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Rogue Minutemen leader held in fatal home invasion

  • Story Highlights
  • Woman, two men allegedly posed as federal agents in home invasion
  • Arizona man targeted because trio thought he was a drug dealer, police say
  • Raul Flores, daughter, 9, shot dead; wire calls 911
  • Among trio of suspects are woman with ties to Minutemen groups
By Patrick Oppmann
CNN
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SEATTLE, Washington (CNN) -- Raul Flores thought federal agents had barged with guns drawn into his home in Arivaca, Arizona, in the middle of the night.

Robert Gaxiola, 42, also is accused of posing as a federal marshal to enter the Flores home.

Shawna Forde, 41, denies involvement in the shooting deaths of an Arizona man and his daughter.

The woman and two men wore uniforms and identified themselves as U.S. Marshals. They claimed the house was surrounded. They said they were looking for an escaped prisoner, Flores' wife told a 911 dispatcher.

But there was no backup waiting outside, and no fugitive. The marshals were imposters.

They had targeted Flores because they suspected he was a drug trafficker and they wanted to rob and kill him, according to the Pima County Sheriff's Department.

As the intruders searched his home, Flores asked one of the men why his handgun was taped. The man responded by shooting and killing Flores.

"Someone just came in and shot my daughter and husband," Flores' wife frantically told 911. She tells the police operator that she was shot and left for dead with her husband, Raul Flores, 29, and daughter Brisenia, 9, who were both shot in the head.

Police are not releasing the woman's name to protect her identity. But her 911 call, released to the media by the Pima County Sheriff's Department, tells the story of a deadly home invasion by a rogue band of impostors.

As she describes the initial attack, the intruders return to the house. The door can be heard opening.

"They are coming back in! They are coming back in!" the caller screams. She has armed herself with her husband's handgun.

"Get the f--- out," she barks. The order is followed by the explosive sound of gunfire traded as the wounded woman and her would-be killers fire on each other. A man -- one of the intruders -- is hit and groans loudly. The attackers retreat and leave the woman alive and alone with her slain family. Video Hear gunfire on the 911 call »

Twelve days later police have the "marshals" in custody on charges of first-degree murder, burglary and aggravated assault. Police identified the suspects as Shawna Forde, 41, of Buena Vista, Arizona; Jason Eugene Bush, 34, of Kingman, Arizona; and Albert Robert Gaxiola, 42, of Tucson, Arizona.

As police put her into a car, Forde told reporters, "I did not do it." The Pima County public defender's office, which represents Forde, Bush and Gaxiola, did not return CNN's calls requesting comment.

Authorities from five different police departments in three states are investigating crimes allegedly involving the trio. Forde's arrest has had even greater reverberations across a community of private citizens who believe the government is not adequately protecting the nation's borders.

Forde was a one-time member of the Minutemen Civil Defense Corps, a citizens group whose self-described mission is to secure the U.S. border, before she started her own smaller border enforcement organization. The accusations against her have given more fuel to Minutemen critics who say the groups dangerously blur the lines between law enforcement and vigilantism.

Forde was well known in anti-immigration circles. She ran a failed campaign for City Council in her hometown of Everett, Washington, that touted her connections to the Minutemen. She posted videos on YouTube of her border patrols and was an outspoken fixture at Minutemen Washington meetings and rallies in Washington state.

But even among this gung-ho group of self-styled border warriors, Forde was extreme, both Minutemen members and their critics agreed.

Washington human rights advocate Luis Moscoso said he had a run-in with Forde during a protest he attended at a 2007 Minutemen conference in Bellingham, Washington. While other Minutemen engaged in a dialogue, Moscoso remembered Forde shouting insults at the protesters.

Moscoso later was shocked, he said, to find his photograph and address on Forde's Web site. "It wasn't a bull's-eye but it was close enough," he said. The Web site was taken down after the arrests, so CNN cannot independently confirm Moscoso's account.

Eventually, Forde's tactics alienated even the most stalwart proponents of border security. "The screaming, hollering, calling names, we don't do that," said outgoing Washington state Minutemen president Joseph Ray. "She broke standard operating procedure too many times, she was too damn unreliable."

The Minutemen kicked Forde out of their ranks in 2007, Ray said. Around the same time, police said, Forde became embroiled in several bizarre incidents that remain under investigation in Everett.

Forde's then-husband was shot in the abdomen by an unknown male assailant at their home. The couple later divorced. Forde next said she was the victim of a sexual assault. Later, Forde was found wounded in an alley where she told police she had been shot in the arm by an attacker.

Speaking to the media about the attacks, Forde said she was being targeted by Mexican drug cartels for her work guarding the border. According To Sgt. Robert Goetz, spokesman for the Everett Police Department, Forde's sister and mother told police something very different. They believed she invented or played a part in the violence against her and her family.

Cast out from the Minutemen Civil Defense Corps, Forde formed her own organization called the Minutemen American Defense. Chuck Stonex was a member. Despite "her cloudy reputation" in Minutemen circles, Stonex said, he and Forde got along well.

Still, he said he noticed during an operation monitoring the border in Arizona with her in 2008 that Forde was well funded for the leader of a tiny group on the fringe of the Minutemen movement. "She always had a lot of cash," he said.

Cash was what led Forde, Bush and Gaxiola to Raul Flores' house on May 30, 2009, said Dawn Barkman, a spokeswoman for the Pima County Sheriff. Flores had a reputation for involvement in the narcotics trade along the border, Barkman said, and Forde devised a plan to bluff her way into his home and rob and kill him to finance her border patrol group.

According to Barkman, it was Forde's plan but Bush allegedly fired the fatal shots inside the Flores home. It was not Bush's first slaying, police say.

After his arrest in the shooting of Raul Flores, police in Wenatchee, Washington, charged Bush with the fatal stabbing of Hector Manuel Lopez Partida. Homeless and traveling through Wenatchee, Lopez Partida was killed in 1997, stabbed seven times, apparently as he slept on the ground next to a grain silo.

Police in Wenatchee found a blood-soaked shirt near where Lopez was killed. Eight years later, advances in forensics testing indicated that Bush's DNA was on the shirt, a police affidavit said.

Bush has "long-standing ties to Aryan Nations groups," the affidavit said, and he allegedly bragged to an unidentified police informant about killing "a Mexican," saying he and another man "stomped" and "stabbed" the man and "left [him] to bleed out."

After the shooting at Flores' home, the crime wave continued, police said. A couple who are friends of Forde's mother was robbed at gunpoint of their $12,000 inheritance by men pretending to be U.S. Marshals, said Sgt. John Hubbard of the Shasta County Sheriffs Department. The victims, Hubbard said, identified Bush as one of the gunmen.

Hubbard said police believe Forde helped carry out the robbery.

In the next town over, Hubbard said, the home belonging to Forde's brother was robbed on the same day.

The alleged crime spree leaves Forde's former compatriots feeling exposed and under attack. Stonex said he last saw Forde and Bush right after the shootout at the Flores home. Stonex helped patch a bullet wound to Bush's calf. "They said they were jumped by border bandits," he said.

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He said had he known about their alleged killing of Flores and his daughter, Stonex would never have had anything to do with Forde. Now, he said, he and other Minutemen have been forced to cancel border patrol operations and wait for the scrutiny to die down.

"It's given us a lot of grief," said Stonex, "I'd build her gallows if I could."

All About Murder and HomicidePima County

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