Feds, family quiet about suspect in ’98 Vail Mountain firebombing
December 14, 2005
VAIL – Federal officials and family were tight-lipped Wednesday concerning the details of 28-year-old Chelsea Gerlach’s alleged involvement in the 1998 “Two Elk” firebombings of three buildings and four chairlifts on Vail Mountain. “The criminal investigation is being lead by FBI in Colorado assisted by ATF,” said Jeff Dorschner, spokesman for the U.S. Attorney’s office in Denver. “The investigation is active and ongoing.”Dorschner declined to comment on whether charges would be filed in Colorado against Gerlach, who is from Portland, Ore., and if the woman is cooperating with investigators. Gerlach was linked to the Vail fires Tuesday by Assistant U.S. Attorney Kirk Engdahl during a bail hearing in U.S. District Court in Eugene, Ore.Engdahl did not return phone messages left for him on Wednesday.Gerlach’s mother, Rene, would not comment Wednesday about her daughter. She referred to a statement in which the family defends Chelsea Gerlach, who is also known as “Country Girl.””We are both disturbed and baffled by the charges brought against her, as well as by the images presented in the press of a radical Chelsea Gerlach hardened by crime and malfeasance,” the statement says. “The person we know and love is incapable of such acts and we have absolutely no reason to believe in her criminal involvement in these cases.”The family plans to create a website to support Chelsea Gerlach, the statement says.”We are all dedicated to keeping a constant watch to make sure that she is treated fairly and with respect, so that her innocence will not be clouded by the fear-inspiring and unfounded labels of ‘terrorist,'” the statement says.The 1998 Vail fires destroyed or damaged Two Elk Lodge, ski patrol headquarters, Camp I and four chairlifts. Total damage was estimated at $12 million.After the Vail fires, the Earth Liberation Front – an underground group that has used sabotage to combat what it calls environmental destruction – claimed responsibility for the firebombing. The group stated the Blue Sky Basin expansion would “ruin the last, best lynx habitat in the state.”Gerlach was one of six people arrested in five states last week on indictments for allegedly participating in a string of arsons and other crimes between 1998 and 2001 in Oregon and Washington. The Earth Liberation Front and Animal Liberation Front claimed responsibility for the crimes.Gerlach is also a prime suspect in five other cases, Engdahl said Tuesday.The Associated Press contributed to this report.