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University Of Washington Researchers Remember 2001 Arson Attack

Katrina Roi

Last week Justin Solonz was sentenced in Tacoma to seven years in prison for his role in the 2001 arson at the University of Washington. Solonz was the last of four people convicted of the attack. All were members of the Earth Liberation Front. The latest sentencing brings closure to UW scientists at the school's Center for Urban Horticulture. KUOW's Katrina Roi talked to them about their experience.


Sarah Reichard is a conservation biologist and director of the UW's Center for Urban Horticulture. She was working here 11 years ago when the center was firebombed. She shows me a reminder of that day.

Reichard: "So this is my day planner. As you can see, it was sitting out on my desk. You can see the whole week. It's so covered with ash you can't really even see what's on there. If you look at it, you can see that every time I touch it I've got ash on my fingers."

The FBI classifies the Earth Liberation Front (ELF) as an eco–terrorist organization. Members of ELF admitted to the arson. They said they were targeting research into genetically modified poplar trees. The 2001 firebombing destroyed one of the Center's four buildings.

Reichard remembers a few days later, walking into what was left of her office.

Reichard: "Entering the building was bizarre. On my end of the building — I was kind of on the far end of the building. The fire traveled through the roof. So it was all throughout the building. There wasn't actually fire in my office, but there was smoke everywhere and there was ash."

Kern Ewing also lost his office in the fire. At the time, he didn't understand why ELF would target the center, since it's focused on helping the environment and promoting sustainable horticulture.

Ewing: "I know that the people that did this were highly committed to a cause, but I don't think they did their research very well. They were attacking the wrong targets."

Carrie Cone was also there on the day of the attack. She and her colleagues have met with the FBI as it investigated the case. Now, she says, with the latest sentencing, they can move on.

Cone: "It means a certain amount of closure. For a number of years we memorialized the day of the fire each year. We got to the point where we were looking forward to the year when we wouldn't have to think about it. I think for a number of people here, catching those people and prosecuting them was extremely important."

The new building at the UW Center for Urban Horticulture opened four years ago. They no longer do research on poplar trees.

For KUOW News, I'm Katrina Roi.

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