Metolius reverses course, destroys train used in sex abuse
Metolius Mayor Carl "Foncie" Elliott said Friday afternoon that a wooden train that was involved in a decade of sexual abuse has been destroyed.
The story of the train led to an outcry on social media, which apparently led the city to take down its Facebook page, as well as a petition on Change.org that garnered 2,761 signatures and a Facebook group called Stop the Train that had 889 members as of Saturday morning.
The victim of the abuse, Madras resident Cassandra Ruwaldt, said she's grateful that the train is gone, but the community wanted proof. She later received confirmation from Undersheriff Marc Heckathorn, who interviewed employees at the transfer station.
"I'm standing next to the community," Cassandra said. "I'm hearing their voices, and they would like proof from City Council ... I am so grateful that it's gone even though there is no proof. They kind of opened up this whole can of worms for the entire community. They can't be like, 'It's gone. Problem solved. Let's move on.' They have an entire community to deal with now."
"The train has been resolved, and it's gone, destroyed, and that's all," Elliott said by phone. He declined to say what happened to the structure.
"It is no longer in our possession. Period," Elliott said.
Later Friday, Ruwaldt received a picture from an anonymous source that showed a pile of wooden debris, including the train's wheels, at the Box Canyon Transfer Station.
The train was built by Richard Pickett, who was convicted in 2008 of 35 counts in connection with the abuse and child pornography, including first-degree sodomy, first-degree sexual abuse and first-degree encouraging child sexual abuse. He is serving a 38-year sentence in prison.
The city of Metolius bought the train from a woman for $500 and refurbished it. City officials didn't know its history until Cassandra, her husband, Bryan Ruwaldt, and Jefferson County District Attorney Steve Leriche brought it to their attention in March.
The Ruwaldts and Leriche went to the Metolius City Council and asked for removal of the train on March 2.
At the time, Cassandra did not respond to the Pioneer's request for an interview.
"I didn't want this," she said in an interview Friday morning before knowing that the train had been destroyed. "That brings up a whole new wound that I did not want opened, especially in front of the whole community."
And after the meeting, the city did remove the train from City Hall, so she thought the matter was settled.
But community members started calling City Hall asking what had happened to the train.
So the city put a question in its newsletter and on its Facebook page asking for feedback.
"Recently, there was an objection to this train being displayed in Metolius," the city's July newsletter said. "City Councilors honored the request and removed this train set out of the public's view." It goes on to ask for residents' opinions, but does not explain what the objection to the train was.
When they found out, the business community offered to pay for the train, said Nick Korcek, who lives in Madras and has a business in Metolius.
"We were just told that the city was in front of it and that they were going to let Cassie set it on fire," he said.
But July 6, the council met and went over the feedback from the community.
They were prepared to sell the train for $3,000 to the Ruwaldts, but because they did not come to the meeting, the council decided to put the train back in front of City Hall.
The council sent a letter, signed by Elliott, to the Ruwaldts informing them of the decision.
"The Council sincerely hopes that you can understand our dilemma in this matter and wish you the best in the future," the letter concluded.
Cassandra said that Friends of Metolius, a group that led the successful recall effort against Mayor John Chavez last year, contacted the Bend Bulletin.
Ruwaldt had started a GoFundMe campaign to buy the train.
She said in a Facebook post Saturday morning:
"Let's still help the city (not the council) by getting something beautiful to display in honor of victims and a safe haven for ones to come forward without fear of not being heard. Let's remember, this was tax money from the residents, so help me replace it with something better!"
Check back for more on this story, including reporting from the City Council meetings and workshops and our interviews with Cassandra Ruwaldt on her experiences — as well as a discussion of being a survivor of sex abuse — and others who worked for the removal of the train. We are also reaching out to Metolius City Council members for their response.
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