4 years later, Everett victim talks of near-fatal shooting

EVERETT — John Forde could smell his own death approaching. It was the scent of blood, and of red-hot bullets burning his flesh.

He’d arrived home from work only moments earlier that evening in December 2008. His Jack Russell terrier was there to greet him inside their north Everett duplex. The dog hopped up next to him on the couch, snuggling close for a pat as Forde keyed the television remote to quickly check the score in a football game.

Movement caught his eye. A stranger stepped from behind a wall and into the living room.

You’re in the wrong house, Forde thought. What are you doing here?

There wasn’t time to ask. The man — tall, painfully thin with a droopy moustache — was pointing a handgun. His right arm was crooked at the waist, like a gangster in some noir film. Without a word, the stranger pulled the trigger.

Four bullets tore into Forde’s body. One of his lungs was punctured. Bones in both of his arms shattered. A slug tore through his torso and lodged in the muscles of his back, near his spine.

Blood. Horrible pain. Forde could smell the bullets in his body searing him from the inside.

The shooter leaned in to survey his work before swiftly walking from the home.

“Then I was like, ‘I’m dying. I’m dying,’” Forde recalled. He wasn’t going to let that happen.

He pulled himself across the room and knocked the phone from its cradle. With hands that couldn’t grasp and fingers that wouldn’t point, he somehow dialed 911.

When the dispatcher answered, “I just started screaming my name, my address. ‘I’m shot. I’m hit. I’m dying. Get somebody here.’”

He also shouted the name of the one person he could think of who would want to see him dead: his soon-to-be ex-wife, Shawna Forde.

“I said her name a hundred times. ‘I’m getting a divorce. She’s trying to kill me. Nobody would do this to me,’” he said.

That was Dec. 22, 2008.

Four years later, Everett police say they are no closer to bringing somebody to justice for John Forde’s shooting. He’s been able to identify for police a man he recognizes as the gunman, but the pick from a photo lineup wasn’t sufficient to convince prosecutors to file charges.

There simply isn’t enough evidence — so far, Everett police Lt. Robert Johns said.

“We are kind of like the guy who can see the top of the hill but we just can’t get up there and see what is on the other side,” he said.

John Forde first spoke about the shooting with The Herald nearly four years ago, while he was still recovering from his wounds. Worry that the gunman could come back and finish the job kept him from consenting to a story.

Things have changed. Late last month the man Forde says shot him, a drug-addicted felon with a long history of crime, was sentenced to five years in prison for burglarizing an Edmonds convenience store.

Shawna Forde, meanwhile, now sits on Arizona’s death row, convicted of leading a 2009 home invasion that resulted in the deaths of 9-year-old Brisenia Flores and her father. The raiders hit the home looking for loot, believing Raul “Junior” Flores was involved in trafficking in drugs smuggled across the nearby U.S.-Mexico border.

At the time of her arrest, Shawna Forde was the leader of her own Minuteman American Defense group. She left Everett for Arizona soon after her divorce became final. Police here were investigating her in connection with the attack on John Forde and a bizarre blitz of violence that followed.

Shawna Forde had claimed that John Forde’s shooting was the work of drug cartels angry over her border-security activism. She tried to bolster her story, police believe, by faking a Dec. 29, 2008, sexual assault and beating in the same home where John Forde had been shot a few days earlier. While police didn’t publicly discuss their doubts about the rape story, they privately were documenting their suspicions, records show. Then, on Jan. 15, 2009, she turned up in a north Everett alley with apparent gunshot wounds to her right arm.

Shawna Forde claimed to have been chased into the alley and shot by somebody driving an SUV. Although the bullet wounds were real, the story had holes. Months later, The Herald found witnesses who said that on the night of the shooting they received separate phone calls — at different times — in which Shawna Forde claimed she was trying to hide in the alley where she was shot. To that point, neither witness had been contacted by police.

At the time, John Forde didn’t know about the ensuing drama. His focus was on survival.

He remembers the paramedics breaking into his home the night of his shooting, getting him onto a gurney and loading him into the ambulance. Then the world seemed to shrink, his vision narrowing as his body began shutting down.

