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Cassandra Ruwaldt wasn't looking for media attention. She just wanted the train her abuser made to be gone.

TERESA JACKSON/MADRAS PIONEER - Cassandra and Bryan Ruwaldt went to the Metolius City Council in March asking for a train that had been made by the man who sexually abused her to be removed from a display at City Hall. When the council voted to put the train back, it started a firestorm of controversy.Cassandra Ruwaldt had moved on with her life.

She's married and has two kids. She owns a small business.

It was hard work. She had spent 10 years of her childhood as the victim of her stepfather, who used building a toy village as a ruse to spend time with her, she said. His woodshop had a couch, tools and a pool table.

"He was the county grave digger," Cassandra said, "and he used that over my head. And he would say that it would be really easy to hide a body under a casket."

He controlled Cassandra's movements and didn't allow her to stay the night with her sisters or hang out with friends.

To report abuse, call 911 or the state hotline at 855-503-7233.

To talk, call the National Sexual Abuse Hotline at 800-656-HOPE or visit rainn.org.

See next week's Pioneer for more on local resources for survivors of sexual abuse.

Richard Pickett is now in prison for the years of sexual abuse he inflicted on Cassandra, as well as for child pornography.

While she lives with the trauma of that abuse, Cassandra has been clear that it doesn't define her.

"It took me years of medications and therapy and counseling and coming up with good personal boundaries ... to heal and move on properly," she said.

When she drove through Metolius and saw a wooden train that Pickett had built as part of that toy town, she, her husband, Bryan Ruwaldt, and Jefferson County District Attorney Steve Leriche went to the City Council and asked for its removal. And it was removed for a few months.

Then the council voted to put the train back up. The train was destroyed July 17.

The Ruwaldts talked with the Pioneer before they were aware that the train was gone.

"I just want people to be heard," Cassandra said. "'It's not OK to shame victims into silence, and they shouldn't have to be afraid to come forward and feel like they're not going to be heard."

Bryan Ruwaldt quoted a national estimate that one-third of girls are sexually abused. That means there are a handful of girls in Metolius that fall into that category, statistically speaking, he said.

"We really feel like it's sending a counterproductive message. 'We will hear you as long as it doesn't hurt our tax budget too much,' which is absolutely the wrong message," he said.

Council members asked Cassandra to see the train as something ugly made beautiful.

"You can't a polish a turd," she said. "It's still a turd, even if it's shiny and new and painted and a couple boards replaced."

Council President Patty Wyler had referred to the train as a caterpillar turned into a butterfly.

"No," Cassandra said. "That's not a caterpillar. That is absolutely not caterpillar."

"It's a tool used by a sexual predator to harm a child," Bryan said. "Who would want such a grotesque piece in their town? And they didn't know. They obviously didn't know."

Council members also noted that Cassandra was not a citizen of Metolius.

"That is the community I grew up in," Cassandra said. "It's an entire community, and Jefferson County is part of the community."

"Justice shouldn't be tied to or related to someone's physical address," Bryan said.

The council invited Cassandra to come to a meeting, where they discussed asking her to pay $3,000 for the train and an assurance that she would destroy it.

Cassandra said there were multiple offers to buy the train, and she was never asked to pay for it. She was just invited to a meeting, which she didn't go to.

"Cassie is a victim," Bryan said. "She shouldn't have to pay to remove symbols of the abuse that she underwent. ... We didn't respond because it hurts her every single time."

"They just do not get victimization and trauma," Cassandra said.

Cassandra said she has put on a brave face, but she has been struggling with nightmares and panic attacks "since this has all transpired. ... There's different ways that things affect me. That brings up a whole new wound that I did not want opened, especially not in front of the whole community."

But last week, she got a call from Leriche warning her that the Bend Bulletin was doing a story because the train was going back up.

So Bryan called City Hall and asked if there was a way to work together to create something else that would represent Metolius. He received a letter that expressed hope that the Ruwaldts could understand the city's predicament.

Cassandra had started a GoFundMe campaign to pay for the train.

Now that it's been destroyed, she's changed the mission to "replace the train with something better." She's said any money left over will go to victims of abuse.


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