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News-Times letter to the editor leads to criminal investigation

Deputies with the Island County Sheriff’s Office are investigating the harassment of an elderly Coupeville woman who wrote a letter to the editor that spawned a controversy.

Deputy Chris Garden said the letter writer, Caralyn Haglund, was in the sheriff’s office crying because of continuous harassing phone calls and cars driving by her home since the letter was published in the Whidbey News-Times on Sept. 5.

Garden said the behavior is criminal harassment. He urges people to refrain from calling or going to the woman’s house.

“People should grow up and be mature about this kind of thing,” he said. “It’s OK for people to have a difference of opinion.”

Haglund said the situation has been a nightmare for her and her husband. After the letter was published, she received harassing phone calls, day and night, until she was forced to turn off her phone. She’s getting a new number because she needs to stay in touch with her sister, who is dying.

“My husband keeps watch during the night. We don’t get any sleep and we are just a wreck,” she said. “This is costing me my health.”

A Navy spokesperson said it’s premature for the leadership at Whidbey Island Naval Air Station to comment on the controversy.

“The local authorities have the lead on this matter and the Navy will provide assistance where needed with their investigation,” spokeswoman Kim Martin said in a written statement.

Haglund’s letter, “Navy should act like our guests,” has definitely touched a nerve in the North Whidbey community. The letter generated more than 300 comments overnight after it was posted on the Whidbey News-Times website. The publisher of the Whidbey News-Times closed the comments because of excessive abuse of the terms of use.

The majority of the comments expressed anger at Haglund for writing the letter, which criticized the Navy for jet noise, and at the paper for printing it. Many resorted to swearing and name calling. Several people posted Haglund’s name and address. Others implied threats.

A person who identified himself as Jacob Martin, IFT for the PCs in the U.S. Navy, wrote, “I personally hope you are raped in your sleep.”

On the other hand, there were plenty of civil, intelligent comments.

“As I can empathize with you about the noise level, I would have to say that we have not forgotten who the island ‘belongs’ to. I am pretty sure it ‘belongs’ to the great state of Washington, which in turn belongs to the United States of America, which happens to pay for those bothersome jets,” Joseph Richter wrote. “I, as a crewman on those annoying P-3’s, DO pay taxes here on the island, am registered to vote for the people who sit in the chairs that grant them power to govern us as Whidbey Island residents. How dare us pesky military people infringe on your ‘private rights.’ The same rights that me and my brothers and sisters fight/have fought for.”

“There is no need to bash the Navy for training requirements they believe will enhance the skills of our military and ultimately protect the rights of those who verbally bash them,” Randy Fisher wrote. “Take the issue up the proper channels.”

What really seemed to upset people the most was the final line of Haglund’s letter: “Listen up, Navy: We pay taxes here. I suspect you don’t. We aren’t your guests. In reality, you are ours.”

The noise from Navy aircraft is an issue that has generated a lot of controversy over the years, though never at this level. Just last month, the Island County commissioners’ hearing room was packed with people who were upset about jet noise.

Haglund said she turned over copies of the online comments to the sheriff’s office and the FBI.

“The real sound of freedom is the sound of freedom of speech. We should be able to speak without being threatened,” she said. “We can disagree on an issue, but we don’t need to be disagreeable.”

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