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Two Whatcom County Women Arrested For Terrorist Attacks and Other Violence Against Railroad Carriers

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Bellingham, WA – On November 28th, at 11:27 pm, Whatcom County Sheriff’s Office deputies responded to a report of a Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF) camera activation on the railroad tracks near Cliffside Drive and Marine Drive. Deputies located two subjects wearing black clothing crouched down on the tracks. The subjects initially began to flee but stopped when deputies identified themselves. The subjects were detained while deputies investigated the area.  Upon investigation of the immediate area, Deputies located a “Shunting Device” on the railroad tracks. Railroad Officials have documented 41 separate incidents of unknown subjects who have been tampering with the railroad tracks by placing shunting devices or Shunts on the tracks in Whatcom and Skagit Counties since January 19th of 2020. These incidents are considered  Terrorist Acts and Other Acts of Violence  Against Railroad Carriers.

On the night in question, deputies found freshly disturbed rocks in between the two rails in the area where the subjects were seen crouching. Deputies also located a black wire or Shunting Device commonly called a “shunt” buried under the rocks connecting the two rails.  BNSF Railroad tracks have a low-voltage current traveling through the tracks that allows trains to create a connection to display a signal to controllers to monitor the location of trains on the tracks. A shunt consists, at a minimum, of wire stretched between and connected to the rails of a train track, which is designed to mimic the electrical signal presented by a train on the tracks. This signal prevents other trains from entering the area until the shunt has been located and removed. Depending on the location, the shunt may also interfere with the proper operation of crossing gates at railroad/traffic intersections, causing the gates to allow vehicular traffic across the tracks even when a train is oncoming. There is also a possibility that a shunt could cause Positive Train Control (“PTC”), an automatic braking system on modern trains, to engage, potentially resulting in a derailment   It can also prevent crossing arms from functioning properly putting the traveling public at great risk.  The subjects were carrying a paper bag containing a cordless battery powered drill with a brush head, scissors, adhesive magnetic tape, rubber gloves, and wire.

Previously, on the night of October 11th to October 12th, 2020, multiple shunts were placed in three different locations in Whatcom and Skagit Counties.  A shunt located at BNSF milepost 87.6 caused PTC to engage emergency braking on BNSF train HLYDVBT109A. The force of this sudden emergency braking caused a failure in a “drawbar,” which is the
device that couples train cars together, causing the train to separate into two unconnected parts. This decoupling had the potential to cause a derailment in a residential area and illustrates some of the potential damage caused by shunting activity. BNSF train HLYDVBT109A was carrying 12 placarded hazardous material cars, including combustible
liquid and flammable gas at the time of the decoupling.

There were at least 10 different occasions where shunts were placed on the track near enough to a roadway to potentially cause crossing signal and crossing arm malfunctions, including failure to block traffic when a train was oncoming. On at least two occasions, individual shunts have interfered with multiple roadway/railway signals.

Following the initial shunting incidents on January, 19th, 2020, a claim of responsibility was published on an anarchist website on January 22nd, 2020.  The claim of responsibility stated that the shunting activity was carried out in solidarity with Native American Tribes in Canada seeking to prevent the construction of an oil pipeline across British Columbia, and with the express goal of disrupting BNSF operations and supplies for the pipeline.

On the night of November 28th, 2020, the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force and BNSF responded to the scene to meet up with Whatcom County Sheriff’s Deputies after they had detained the two female subjects for trespassing.  The subjects were identified as 27-year-old Ellen Brennan Reiche, and 23-year-old Samantha Frances  Brooks, both from Bellingham.  When questioned, Reiche state she and Brooks were walking along the tracks to look for her keys. When asked whether they had a flashlight or phone to help them look, Reiche told investigators she had left her phone in her car, and indicated the car was parked nearby with a “co-op” sticker on it.  The car was located and also had a sticker on the back hatch depicting a map of the United States overlaid with the text “Indigenous Land.”

Photo: Justice.Gov

At the time the females were detained, Reichie was in possession of a brown paper bag that contained rubber gloves, a piece of black insulated copper wire, a Makita Drill with a wheel-shaped wire brush attachment in the chuck.  The insulated wire was similar to what had been used in pervious shunting incidents. In addition, during previous shunting incidents, the rail had been scuffed, allowing a better connection with the shunt. A drill would cause the type of scuffing that had been previously observed.

Whatcom County Jail Booking Report

Both females  were arrested for Criminal Trespass 2nd and Malicious Injury to Railroad Property, a Class B Felony.  They were booked into the Whatcom County Jail and transferred to Federal Custody. Both Reiche and Brooks appeared in federal court on Monday, November 30th, and were charged with Terrorist Attacks and Other Violence Against Railroad Carriers.

According to her LinkedIn Page, Ellen Reiche worked as a mentor for Wild Whatcom, which engages children and their families in year-round nature programs.  She has also worked as a naturalist for Outer Island Excursions in Anacortes, Washington,  as a Ski Instructor for Mt. Baker Ski Area in Bellingham, Washington, as a senior park aide for the State of Washington at Sucia Island State Park, a dining hall worker with Aramark, as a quality control technician for Enfield Farms, as a transplanter  for Cascade Cuts Wholesale Nursery, and as a deputy field organizer for Washington State Democrats.   She graduated from Gig Harbor High School and attended Western Washington University where she earned a bachelor’s degree in German.

Additional online information for Brooks could not be confirmed at the time of this article.

Please Note: All Subjects are “Innocent Until Proven Guilty in a Court of Law” 

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