Brisenia Flores would be 16 this year—my youngest brother's age. Except seven years ago on May 30, as she slept with her puppy on the living room couch in her family's mobile home in Arivaca—about 60 miles south of Tucson—armed robbers broke in, and shot and killed Brisenia and her father, Raul, 29.
The home invasion was led by Shawna Forde, a former member of the Minuteman Civil Defense Corps
, and founding member of the group Minutemen American Defense. Reports say she'd patrol the Arizona-México borderlands carrying weapons and protested against crime along the border, as well as the presence of undocumented immigrants in the country. Forde was reportedly kicked out of the Minuteman Civil Defense Corps because she was "unstable." (Describing both groups as white supremacists is not far fetched.)
Forde and her two accomplices claimed to be law enforcement, which is how they were able to enter the Flores' home.
The day of the murder, as a CNN article from 2011 describes
, Brisenia, Raul and mom Gina Gonzales went shopping for new shoes for Brisenia. She had just finished third grade and needed them for summer camp.
She fell asleep watching television as her parents slept in their bedroom. A few hours later, she opened her eyes to the sight of her father, lying on the opposite couch. He had been shot in the chest and was choking on his own blood. Her mother was bleeding on the floor, a gunshot wound to her leg. The little girl was startled and cried out to intruders in her home, “Why did you shoot my mom?”
Brisenia's mom, Gina, cried and described the events in court back in 2011. She made it out alive seven years ago yesterday, after being shot in the leg. She called 911 and got a hold of her husband's gun.
"[Brisenia] was really scared. Her voice was shacking," Gina said in court, according to CNN. "I can hear her say, 'Please don't shoot me.'"
Forde and two accomplices, Jason Bush—at the time the national director of operations for the Minutemen American Defense—and Albert Gaxiola planned to raid the home to steal drugs, weapons and money to fund their anti-immigration group, according to CNN. Reportedly, they thought Raul was a drug dealer. No drugs were found.
On Feb. 22, 2011, a jury found Forde guilty of first-degree murder and gave her the death penalty.
(As this question will arise when debating whether their deaths matter: yes, Brisenia and Raul were U.S. citizens, and so is Gina. And if they weren't, Brisenia's and Raul's murders still matter.)
CNN was the sole national TV media outlet that covered the murder, and a 2011 Huffington Post write-up says
they did it mediocrely. MSNBC and Fox mostly ignored the case. There were a couple of articles here and there, including by the Arizona Daily Star
and the LA Times
The Huffington Post
write-up by Raul A. Reyes compares Brisenia's murder with the death of 9-year-old Christina Taylor Green, who was killed in Tucson's Jan. 8, 2011 shooting—an attack against former congresswoman Gabby Giffords.
Christina was eulogized in President Obama’s 2011 State of the Union address as her family sat with the First Lady.
All cases like Brisenia's and Christina's—two beautiful little girls who should of had decades more of laughter, birthday parties and family holidays—deserve unconditional attention, as well as local, national and international mourning. They were elementary school children murdered in cold blood.
No life is greater than the other, whether you come from a middle-class, white family or a Latino family getting by, living in a mobile home.
As Reyes writes,
Brisenia should matter because she died as a result of anti-illegal immigration extremism. Shawna Forde was not a lone nutcase; she was “well-placed in the border security movement,” according to the Arizona Daily Star.
Forde led protests and patrols on the border, and appeared on television as a spokesperson for the Federation For American Immigration Reform (FAIR). She was in email contact with Jim Gilchrist, cofounder of the Minuteman Project, until the day she was arrested. Unlike Jared Loughner, implicated in the Tucson tragedy, Forde was indeed motivated by political beliefs. She heard all the ugly rhetoric and decided to act on it.
I’m saddened by the indifferent response to Brisenia’s death. While Forde is a disturbed individual, she was part of a nativist movement that deserves further scrutiny. Her radicalism was Made in the USA. That’s the “big story” much of the media missed - as well as its deadly consequences.
Rest in peace, Brisenia. There are people who do care.
Editor's note: According to the Huffington Post, a FAIR spokesperson contacted them after the 2011 blog was published, saying Shawna Forde misrepresented herself in her TV appearance, and has never had any association with FAIR.