SPOKANE — Shannon Lowe’s family traveled to Forks on June 3 in a white converted school bus to camp in the North Olympic Peninsula’s splendor and sample the setting of the blockbuster book and movie series Twilight.
Her Spokane family of four left the West End a harrowing nine hours later, confused and frightened.
People questioned them in a parking lot about their political beliefs before some followed them 5 miles to their campsite and felled trees to block their exit, authorities say.
Lowe said Wednesday in a telephone interview that she did not understand why, if the family was not wanted, they were barricaded from leaving.
“It looked like an ambush,” recalled Lowe, who said she is a former member of the National Guard and a former news director at KNOD “Kool Gold” 105.3 FM radio in Harlan, Iowa.
They had arrived in Forks early in the afternoon of June 3 in the 36-foot white Bluebird bus they call Bertha.
The couple, who have two dogs and a cat, live in the vehicle, find casino jobs when they can and scratch by “just like everyone else, out of work for COVID,” Lowe said.
Arriving in Forks early afternoon on June 3 were Lowe, 43; her partner, Tyrone, 28; his mother, Saundra, in her 60s; and Lowe’s daughter, 21. They were intent on satisfying a wish of Saundra’s: go on a Twilight tour.
“She’s rereading the Twilight books,” Lowe said. “She loves them.”
Lowe said they stopped in a parking lot off U.S. Highway 101 west of town to get their bearings on their cellphones when their ordeal began.
“A gentleman approached us in a mask and asked if we were there for the protest,” she said.
“We did not have any idea they were having protests.”
People seemed to be “flipping them off” from across the street, Lowe recalled.
“Honestly, we had no idea what this was all about.”
A man drove in front of them while they were there and stopped, Lowe said, as though wanting to block them from leaving.
They drove around his vehicle and went to the Thriftway-Forks Outfitters center for shrimp, a special dinner treat, Lowe said, for a family too familiar with canned dinners.
Once in the grocery store parking lot, several vehicles arrived.
“Cars were parked randomly all around us, as if we were surrounded,” Lowe said. “It felt like a hostage situation.
“We were scared.”
People got out of their vehicles and asked them repeatedly if they were members of Antifa, a leftist umbrella group that protests militantly against white supremacists and neo-Nazis. Antifa is short for “antifascist.”
Antifa members were falsely rumored on the internet to be heading in buses to rural areas of the U.S., and had been rumored that same day to be heading in buses to a demonstration in Sequim against racial injustice.
The family stood by as people in the store parking lot took photos of their bus and peered through its darkened windows.
One man jumped inside the vehicle, Lowe said.
“He said he thought we were a part of this terrorist group and we had come to town and were going to burn and destroy it, and he had come to protect it,” Lowe recalled.
“Who is saying this, who is making assumptions [based] on the fact that it’s a big, white bus?”
Lowe’s family kept saying they weren’t in Antifa, she said.
The crowd grew to about two dozen people, three or four of whom were asking mainly Tyrone about the family’s politics.
Nobody stepped forward to defend the family, Lowe said.
Lowe said Tyrone’s father is African American and mother is Native American.
No one called the family names or referred to anything racial during their time in Forks, Lowe said.
Not a race issue
“We keep hearing there was a race issue, but I don’t think it was,” Lowe said.
“It did not feel like a racial thing to us.”
They had difficulty getting around the vehicles when they left the parking lot, their bus nicking a cart-return barrier before they drove to their U.S. Forest Service campsite at the Sitkum Sol Duc Road (known as A Road) 5 miles from Forks.
“We were being followed by people going around us,” Lowe said.
“We could see people collected at intersections with rifles outside the windows of their vehicles.
“The whole time, I was thinking, none of this is related to us.”
Lowe said one man following them “definitely” held a semi-automatic rifle outside the window.
They followed them to the Forest Service road, where they crossed a small bridge, parked their bus and pitched a tent.
Then they heard shooting, Lowe said.
A nearby gravel pit is a favorite for local shooters, Chief Criminal Deputy Brian King said.
Off-road vehicles were going by their campsite, their drivers deliberately braking the vehicles, “making a point of spraying our dogs, tent and bus with gravel,” Lowe said.
“We felt like that had to be the last straw.”
As they broke camp, they heard a chain saw, Lowe said.
The family drove to the bridge, finding a half-dozen downed trees laid out in a row, blocking them from leaving.
“I didn’t know if they wanted to keep us there or if they wanted to get us out of town,” she said.
The bridge was about 70 feet long. On the other side, people fired shots with weapons “not pointed at us,” Lowe said.
Two young men across the bridge had a chain saw, she said.
“They told us they heard a bunch of people were in the woods camping, trying to destroy their city, and they were there to stop them,” Lowe said.
“We informed them we were not there to do that, and they said, ‘Oh, we’ll just cut you out,’ ” Lowe said.
Lowe said they cut apart the obstruction after the family called 9-1-1 and deputies arrived.
She said Deputy James Gribbon told the family “he did not believe we were safe anywhere in the county” and escorted them to the sheriff’s office outside of Forks.
Gribbon and an officer from La Push escorted the family out of town after they gave statements, Lowe said.
Then their battery failed, forcing them to wait until the following morning to leave.
But their tribulations were not over.
Lowe said a driver tried blocking them driving from a store where they bought a new battery in the Mason County town of Shelton before following them to Thurston County.
Lowe said she knows she was being followed because the bus has a speed governor that forces it to drive much slower than other traffic.
King said troopers with the State Patrol questioned the man, who is not from the North Olympic Peninsula. He was not arrested.
“It’s got nothing to do with our case,” King said.
King, said the Clallam County Sheriff’s Office, which continues to investigate the case, has not been told that people were seen firing guns.
Sightings of white buses in Sequim, Port Angeles and Forks were reported June 3, King said.
“People were questioning if that was Antifa,” he said.
“Folks are paranoid.”
Lowe said their visit to Forks has left the family shaken.
“It’s a lot more like we all just have [post-traumatic stress disorder],” she said.
“We don’t want this to change us, but it has.”
Lowe said she accepts the apology of the Forks City Council, issued Monday, but does not have much of a reaction.
“I would really like to hear from our accusers,” she said.
Mayor Tim Fletcher issued a statement Thursday urging residents with information about the incidents to call the sheriff’s office at 360-417-2259 or by sending information through the anonymous tip portal at www.tinyurl.com/PDN-CrimeTips.
“Now is the time to be part of the healing that is needed,” Fletcher said.
Senior Staff Writer Paul Gottlieb can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 55650, or at [email protected].