A 20-year-old Laguna Hills woman apparently pining for her boyfriend faces federal terrorism charges in Hawaii after allegedly leaving two notes in a cruise ship restroom threatening to “kill all Americanos abord” if the liner put in at a U.S. port, federal officials said Tuesday.
“Give this warning to El Capt ion to save all lives,” one note from Kelley Marie Ferguson read, according to the federal complaint. “Do take this serious he sent me from far away land for mission I will complete if port on American soil.”
The first note was found by the ship’s cleaning crew on April 22. When the second was found the next day in a sixth-deck women’s restroom, the ship’s captain announced to the 1,668 passengers and about 700 crew members aboard that the vessel, Royal Caribbean’s Legend of the Seas, would be diverted to an anchorage off Oahu instead of its scheduled port of call at Hilo, on the Big Island.
About 120 agents, including FBI, local police, and military authorities accompanied by bomb-sniffing dogs, were ferried aboard by a U.S. Coast Guard cutter, said Daniel Dzwilewski, special agent in charge of the FBI’s Hawaii office in Honolulu.
Investigators scoured the 867-foot vessel, testing even the food, and found nothing. They allowed the cruise to continue, but left agents on board to interview passengers and crew.
The investigation quickly focused on Ferguson, who had been on a 10-day cruise from Ensenada to the Hawaiian Islands with her parents and three sisters. Dzwilewski declined to say why Ferguson was the early suspect, but after several interviews, he said, investigators began pressing her on inconsistencies in her statements. She then said she had written the notes.
“In her mind, she thought that leaving the notes would cause the ship to turn back to Ensenada,” Dzwilewski said.
It didn’t. Instead, as the ship reached Maui, Ferguson was arrested, taken ashore and flown to Honolulu, where she was being held without bail. She faces up to 10 years in prison on each of two counts charging her with “acts of terrorism transcending national boundaries.”
“She stated that she just didn’t want to go on the cruise ship with her family and didn’t want to leave her boyfriend,” said Dzwilewski.
“We definitely live in different post-9/11 world,” Dzwilewski said, adding that he doubted the official response would have been as strong before the terror attacks. “This is just a very good indicator of everyone’s response capabilities. It is proper to respond to any threats, and we responded quickly and thoroughly.”
Ferguson’s parents and her sisters continued with the cruise until it reached Honolulu on Monday, Dzwilewski said. They could not be reached for comment. Part of the family returned to Laguna Hills, but federal officials said they believe Ferguson’s mother remained in Honolulu.
At the family home on Bianco in Laguna Hills, a single-story house with a pool on a quiet cul-de-sac near Leisure World, Ferguson’s sister Marcy, 22, declined comment. “My dad said I can’t say anything,” she said.
The family moved into the house more than a decade ago and, although active, they did not interact much with other residents on the quiet block, neighbors said. The mother attended the neighborhood’s annual Halloween party, but usually alone.
Kelley Ferguson attended Laguna Hills High School but left after her junior year. She enrolled in Silverado High School, the local continuation school, but did not graduate with her class in 2001, school officials said.
Dzwilewski said Ferguson and her boyfriend, whom he didn’t identify, worked for a temp agency in Orange County. Neighbors said they believed Ferguson was working in a doctor’s office. Ferguson’s father owns a Mission Viejo car-repair shop, and her mother is a nurse, according to state records and neighbors.
Dirk Logan, who lives on the cul-de-sac, said he had trouble reconciling the allegations with the girl he watched grow through her teen years.
“That doesn’t sound like her,” said Logan. “She’s a quiet, good kid.”
Ferguson made an initial appearance Monday in U.S. District Court and is to be back for a detention hearing Thursday. She is being represented by the federal public defender’s office in Honolulu. Officials there declined to comment on the case.
Earlier, Pamela Byrne, an assistant public defender, told the Honolulu Advertiser that Ferguson was “basically a kid with a personal problem.”
“Instead of being charged as a terrorist, she should have been charged with being a teenager,” Byrne said.
Assistant U.S. Atty. Kenneth Sorenson noted Tuesday that Ferguson is an adult and said her alleged actions disrupted the lives of nearly 2,400 other passengers and crew, as well as law-enforcement authorities called out in the middle of the night to search the ship.
“I don’t know that the gravity of this has sunk in at all,” Sorenson said. “She realizes she has been gravely inconvenienced by this. I don’t know that she has a handle on the inconvenience she has caused others.”