It was noon time on a Thursday. I had just finished working a twelve hour shift at the Modoc County Jail. I came home to catch some sleep before having to return back to work at midnight. It had to have been sometime around 2pm when my wife Shelia came home from work. She was between meetings that day. She told me that her first meeting of the day went smoother than expected and she came home to change into a more comfortable pair of shoes. She kissed me on the cheek, told me she loved me, and headed back to work. Little did I know that was last time I would ever see my wife again.
The next thing that I remember was being woken from my sleep by the doorbell. At the door was the county Sheriff and my Sergeant. I couldn't imagine why they would be at my house. The only thing that I could think of was that perhaps I had made some sort of error at work and that I was in some serious trouble for it. I invited them in. The Sheriff asked if we could sit for a bit and talk. I still couldn't imagine what this was about. As we sat on my sofa the Sheriff said that there was a problem at my wife's office and that something terrible had happened. I gasped and asked him if Shelia was okay... he shook his head, no. Horrified, I asked if she was alive. He shook his head, no. I relive that scenario in my head every day.
On February 20th, 2014, my wife Shelia Lynn Russo, along with three other people, were killed by Cherie Rhoades in a mass shooting at Shelia's place of work in Alturas. Shelia was hired in June of 2013 as the Tribal Administrator for the Cedarville Rancheria Indians. In December 2013, Shelia told me she began to find evidence of fraud and embezzlement of federal funds by Chairwoman Cherie Rhoades. Cherie was not alone in her illegal pursuits, her son (the Vice Chairman) and his wife (the Tribe's Financial Officer) were also involved, as well as the Tribe's former Administrator, Shelia said. An independent accounting firm was hired to conduct a forensic audit of the Tribe's books for the year 2012 and confirmed Shelia's suspicions.
Shelia brought their evidence to the County Sheriff who advised the Tribe to seek federal authorities for assistance. The information was then turned over to the Office of the Inspector General, who had enough evidence to open a case. With the federal investigation underway, the newly appointed Chairman, Rurick Davis (also slain in Cherie's attack), along with the Tribe's Legal Counsel, met with the Superintendent of the Bureau of Indian Affairs for Northern California. Superintendent Akins was informed about the situation going on at Cedarville Rancheria. Akins was made aware of the alleged embezzlement findings, and the Tribe's recent recall of Cheri Rhoades and Jack Stockton from their positions as Chairwoman and Vice Chairman, and the termination of Erin Stockton. The long process of the Inspector General's investigation continued, and the ever continuing threats of violence, bullying and intimidation by Cheri Rhoades was paramount. The Tribe began to take justified actions against Rhoades and Stockton following its Constitution and bylaws.
On Thursday afternoon, February 20th, police say Cherie Rhoades walked into a Tribal Community Council meeting with two 9mm handguns and killed my wife, three Tribal members and critically injured two others. When she ran out of bullets, she grabbed a butcher's knife and attempted to kill everyone in the building before law enforcement arrived. There were nineteen people in the building that day and Rhoades is reported to have made statements that she intended to kill all of them. This was told to me by eye witnesses and from police reports. Also, the entire incident was captured on security video surveillance cameras that were installed in the Tribal offices not long ago. Since it was common practice to record the minutes of Tribal meetings, it was all captured on audio tape as well.
I watched the story of the shooting get international media coverage, and then fade away a few days later, seemingly accepted as a fact of life in our culture. It became painfully obvious to me that these shootings have become so commonplace in our lives that no one seems to bat an eye anymore. This senseless killing has to stop. What was once an unspeakable act has now become a viable solution for some people to solve their issues. It almost appears to me that Sandy Hook and the gunning down of innocent children marked a turning point in this country. When we as a people could not take action after such a horrible tragedy, I fear it opened the flood gates for these shootings to happen more and more.
Shelia was a warm, caring, loving person. Full of life and laughter. The mother of two children. Shelia spoke out regularly and eloquently on politics, environmental issues and civil rights. Although Shelia was not Native American, for the past 15 years she had been devoted to helping the Native American cause and underprivileged people. She made it her life's work. Shelia poured her heart and soul into her career and tirelessly pursued the advancement and welfare of everyone she worked with.
Shelia was the love of my life. She was my entire life. It's been 47 days since this tragedy. On my dresser still sits the Valentine's Day card from just days before she was killed. Inside it the verse reads ..." I don't know what I'd do without you." Now it's me, struggling to find a way to go on without her. I know that for Shelia's sake I must go on. I know that she would want me to do something to somehow bring a positive change out of this unspeakable horror.