- The aunt of a teenage girl who dated the Marysville-Pilchuck High School shooter says releasing her text messages could inflame the community and haunt her for the rest of her life.
- The Everett Herald KUOW and other media organizations have filed briefs advocating for the texts to be made public.
- Her request is expected to be heard in Snohomish County Superior Court on Thursday.
Advocates for a teenage girl caught up in the investigation of last year’s shootings at Marysville-Pilchuck High School say releasing her personal text messages from that time would re-traumatize her and potentially subject her to threats and reprisals.
The girl did not attend the high school but was the former girlfriend of Jaylen Fryberg and friends with his victims.
Last October Fryberg shot five friends in the school cafeteria, killing four of them, before shooting himself. This week Snohomish County authorities began releasing records related to their investigation of the shootings.
Attorney Thomas Ahearne represents the girl, who is named in legal documents as Jane Doe. He sought an injunction to block the release of her personal text messages. As a result, anything linked to her records has been withheld so far. Her request is expected to be heard in Snohomish County Superior Court on Thursday.
As part of the lawsuit, the girl’s aunt wrote the court that her niece is still fragile and that her recovery would be undermined by having these personal messages exposed. The girl, then 15, was living with her aunt when the shooting occurred.
“Her long-term relationship with the shooter had terminated just prior to the shooting,” the aunt said. To this day, she said the girl “is unable to speak about what happened, including to her family and mental health counselors.”
The aunt fears releasing her records would “force her to re-live the events leading up to the tragedy” and possibly pose threats to her safety.
At the time of the shooting, the girl dropped out of the high school she had been attending and later transferred to a local tribal school.
“Now in her junior year and looking toward college and her future, it is crucial for my niece to be able to focus on academics and her continued recovery,” the aunt said.
While juvenile names are redacted from the report, the aunt said her niece would be easily identified “in a small, close-knit tribal community like ours.” And she accused investigators of betraying them. “We would not have voluntarily turned over the phone if we knew that it would be publicly released at a later date,” the aunt said. Her niece learned of the upcoming release on August 28, a few days before it was scheduled to become public.
In another declaration submitted to the court, a man identified as the chief of police for the young woman’s tribe said he helped facilitate a meeting between FBI agents and the girl in the wake of the shooting. When a law enforcement officer collected her cell phone, the girl’s family was fearful about her private messages being made public, the chief said.
“We explained to them that it was critical to the investigation in this serious matter that the evidence be collected, and they complied. They chose to do the right thing at every step along the way in this matter,” the chief stated.
The police chief said he was shocked to learn that those messages from a “vulnerable tribal child” were about to be released as part of the investigative report.
“There is no sane analysis that would require this child’s most painful, personal and vulnerable moments to be trotted out in public for the amusement of the mob,” he stated, adding that if disclosed, those messages will be widely publicized, “haunting her for the rest of her life.”
In addition, he said, release of the messages could endanger this girl and her family, inflaming “the rage or blame of unstable people,” and could spawn copycat events “within the impacted Native American communities.” He also expressed fears that the release could impair future investigations, especially in tribal communities.
The Everett Herald along with KUOW and other media organizations have filed briefs advocating for the texts to be made public. On behalf of the Everett Herald, attorney Michele Earl-Hubbard wrote: “Sadly, Jane Doe and her information are an important and essential part of the understanding and comprehending of this story. She cannot prove the records are not of legitimate public interest.” It said she and her mother signed consent forms allowing the FBI to search the cell phone.
Earl-Hubbard said the girl herself has already made some relevant details public. “Her profile picture for her Facebook page is of herself and Jaylen together, and a recent post – still publicly available, depicts her and Jaylen together and describes Jaylen as the love of her life,” the brief states, adding that “Jane Doe has shown she did not consider it ‘highly offensive’ to share such details with the world, as she continued to keep her page ‘public’ and continued to post pictures and details that draw the public’s attention to her.”
The Herald’s legal brief notes that there are still “crucial gaps” in public understanding of the shooting and Fryberg’s motives. Fryberg and the girl attended homecoming together the week before the shooting, and the relevant material from her cell phone spans those seven days.
Search warrants deem the girl’s text messages relevant to the investigation, and her communications appear to be “a key component to understanding the events,” the brief said. “Her exclusion has left a substantial hole in the story and in the public’s understanding of it,” Earl-Hubbard argued. While people may “sympathize and empathize” with her, the brief said the girl’s attorneys have failed to demonstrate that her records meet the threshold for being declared exempt from public disclosure under the Public Records Act.
The brief states that the public’s need to know outweighs the impacts to the girl. The shootings left the community “reeling with doubts, worry, and questions. What would make a young boy do such a thing? Were there signs or clues? We all want to know what happened, why it happened, and how to better prepare ourselves and our children so a tragedy like this does not befall us again.”