On Friday, Briana Waters is scheduled to be sentenced for one of the most notorious crimes in the Pacific Northwest, the 2001 firebombing of the University of Washington's Center for Urban Horticulture. The case has taken more than a decade to draw to a close. Not only has Waters' case dragged on, but her onetime boyfriend, Justin Solondz, was for years a fugitive.
As we chronicle in this week's cover story, that changed last July, when the FBI arrested Solondz in China. While hiding out in a mountainous province there, he had been arrested for making hash and spent two years in a harsh, Chinese prison. Meanwhile, after years of maintaining her innocence, Waters finally admitted her guilt in the case.
Solondz and Waters, both former Evergreen State College students, were part of an underground cell affiliated with the Earth and Animal Liberation fronts. The cell was incredibly prolific; it conducted a string of "direct actions"--many of them arsons--up and down the West Coat.
The movement had its roots in a vibrant activist scene that took hold in Oregon and Washington during the 1990s. Before Solondz and Waters turned to arson, they participated in a peaceful tree-sit intended to stop logging on a mountain inside the Gifford Pinchot National Forest.
The Evergreen couple went on to take a darker path. Recruited to participate in the UW arson, they ended up playing an instrumental role despite knowing very little about their target. The arson, in conjunction with another arson carried out on the same day in Oregon, was meant to take the underground movement to the next level. The blazing double whammy would, its participants thought, inspire a groundswell of similar activity.
Instead, in a case full of lots of surprises, it led to the movement's downfall.