“You don’t die right away. That’s the horror, in my mind, of being shot. You know you are going to die,” he said.

Days later, he regained consciousness at Harborview Medical Center in Seattle. His parents, grown children and circle of close friends were there. They’d lost him for a time and weren’t letting go.

John Forde had lived alone in the north Everett duplex he’d formerly shared with Shawna Forde. Police tracked her down while he was in surgery. Doctors placed him in a medically induced coma and listed him under a false name to protect his safety.

After the shooting, Shawna Forde didn’t alert his family to what happened. Neither did Everett police. It was one of John Forde’s commuter buddies who figured out what was going on. His family converged on the hospital.

The detective who initially handled the investigation was nearing retirement and told the injured man’s family he didn’t expect to solve the case before his career ended. When John Forde woke up, the same detective told him that odds were against somebody being arrested or charged.

John Forde told investigators about his soon-to-be-ex wife. They met when she saw him playing the drums in a cover band called Wood, and said she could get them work playing area bars and taverns. It was always an odd pairing. He had a career with a daily commute into King County. She stumbled from job to job, stirring up drama and getting fired. She sometimes disappeared for weeks. Her Minuteman activism was the final chapter and linked to a misguided notion that she could make a name for herself, and a comfortable living, railing about illegal immigrants and border security, John Forde said.

He wanted none of it, and had her served with divorce papers while she was on a trip to Arizona, supposedly overseeing volunteer border patrols.

She wanted more money out of the marriage, John Forde said. Later, she asked the paralegal assisting on the divorce what would happen if he suddenly dropped dead.

John Forde helped police prepare a sketch of the stranger who shot him.

While still in the hospital, they brought him a photo montage and asked if the gunman was among those pictured.

The men looked a lot alike, and while he thought one was a close match, he didn’t want to wrongly accuse anyone.

“I said one didn’t jump out at me,” John Forde said.

Police had at least one suspect in the mix, a frequent felon who at the time was among Shawna Forde’s associates in Everett.

The man, whom she introduced to people as “Thomas Wayne,” moved into the duplex with Shawna Forde in the days immediately after the shooting. Some people in her circle remarked on how much the man resembled the police sketch of the shooter.

It wasn’t until after Shawna Forde was arrested in connection with the Arizona killings, and the police reports about her rape claims were unsealed, that the man’s identity became public record.

Thomas Wayne Gibler, 41, has consistently denied any involvement in the attack on John Forde. According to a family member, he told police he was gambling in south Snohomish County at the time of the attack. Still, detectives included Gibler’s image in a photo lineup they showed John Forde a few months after the shooting.

The photographs were different the second time around, and John Forde said he recognized Gibler as his attacker.

By then, Gibler was locked up, serving time on his 15th felony conviction. That time, it was for a high-speed chase in Everett. In court papers on that case, he told police the chase happened as he was on his way to meet up with Shawna Forde. It was 11 days before the deadly raid in Arizona.

Gibler was released from prison in 2011 and within months was bouncing in and out of jail for a series of drug and traffic arrests. Then, this summer, he was caught on surveillance cameras burglarizing convenience stores to steal lottery tickets. Because his criminal history is so extensive, he was sentenced in November to five years in prison.

Whoever shot John Forde apparently left behind no genetic evidence. Police haven’t found a weapon to compare with the spent shell casings left at the shooting scene. Jurors expect that sort of forensic evidence in a case this serious, police say.

“We are now in a generation of jurors where they want ‘CSI,’” Johns said.

John Forde is disappointed with police progress, but has focused more on rebuilding his life. He’s undergone multiple surgeries and worked hard to regain sufficient health to return to his passion: backcountry skiing. He sold the duplex and moved. He’s careful about his surroundings and particular about personal safety.

Still, all it takes is an unexpected knock on the door to deliver a sudden jolt of terror. He knows that isn’t likely to change until somebody goes away for nearly ending his life.

“I thought I was dead,” he said.

Scott North: north@heraldnet.com; 425-339-3431.

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