‘Jihad’ Jamie Paulin-Ramirez in Court on Terror Charges; Interview with Leadville, Colo. Police Sgt. Saige Thomas: Unsung Hero Helped Lead to Ramirez’s Capture

Alleged “Jihad Jamie” Paulin-Ramirez, of Leadville, Colo., was arraigned today in a federal court in Philadelphia on terror charges of conspiracy to provide material support to a terrorist, in a months-long developing saga in which Sgt. Saige Thomas of the Leadville, Colo., Police served as an unsung hero in tracking down Jamie and her six-year old son, Christian.  Paulin-Ramirez, 31, entered a not guilty plea.  She is reportedly pregnant by an unindicted Algerian co-conspirator.

Paulin-Ramirez was indicted on a superseding federal indictment that added her as a co-conspirator with the previously indicted, self-described “Jihad Jane,” Colleen R. LaRose. Paulin-Ramirez faces less serious charges than those faced by LaRose,  though Ramirez still faces up to 15 years in federal prison.  She returned voluntarily to the United States, according to her attorney, Jeremy Ibrahim.

According to CNN’s Susan Candiotti, the indictment charges:

Paulin-Ramirez exchanged e-mail messages with LaRose during the summer of 2009 and was invited by the Pennsylvania woman to join her in Europe to attend a “training camp.” Paulin-Ramirez accepted the invitation and arrived in Europe with her 6-year-old son Christian on September 12, 2009, with “the intent to live and train with jihadists,” the indictment says.

The story of  Ramirez’s original detention in Ireland based on alleged terrorist ties, has been extensively reported elsewhere.  The critical role of Police Sgt. Saige Thomas, however, of the small, remote  mountain town of Leadville (Elev. 10,200′),  has gone almost unreported.  Yet Saige Thomas used a mother’s intuition, sound gut instincts, and old-fashioned detective work to help lead the FBI to the “missing”  woman by tracking her car to the Denver International Airport long-term, economy parking lot.

Leadville, Colorado

Leadville is a small and picturesque mountain community, largely composed of restored historic Victorian mining era buildings, and many residents who live in the relatively more affordable community and  commute to the well-heeled ski resorts of Vail and Beaver Creek to earn a living in tough economic times.

Ramirez’s alleged terrorist ties  included online correspondence not only with LaRose, but also with admitted Colorado terrorist, Najibullah Zazi,  the shuttle bus driver who plead guilty in February to plotting to blow up the New York subway system.  Her current charges, however, only describe alleged ties with LaRose.

Based on my interview with Sgt. Saige Thomas on March 13 (as well as her Leadville Police report on Paulin-Ramirez), Jamie,  along with her then-five year old son Christian, had been missing from their Leadville home since of all days, September 11, 2009, until she was apprehended in Ireland at the end of October.  On September 14, Sergeant Thomas received a call from Ramirez’ distraught mother, Christine Mott.  She’d expected Jamie and her grandson Christian to return by then from what she understood to be intensive Ramadan Islamic prayer services at a Denver mosque.

Mott became worried something was wrong, based in part on Jamie’s increasing devotion to Islam and her almost obsessive and secretive online correspondence. Jamie had even recently begun sporting a burka, graduating from her earlier doffing of a hijab headscarf.  All of this made Ramirez’s parents concerned about their daughter and grandson’s safety.

“When I got the call on September 14, I didn’t just treat the call as the usual missing persons report,” according to Thomas.  Such calls involving a 31-year old mother and her son don’t in themselves involve any criminal activity, and most officers would have treated the matter by routinely entering a report into the computer and moving on to the next item in their workload.

But it was Thomas’  willingness to listen and believe Jamie’s parents  that  helped lead to Ramirez’ location, apprehension, and the charges she now faces.  According to Thomas, based on Mott’s obvious “mother’s intuition; the fear in her eyes and in her voice,” Thomas knew something was seriously wrong.

Thomas was also convinced based on her view that  Mott ” knew her daughter’s routines intimately.”  Also suspicious,  was the fact that Jamie and her son had only left with a single overnight bag.

Sgt. Thomas then followed up further, and on September 16, tracked down Jamie’s vehicle. First, she  located the dealership where Ramirez had recently purchased her car, and from there, using temporary plate information, tracked it to the DIA parking lot where it remained. Thomas’ investigation ultimately lead to involvement by the FBI,  and Ramirez finally called home from Ireland in early October, according to Thomas’ police report.

The local district attorney’s office was consulted on the case, but never treated it as a formal criminal investigation, to the best of Thomas’ knowledge.  Nor, to her knowledge, did head DA Mark Hurlbert ever become actively involved in the case.

When I asked Thomas if during the course of her investigation she feared a terrorist plot of some sort, she responded that she thought about terrorism “in the back of my mind, that there was always a little sliver of that,”  but it wasnt’ an outcome she “expected or wished.” Her main concern, despite how much she did wind up doing in the investigation, was that it was  “heartbreaking as a mom to tell [Ramirez’s] mom that I couldn’t do anything else.  You try to do as much as you can for people.”

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