Norma Countryman said she crossed paths with suspected serial killer Warren Forrest when she was 15 years old.
It was a hot day in July 1974, and she was sitting on the side of the road in Ridgefield, smoking a cigarette she’d just bought. Before long, a blue van rolled up, and the man inside started chatting her up. At first, she thought about leaving, but eventually she accepted his offer to give her a ride home.
“A fateful decision,” she said. “Stupid; get into a van with a stranger when you’re not supposed to, and that’s what I did.”
Forrest, 64, is serving a life sentence for the murder of Krista Blake, a 20-year-old Vancouver woman, whom he killed the same year. He’s up for parole, and a decision by the parole board is expected by the end of the month.
Countryman addressed the parole board in October. It was the first time she’d spoken publicly about her attack in nearly 20 years.
“It took me a long time to write that statement, to dredge it all up against everything that was inside of me that didn’t want to dredge it up again,” she said.
The number of Forrest’s victims varies depending on who you ask. Investigators believe he’s behind the disappearances of at least six women between March 1972 and October 1974. Forrest told his therapist he had 13 victims, according to information the parole board provided to suspected victims’ families.
But Countryman survived.
Countryman, now 55, told the panel of four that Forrest held a knife to her neck and drove her to a remote area of Tukes Mountain, east of Battle Ground. Tears streaked down her face and her voice shook as she detailed how he punched her in the face, gagged her with her own bra, hog-tied her and then tied her between two trees. When he left, she gnawed on the ropes, eventually breaking free and hopping away.
She later learned the spot where she was tied was just 167 feet from where Blake’s body was found in a shallow grave.
Blake was last seen getting into a blue van, and her body had been there six days when Countryman was attacked.
“It was enough to send cold shivers down my spine,” she said. “I imagine it happened to me, it should have happened to me … I should have been dead that day.”
During what she describes as a night of terror, Countryman said she spent hours hopping and stumbling through the woods, rope still tied around her wrists and ankles.
“At one point … I heard noise in the woods behind me, sounding like someone was looking for something but trying to be quiet,” she said. “I bet I stood there for two hours after the sounds stopped and didn’t move, just waiting, scared to death that he was waiting to hear me move.”
She spent the entire night trying to get away while all along struggling to get her hands free of the rope. Around dawn, she found a Clark County Parks building. An employee eventually showed up and called 911.
“I had chewed half of my lips off trying to get the ropes off,” she said. A rope burn ran up her face.
Countryman is not the only one who survived. Before his conviction for Blake’s murder, Forrest pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity to the kidnap and rape of another woman and spent three years at Western State Hospital near Tacoma.
“Apparently, I was a victim of opportunity,” Countryman said. “He wasn’t prepared. He was due at home, so he tied me up and left me … He hadn’t had time to do anything, thank God.”
At the time, Countryman gave law enforcement a description of Forrest, but he was not located. Her testimony, however, was later used to help convict him of murder.
Forrest sat in front of the parole board on Feb. 19. Countryman said she can’t imagine that the parole board will let the “monster” back into the world.
“In our hearts we want to believe he’s never going to be released,” she said. “But there’s always that little bit of doubt.”
If it does happen, she said, she’s not scared of Forrest for her sake, but rather for the safety of young girls.
“I don’t want any other parent out there wondering where their daughter is,” she said. “I don’t want any other broken soul like mine.”