FORKS — The Clallam County Sheriff’s Office has closed its investigation into a June 3 incident that terrorized a Spokane family, failing to find perpetrators who cut down trees to barricade the tourists from leaving their Forks-area campsite until law enforcement arrived, Sheriff Bill Benedict said Friday.
“I don’t see any new information coming up, so we’re not going to actively pursue it,” Benedict said.
“Our witnesses have just clammed up.
“We are not expending resources on it. If other information comes up, it can always be opened.”
Five alders were cut down to hem in the campers; high school students later chain-sawed the obstruction out of the way.
It marked a final chapter in the family’s travails that day in Forks, a harrowing nine-hour experience that received national media attention and ended with the visitors being escorted out of town for their own safety.
A recent review of social media posts and cellphone data obtained through about a dozen warrants failed to produce enough evidence for charges, Brian King, Clallam County Sheriff’s Office chief criminal deputy, said Friday.
“The examination of all of the Facebook data and phone records that we do have to date has not furthered the investigation as it relates to identifying the specific individuals who are responsible for falling the trees,” King said.
“None of that gets us any closer to specific criminal conduct of any one individual.
“Our hope is that you’ve got some picture or a picture chain of someone falling a tree or someone holding a gun or firing a gun, something that puts things more clearly into context about what happened out there.
“Those are the pieces of evidence that are missing.”
He said investigators are moving from a proactive mode to a reactive mode that would kick-start the investigation if they receive new information.
“We’ve been able to establish who was there at or near the time the acts occurred, but we are not able to specifically identify the specific actors who felled the trees,” King said.
“It’s clear that people have more information than they are willing to provide, and that is our obstacle. Some of that information is what we need to further this investigation.”
Benedict said it’s not unusual for a crime to be committed, for people with direct knowledge of it not to talk, and for the investigation to be dropped.
“We don’t coerce people to talk, and people can exercise their constitutional right not to talk to us. If folks don’t want to talk, that’s the end of it,” he said. “That’s true all the way up to homicide.”
Benedict estimated his department has spent at least $10,000 in detectives’ overtime costs.
“At some point, you have to make a decision,” Benedict said. “We have finite resources.”
Felling the trees, located on U.S. Forest Service land west of Forks on what is known as the A Road,was a misdemeanor criminal offense, and at most a gross misdemeanor.
Their board-feet value was $183.
A hate motive would make it a more serious crime.
The family — comprised of a multiracial couple, the woman’s 19-year-old daughter, and the woman’s mother — drove up U.S. Highway 101 through Port Angeles to Forks, arriving at about 1 p.m. June 3 in their converted white school bus, the woman, Shannon Lowe, told Peninsula Daily News (https://www.peninsuladailynews.com/news/camper-tells-of-harrowing-ordeal/).
They came to Forks to visit the home of Twilight. The woman’s mother is a fan.
They were immediately confronted in a Forks parking lot when they stopped in town, Lowe said.
After driving from there to the Thriftway grocery store, they were surrounded in the parking lot by several townspeople and accused of being in the antifascist antifa movement, a loose amalgam of leftist groups crticized as extremist during protests against the death of George Floyd that were roiling nationwide at the same time.
Leaving the parking lot, they were followed by several vehicles to the family’s U.S. Forest Service campsite, where an ATV driver skid-sprayed their space with road gravel. A small group of people gathered at a nearby bridge, yelling at them. The family told authorities gunshots rang out in the woods.
They heard a chainsaw cutting down trees to barricade their exit.
“It looked like an ambush,” Lowe recalled.
High school students with a chainsaw of their own unblocked their campsite.
Still, Lowe and her family were escorted out of town by two law enforcement officers who feared for their safety.
Authorities have interviewed 10 individuals who were present or in the vicinity while the trees were being cut down.
“What we believe is that not everybody we talked to has been forthcoming with the information that they know about the acts,” King said.
“That’s based on our beliefs, and those beliefs are driven from interviews we’ve had from other people.”
King said people who were at the campsite area ranged from their teens to their 40s.
False social media warnings of antifa protesters traveling in buses to rural towns and wreaking havoc filled social media that day, King said. The poison went national, leeching to the North Olympic Peninsula.
“The whole day was filled with social media posts of antifa,” he said.
“That generated the fear.”
“They came from so many sources.”
Benedict traced some of those fears to Facebook posts that same day by FREDS Guns 2.0 owner Seth Larson of Sequim, who falsely warned of busloads of antifa members coming to Sequim, 73 miles east of Forks.
“It was misinformation, and it was incorrect,” Benedict said, adding that the identification of white buses in Sequim fed flames sparking on the West End.
“One thing that everyone in the interviews made clear was that all the actors were not acting out of any racial animus, that they were acting out of fear of antifa,” Benedict added.
He said his detectives interviewed all 10 people they knew about who were present or in the proximity of the tree-cutting incident, who said the actions that occurred were not racially motivated.
“Otherwise, it would have been a hate crime,” Benedict said.
“My detectives obviously believed there is some lying going on. We know they did not tell us what happened or they gave a version of events that did not comport with what other people said.”
Larson later apologized for posting the warnings about antifa.
“We found nothing in Seth’s posts that said anything about antifa coming to Forks,” King said.
“Our focus is more nuclear to the incident than it is to the factuality of what was on Facebook.”
King had expected more would come of the investigation.
“It’s extremely frustrating, especially as it related to the investigative resources that were put forward, and it’s frustrating to not be providing some level of justice for the family,” he said.
“It’s frustrating for us that a community cannot heal.
“You’ve got a community that does want to heal, that’s been very outspoken and very cooperative.
“With all that cooperation comes an expectation that we are going to be able to hold those individuals accountable.”
Benedict said Friday that at the beginning of the investigation he never imagined this outcome.
“I really would have thought the folks of Forks would admit to what happened and essentially admit that they were operating off of incorrect information and that they committed an error in judgment,” Benedict said.
“In the end, I don’t think it would have resulted in jail or prison for anybody, I think, if they would have just admitted that they were operating on incorrect information and got carried away.”
Benedict said he would not have condoned their behavior if the family had said they were part of antifa.
“It would still be illegal,” he said.
“The only way their behavior could have been remotely justified is if a busload of anarchists showed up with bats and guns and clubs and started to destroy the town of Forks. That didn’t happen and it’s not likely to happen.”
Senior Staff Writer Paul Gottlieb can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 55650, or at [email protected].