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Dad Asks Mercy in Woman's Terror-Note Arrest

'She's an immature girl,' he argues in hoping for leniency over a scare and a ruined ocean cruise.

May 01, 2003|Mai Tran | Times Staff Writer

Tim and Debra Ferguson saw it as a final family trip, a way to cement the parents' bond with four grown daughters before they all married and drifted away.

So Tim Ferguson, who owns an auto repair shop in Mission Viejo, spent two years planning the 10-day cruise to Hawaii for the six of them. He took on nearly $7,000 in credit-card debt to make it happen.

But it all went terribly wrong over the weekend -- the vacation ruined, the youngest daughter behind bars on federal terrorism charges, and the family stunned by a sudden nightmare that overtook them.

"I should not feel guilty about it, because my daughter did it and I had no control over it," said Ferguson, 52, of Laguna Hills. "But, as a family, I am sorry for the inconvenience, disappointments, extra work put on by the cruise line, everything."

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Saturday May 03, 2003 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 43 words Type of Material: Correction
Cruise ship hoax -- An article in Thursday's California section misspelled the name of the boyfriend of Kelley Ferguson, an Orange County woman accused of perpetrating a terrorist hoax aboard a cruise ship last week. His name is Joshua Brashear, not Joshua Brashears.

Daughter Kelley Ferguson, 20, faces a bail hearing today for allegedly making terrorist threats aboard the ship, Royal Caribbean's Legend of the Seas, in an apparent attempt to force the vessel back to port so she could return to her boyfriend in Huntington Beach.

If convicted, she could be sentenced to 10 years on each of two counts: one for each of two notes she allegedly left in restrooms threatening to "kill all Americanos abord" the 867-foot vessel, officials said. She declined to discuss her case on Wednesday and her lawyer, a federal public defender, did not return telephone calls seeking comment.

Her father, who returned with most of the family on Saturday and was back at work in his garage on Wednesday, pleaded for authorities to see it as her parents do: a terrible lapse in judgment.

"Her main concern was getting back home. She didn't want to hurt anybody," he said, wiping away tears with hands stained by grease. "This is not Al Qaeda. She's not a terrorist.... She's an immature girl and they make mistakes."

Ferguson said he and his wife have struggled with Kelley since her junior year at Laguna Hills High School. That's when she started skipping classes, he said, to be with her boyfriend, Joshua Brashears. She dropped her old friends and stopped attending church with her parents every Sunday.

Within a year she had enrolled in a program of independent study, but Ferguson said he isn't sure whether she ever graduated.

She moved in with Brashears, 23, and got a job as a waitress at a restaurant where he was a waiter. There were other jobs that didn't last, as well, he said.

Ferguson acknowledges there was friction between the parents and Brashears, whom he nicknamed "Velcro" because the two were inseparable. But Kelley was looking forward to the trip and -- despite a last-minute hitch the morning of April 18, the day the family departed to catch the cruise ship in Ensenada -- she appeared to join willingly, he said.

"She was fine," Ferguson said. And after two days at sea, "She was seasick ... but she got some patches and felt fine."

The family was having a good time, he said, enjoying shows and basking in the sun. He recalls telling Kelley at one point that he was glad she came on the trip, and that when the family returned, he would give Brashears a second chance.

"Maybe I'll like him, maybe I'll change my mind about him," he told her. "We had no clue there were any problems."

Then the first note was found by the ship's cleaning crew April 22. When a second note was found the next day in the sixth-deck women's restroom, the ship's captain announced to the 2,400 passengers and crew members aboard that the ship would be diverted to an anchorage off Oahu instead of its scheduled port of call at Hilo, on the Big Island.

At Oahu, the ship was boarded by FBI agents, military police, local police and bomb-sniffing dogs to comb the vessel for explosives, which were not found.

"We were on the boat, thinking it was some stupid kids doing pranks," the father said. "We just didn't know it was our own kid."

While investigators were searching the boat, Kelley told her parents that she saw a similar note in the bathroom but threw it away. Her parents urged her to tell investigators, who questioned her for hours and found inconsistencies in her story. When she slowly emerged as a suspect, she admitted writing the notes, officials and her father said.

In a motion asking a federal judge to hold Kelley Ferguson without bail, Edward H. Kubo Jr., U.S. attorney for Hawaii, wrote, "The defendant threatened to kill over 1,500 Americans on the ship, and showed no remorse or regret to investigating agents." Ferguson said his daughter made a "stupid, dumb mistake." He said he knows Kelley is remorseful about what she did but doesn't show it.

"When she's nervous, she smiles and doesn't say anything," he said. "She has remorse. She's not someone who would hurt anyone."

Despite concerns about terrorism, "There was never a real threat to anyone," he said. "That's not excusable, but she does not deserve a harsh punishment. She made a very, very, very bad mistake and now she has to live with it and pay the consequences. But 20 years for being a stupid teenager is severe."

In his Mission Viejo shop, a smiling picture of his daughters sits on a bookshelf filled with auto parts, books and oil cans. The phone calls trickled in Wednesday from friends and church members who offered support and understanding.

"All I wanted was a trip to spend time with the family," he said. "It didn't quite go like planned."

*

Times staff writer Scott Martelle in Hawaii contributed to this report.

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