Column: Seven minutes of haunting terror in Forest Grove
Part 2 of a series
Shortly before 1 a.m. last Oct. 31, Mirella Castaneda and Pablo Weimann awoke to the alarm blaring from their Ram pickup in the driveway. The Forest Grove couple lives with their 13-year-old son, 11-year-old daughter, two foster sons, 13 and 16, and Castaneda's mother, due west of downtown Portland in the Washington County city.
Weimann, a construction worker who specializes in finish and tile work, shut off the alarm remotely and lay back down. But when it went off again, Castaneda, an administrative specialist at Washington County's Department of Environmental Health, got out of bed and stuck her head outside the front door, thinking she might see a raccoon.
Instead, a man she didn't recognize emerged from behind the pickup, walked straight to the large Black Lives Matter flag hanging against her garage door, stood there for a moment looking at it, then slammed both his fists into the flag, she said, causing a loud bang on the garage.
When Castaneda yelled for Weimann, she says, the stranger turned, saw her and charged at her, so Castaneda slammed and locked the door.
Seven minutes of chaos and terror ensued.
• Part 1: A chance run-in with Forest Grove's police chief led a retired journalist down the rabbit hole to find the truth.
• Editor's Note: A crime story in Forest Grove cried out for follow-up. It's coming, thanks to an unlikely and lucky series of events.
Castaneda says she and Weimann huddled inside, trying to find their phones as the man kicked and pounded on their door, turning the handle, trying to get in. Periodically he'd turn and kick some of the pathway lights behind him or ball up his fists and yell for them to "Come on!" as if challenging them to fight.
After finally finding her phone at 12:53 a.m., Castaneda yelled loudly to a 911 dispatcher, hoping the intruder would hear her and be frightened away by the thought that the police would be coming soon. Their Yorkshire terrier, Koby, barked frantically and Castaneda says all the noise woke her 59-year-old mother, who was so frightened at how the door shook with each blow that she pressed herself against it, trying to keep it from bursting open.
Weimann tried yelling about "going to get my gun" and finally did go look for a baseball bat, accidentally waking their 13-year-old son. The boy came out to the living room and watched in shock as his parents and grandmother tried to defend themselves from this terrifying, bizarre attack, which the 911 dispatcher inexplicably coded as a "theft in progress."
Castaneda and Weimann kept asking the man what he wanted and yelling at him to leave, which he finally did, vandalizing a few Halloween decorations on the way out, about 20 minutes before a Forest Grove police cruiser finally pulled up to their house.
Their son, who is known for his love and gentleness with animals and little children, was too afraid to go back to his bedroom. So he got his sharp camping knife and slept with it on a couch in the living room, where Weimann stayed with him all night. After Castaneda found them both sleeping there the next morning, Weimann woke and told her how the teen had broken down and cried after everyone else left.
"That was the moment that I knew I needed to know everything about who this person was," says Castaneda. "I needed my son to feel safe again and like his father and I would protect and fight for him … so that my child could feel secure again even if I was not feeling it myself."
But any sense of security was about to be seriously compromised.
Back when a shaken Castaneda was still on the phone with 911, waiting for an officer to respond, the dispatcher told her a suspect had been found. Castaneda assumed that meant the man had been arrested and jailed. But in fact, the Forest Grove police officer who picked up the suspect had simply driven him home.
This was the beginning of a toxic trail of misunderstandings, miscommunications and evasiveness from a law enforcement community Castaneda came to feel was attempting to protect her attacker at her family's expense.
It included what Castaneda found — or rather didn't find — in the crime report.
Jill Rehkopf Smith is a former reporter for Willamette Week, The Oregonian and Pamplin Media Group. She was editor of the Forest Grove News-Times for five years before retiring in 2017. She is now a member of the Forest Grove chapter of Showing Up for Racial Justice, which aims to educate and organize people to help further racial justice. In a series of columns, she will share the perspective of Mirella Castaneda, a Forest Grove woman whose property was attacked by an off-duty officer and who has struggled to make sense of how law enforcement officials responded.
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