A crime that should have been prevented

By David Neiwert

I’d like to commend the Snohomish County Executive’s office and the county’s Human Rights Commission for setting aside some time on Wednesday to hold a vigil honoring young Brisenia Flores, the 9-year-old Arizona girl slain in her home in May 2009 by a group of “Minutemen” led by Shawna Forde, an Everett woman who had already made her mark here.

It’s overdue recognition of the community’s role in this tragedy. However, it also raises some uncomfortable and unanswered questions.

I have spent a good portion of the preceding year and a half in Arizona covering the Forde trial and writing a book about the case that will be out next year. I spent a fair amount of time in Arivaca, the little town north of the border where the murders occurred and where Brisenia was a bright fixture in the community.

In the course of conducting interviews, people inevitably like to ask the interviewer questions. And I was asked repeatedly by nearly everyone in Arivaca some version of the following question: “How could you people in western Washington have allowed this woman to get away with crimes up there and then come down here and kill a little girl and her father?”

People in Arivaca, you see, are keenly aware of the facts in this case. They are well aware — thanks largely to The Herald’s sterling coverage — that Shawna Forde should be the chief suspect in the December 2008 murder attempt on John Forde, her then-husband who was in the process of divorcing her. Shawna stood to gain nearly half a million dollars if John had died before their divorce was final, and it is frankly a miracle that he survived being shot five times by his white intruder.

People in Arivaca are also well aware that Shawna attempted to cover her tracks in the murder attempt by claiming a week later that she was assaulted and raped in the same home by Hispanic drug cartel thugs, even though the rape kit came back negative and examiners could find no indications of an actual assault. Remarkably, Shawna refused to allow police investigators to interview her about the incident — though she did manage to call up Herald reporter Scott North and demand that he cover her supposed “rape.”

For what it’s worth, I was never able to adequately answer these questions from people in Arivaca. Why this case was so poorly investigated by the Everett Police Department is anybody’s guess. But it is an inescapable fact that their laxity in pursuing the murder attempt on John Forde freed Shawna Forde to plan and commit her nefarious deed in Arivaca.

Of course, all this is removed from the immediate purview of Snohomish County and its officials, since this is officially an Everett matter. But as we contemplate “preventing such hate-based crimes in the future,” it’s essential to recognize that the failure to vigorously pursue prosecution of these kinds of criminals in the early stages of their development is going to undermine any such preventative effort.

And it’s similarly important to recognize that Shawna Forde left behind victims in Snohomish County — and even more so, those victims have not yet received justice or closure. Whoever shot John Forde (and there is in fact a singular suspect) is still roaming free on our streets. And it is clear that Everett Police do not intend to devote any more energy to solving this case.

If Snohomish County leaders are serious about honoring the memory of Brisenia Flores and preventing these kinds of crimes in the future, they will step up to the plate and deal vigorously with these issues.

David Neiwert is an author and freelance journalist based in Seattle. “The Last Minutemen” will be published by NationBooks in March 2013.