Arrest ended family bonding cruise trip
By Mai Tran
Los Angeles Times
MISSION VIEJO, Calif. Tim and Debra Ferguson saw it as a final family trip, a way to cement their bond with four grown daughters before they married and drifted away.
Kelley Ferguson, 20, faces a bail hearing today for allegedly making terrorist threats aboard the Royal Caribbean's Legend of the Seas.
But it all went terribly wrong the vacation ruined, the youngest daughter behind bars.
"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."
Kelley Ferguson, 20, faces a bail hearing today for allegedly making terrorist threats aboard the 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.
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," officials said.
She declined to discuss her case yesterday, and her lawyer, a federal public defender, did not return telephone calls.
Her father, who returned with most of the family Saturday and was back at work in his garage yesterday, 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. "This is not al-Qaida. She's not a terrorist. ... She's an immature girl, and they make mistakes."
Ferguson said he and his wife had struggled with Kelley since her junior year at Laguna Hills High School, when she started skipping classes to be with her boyfriend, Joshua Brashears, now 23. 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 she ever graduated.
She moved in with Brashears and got a job as a waitress at a restaurant where he was a waiter.
Ferguson acknowledges friction between the parents and Brashears, whom he nicknames "Velcro" because the two are inseparable. But Kelley was looking forward to the trip, and despite a last-minute hitch the morning of April 18, when the family left to catch the cruise ship in Ensenada, Mexico, she appeared to join willingly, he said.
The family was having a good time, he said. 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.
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 O'ahu instead of its scheduled port of call at the Big Island.
At O'ahu, the ship was boarded by FBI agents, military police, local police and bomb-sniffing dogs. No explosives were 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 searched the boat, Kelley told her parents 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, Ed Kubo, U.S. attorney for Hawai'i, 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. "When she's nervous, she smiles and doesn't say anything," he said. "She has remorse.
"There was never a real threat to anyone," he added. "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 garage shop, a smiling picture of his daughters sits on a bookshelf filled with auto parts, books and oil cans. The phone calls trickled in yesterday from friends and church members who offered support.
"All I wanted was a trip to spend time with the family," he said. "It didn't quite go like planned."