EVERETT — They mourned the death of a little girl Wednesday; a child whose life ended three years ago in a robbery orchestrated by an Everett woman she’d never met.
Brisenia Flores was 9. She’d just completed third grade. The principal at her school in Arivaca, Ariz., remembers her smile, her enthusiasm and love for animals.
She died along with her father, Raul “Junior” Flores, because of hateful ideas that took root here, more than 1,600 miles away, a crowd of about 80 human rights activists, elected officials and others were told.
“We stand here as a community to say ‘Never again,’” said Meg Winch, who heads the Snohomish County Commission on Human Rights.
Wednesday’s vigil not only focused on remembering Brisenia and her family. It also brought fresh attention for the evil linked to Shawna Forde.
Forde, of Everett, is now on Arizona’s death row. She was convicted last year of leading a May 30, 2009 raid on Brisenia’s home in a tiny desert town about 10 miles north of the U.S.-Mexico border.
Forde expected to find money and drugs and planned to use the loot to fund her Minutemen American Defense group, a border-watch operation she founded in Everett.
When the gunfire ended, Junior Flores was dead, his wife, Gina Gonzalez, was grievously wounded, and Brisenia’s life had been snuffed out by a bullet fired so close the gun’s barrel touched the child’s face.
State Rep. Luis Moscoso, D-Mountlake Terrace, was among the handful of people who confronted Forde in 2007 at an Everett gathering that was billed as a summit to combat illegal immigration. Forde found plenty of support for racism and ideas that divided communities, he said.
“We wonder now what we might have done to prevent this from happening,” he said.
Respect for civil rights and human decency need to be the values embraced here, County Council Chairman Brian Sullivan said. He recalled how his mother lit candles and prayed for the nation the day in 1968 when the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated.
“This little girl is no less important,” Sullivan said.
Everett High School senior Leobardo Carmona said that when he first heard about Forde and her crimes, he figured the woman had to be out of her mind.
Then he learned that she had received nearly 6,000 votes when she ran for Everett City Council in 2007, campaigning largely on a platform that argued not enough was being done in Everett to confront illegal immigration.
“I was mad, surprised and really disappointed,” he said.
Carmona, who is from Oaxaca, Mexico, has lived in Everett for eight years. At times, he said, he has lived in fear because of discrimination. But, he added, “I also remember that there are people in this community who are good.”
Raymond Miller, vice president of the NAACP’s Snohomish County branch, drew appreciative laughter when he told the audience, “I remind you that there are no un-colored people in this place we call Earth.”
Racism and discrimination must be confronted, whatever forms they take, he said.
“We will never let America become a show-me-your-papers nation,” Miller said.
Even before her arrest in the Arivaca murders, Forde already had been linked to violence and criminal conduct, including convictions for prostitution, burglary and theft, starting when she was just 11.
Her role as a Minuteman organizer began to fall apart on Dec. 22, 2008. That’s when her estranged husband was repeatedly shot during an ambush attack at their former north Everett home.
The couple was divorcing, and Forde was suspected of getting somebody to fire the bullets. She was questioned by police.
A week later, Forde called 911 to claim a group of men linked to Mexican drug cartels had broken into the home and raped her.
Police had evidence Forde was lying, but didn’t directly confront her story.
Within weeks, she turned up in an Everett alleyway, bleeding from gunshot wounds, and claiming her attackers had returned. Evidence ultimately surfaced that Forde likely staged that attack, too, but by then she already was facing charges for the Arizona killings.
Everett detectives still have an open investigation into the shooting of Forde’s ex-husband, but the case has stalled, said officer Aaron Snell, the department’s spokesman.
“We just need some additional leads additional evidence,” Snell said.
Forde’s ex-husband has recovered from his wounds. He was among those in the crowd Wednesday, quietly remembering Brisenia.
Barry Corey is a Tucson attorney who represents the girl’s family. Earlier this month he filed a federal lawsuit in Arizona, alleging the FBI failed to act on warnings about Forde’s plans for the Arivaca raid.
The FBI was told by two Minutemen from Colorado whom Forde attempted to recruit for the raid. Their testimony later helped convict Forde and her accomplices.
A deputy in Arizona encountered Forde near Arivaca a few days before the robbery. Had the deputy known Forde’s plans, he could have arrested her for the conspiracy, the lawsuit said.
The lawyer Wednesday said he’d heard about the vigil in Everett for Brisenia.
“I would hope they remember the whole family,” he said.
Herald Writer Noah Haglund contributed to this story
Scott North: 425-339-3431, firstname.lastname@example.org