Latino rights activists say the anti-immigrant and hate rhetoric spewed over the past few years in Arizona led to the deadly vigilante-style home invasion that cost the lives of a 9-year-old girl and her father in May 2009.
Shawna Forde, 42, a so called “border activist” with ties to white supremacist groups and other extremists was found guilty Monday, Feb. 14, of two counts of murder for orchestrating the brutal home invasion that left Raul Flores, 29, and his daughter Brisenia, 9, dead.
Prosecutors say Forde, 42, planned the attack after hearing word on the street that Flores was a drug dealer and had $4,000 in cash stashed in his desert home about 10 miles north of Mexico in Aravica, Ariz.
Critics say the murders should have been classified as a hate crime. Immigrant rights advocates add that the violence reflects the growing anti-immigrant sentiment throughout the country by hate groups and individuals in recent years.
Others note the death of Flores and his daughter fell under the radar when it occurred in 2009 and is only now getting attention in the aftermath of the mass shooting in Tucson, Ariz.
Joaquin Guerra, campaign director of Presente.org, a Latino advocacy group told, the Huffington Post Forde’s conviction is “justice for a little girl whose death was ignored by the mainstream media.”
At the time of the home invasion few elected officials in Arizona spoke out. A year later, Republican state lawmakers passed Arizona’s draconian anti-immigrant SB 1070 law and now they are considering a bill that would deny citizenship to children born to undocumented immigrants.
Though Mr. Flores and his daughter were U.S. citizens, they were of Mexican descent, and, many say, were victims of the hysteria whipped up against undocumented immigrants.
“What we have shown is that Latinos are watching, and if people and parties want the Latino vote, they will have to speak out against things like this,” said Guerra. “We hope her death [Brisenia] wasn’t in vain and that it serves as an example of what can happen when the types of conditions that are in Arizona are allowed to go unchecked and are legitimated as serious policy issues.”
Forde founded the Minutemen American Defense, a small border watch group that intended to use money seized from the Flores home to fund her anti-immigrant operations. Forde started her group after being kicked out of the Minuteman Civil Defense Corp for bragging she was going after drug cartels.
Reports say she has ties to multiple right-wing groups, including the tea party, anti-immigrant vigilante groups that police the border with their own guns and surveillance equipment, and FAIR, the anti-immigrant group that helped design Arizona’s anti-immigrant law.
Forde and two male accomplices wearing camouflage broke into the Flores home after midnight on May 30, 2009, claiming to be police officers looking for fugitives. When Mr. Flores questioned their identity, prosecutors say, the intruders opened fire on him and his wife Gina Gonzalez.
Gonzalez survived the attack after being shot several times and pretending to be dead. She called 911 after witnessing the murder of her loved ones. She testified that during the shooting she could hear her daughter Brisenia pleading with the gunmen not to shoot her before she was shot twice, at point blank range. While Gonzalez was on the phone, the attackers re-entered the home to finish her off, but Gonzalez returned fire on them with her husband’s gun.
The prosecution pointed to a recording of a phone call between Forde and an FBI informant, during which Forde made it clear she planned the invasion.
Pima County Deputy Attorney Rick Unklesbay said Forde didn’t put a gun to Brisenia’s head but that she was the one in charge and should be held accountable. Police recovered several items belonging to Gonzalez, including her wedding ring, during a search after Forde’s arrest.
In 2007, prior to moving to Arizona, Forde lived in Everett, Wash., where she ran for the city council promising to allow police to check the immigration status of undocumented suspects, according to local news accounts.
The sentencing phase of the trial began Tuesday, Feb. 15, and Forde could face the death penalty.
The two other suspects – Jason Bush, a known white supremacist, and Albert Gaxiola, a convicted drug dealer – are in custody awaiting trials later this year.