen from Mount Vernon, who claimed to be a leader in Norteños, a Latino street gang.
The cases involving Forde’s son quietly played out as her campaign for City Council headed toward defeat. Forde managed to garner roughly 5,900 votes, despite time away engaging in Minuteman activities and publicity regarding her guilty plea in the chocolate milk shoplifting case three months earlier.
Criminal troubles continued for Forde’s son, culminating in July 2008 with a police standoff at his mother’s former home. Forde talked him into surrendering, court records show. She told police he’d confessed to “scores of burglaries” and she helped them in developing a case against him for trafficking in stolen firearms.
“Putting him in prison was good parenting,” Forde said. “Because what do you do?”
Forde’s son did not respond to a letter the newspaper sent to him in prison.
Forde was back on the border when he was sentenced in October. She said she’s had no contact with him since.
Forde said she knows her background is unconventional but said she’s not worried that it may affect her ability to work with other Minutemen in combatting illegal immigration and drug smuggling.
“It’s not about the past,” she said. “It’s about what we do today, and trying to secure the borders tomorrow.”
Herald reporters Diana Hefley and Jackson Holtz contributed to this report.
Scott North: 425-339-3431, firstname.lastname@example.org
Video: In her own words
Starting Dec. 22, a flurry of violence was reported in Everett. Shawna Forde’s ex-husband was shot in his 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.
Forde discusses her suspicions that these events are somehow connected to her role as a leader of Minutemen American Defense. When questioned, she acknowledges other possibilities, including potential retaliation for helping police break up a group that was selling stolen guns, a case that sent her own son to prison. Forde also acknowledges struggling with her own criminal past, including felony convictions that started when she was just 11 years old and lasted throughout her teens.
Video shot and edited by Elaine Helm