An open letter to the PNW Outdoor Community.
You may read this and wish to know the identity of the authors. As you read this letter you should better understand why we prefer to remain anonymous. There are 8 authors to this letter: 2 men, 6 women with a wide range of background in the outdoor community. We are employees at Edgeworks, admins to outdoors groups on Facebook, Mountaineers instructors and “average” adventurers without any social media draw who are incredibly concerned about the community we cherish. We wish the focus to remain on who is causing harm in the community and not on those of us who feel it is necessary to expose this harm. Additionally, based on historical precedent, we believe that Melissa Fernandes, Rikki Hinz and Jackie Burkett will use their media reach to target those involved in writing this letter, as they have done to dozens of others over the past 3 years. Please understand that our intention is not to hide, but to focus on the individuals harming our community while protecting ourselves until our community once again feels a safe place to communicate openly and honestly about concerns.
Perhaps you have seen the Change.org petition filed by Melissa Fernandes. If not, you may wish to review it for reference while you read this letter. (https://www.change.org/p/demand-the-mountaineers-prevent-sexual-domestic...) . The authors of this letter firmly believe that the petition as written is flawed, incorrect, an overstep and will be used to harm individuals in our community who have made mistakes and already paid their debt to society.
The background on the petition:
We are gravely concerned about the petition filed by Melissa Fernandes, shared and advocated for by Rikki-Rachelle Hinz, Jackie Burkett and others. The stated goal of this petition is to require the Mountaineers to permanently ban anyone with a criminal record from their organization. Rather than stay focused on the stated goal, Melissa then chose to highlight several individuals she has publicly accused of criminal behavior, in many cases these accusations can be proven incorrect. Melissa highlighted these individuals ostensibly as examples of why the Mountaineers should ban members. Within 24 hours the petition became heavily redacted by Change.org. Redactions resulted from dozens of people contacting the Mountaineers and Change.org with an array of proof that Melissa’s attack on these individuals was unfounded. Our community provided copies of messages, screen shots of criminal records, and letters clearly stating their disgust that Melissa chose to include untrue information in her petition, perhaps to appease her personal vendetta against these individuals, and that this was even allowed in the first place. As you peruse the petition now, it is a shell of the original document. The only person still listed is a former Mountaineers member who court records show a history of child molestation and incidents where he harassed and inappropriately touched a women at a Mountaineers event. It is understandable that this former member is still listed on the petition. We find no fault in including a verifiable example like this one, indeed we support this act and his victims in any way possible.
Regarding Mountaineers policies regarding improper conduct, we are in full agreement with punishing those who violate codes of conduct. We agree with banning those who have violated conduct, been warned and not corrected the concerning behavior. We agree with transparency of such acts and processes to protect victims from those who choose to hurt others.
Although we agree with many of the stated petition goals, we cannot agree with the means utilized by Melissa Fernandes and her cadre. We do not agree with baselessly and deliberately harming the reputation of members of our community. We do not agree with attacking community members without verifiable evidence. We do not agree with a “witch hunt”mentality. We do not agree with declaring community members guilty without providing them an opportunity to share their side of the story. We do not agree with harassing community members through their workplaces and work records. We do not agree with attempting to destroy community members personal lives. We do not agree with judging community members for past mistakes, particularly when they have chosen the challenge of becoming a better person.
Melissa Fernandes and her cadre have exhibited that they will attack anyone they dislike, or that disagrees with them using any and all of the above information, will use years old screenshots taken out of context and in some cases, create a case against someone with no verifiable information whatsoever.
Every person deserves the right to go outside and be present in nature. If you are reading this, you already know the potent benefits nature provides to everyone, without discrimination. Some of these benefits include improved mental health, reduced live stress, access to beauty, peaceful serenity and for some, a way to access a “higher power” than themselves. Humans were meant to be outside. Each one of us. Our biology was created to live in harmony with nature. Outdoor adventuring encompasses all of these plus the added challenges of physical fitness along with myriad technical and non-technical skills. Many forms of outdoor adventuring, if not all of them, do involve community with others. We read trip reports and seek out trusted partners. Joining a new community, especially one that may have a significant learning curve can create stress for new community members who need time to build their skillset and partner base.
One of the biggest demographics in our outdoors community are individuals who are in recovery from substance abuse disorders. Some of these community members committed acts that remain on their criminal record long after their have changed their lives. We need to welcome these members to our community with open arms. They have already proven their bravery in confronting substance abuse. Many with such a past flock to the outdoors to focus on self-improvement, the benefits of nature and to focus on creating a new life as they “fix” themselves. Many of us writing this letter have a history of substance abuse and/or have suffered significant physical, emotional and sexual trauma in the past. Our primary social base often revolves upon the outdoors and finding others who are on our same path towards becoming more mentally, socially, emotionally and physically healthy. We belive that community members with checkered pasts can be the best advocates for change in others- these individuals deserve true kudos for their self-improvement and not harm done upon them.
How to protect our community:
We feel a policy requiring routine background checks and a policy that excludes people based on their past criminal history will directly lead to many of those people not being able to find an escape in the outdoors. Our logical concern is that many in recovery will be shunned by the biggest outdoor organization. A group that claims to be a shining example of progressiveness, hope, and equality. These community members may lose what they seek- healing and community. Some will then be led back into a relapse and even worse. Certainly, we understand that there can and should be exceptions for people who are currently dangerous to our community and an appropriate framework should be created to address this concern.
This petition is an example of how some people will misuse power, attempt to police the community by force, and shame the very community members who may have the greatest need for the outdoor community. We must take better care of each other than that! Shame is a powerful tool if utilized by those with an intent to hurt others. It’s hard enough to process and move past individual shame. We cannot be a community that not only utilizes, but accepts using shame against our community members.
Every person on earth will do one thing in life. We will make mistakes. Each one of us, and possibly we will do so every day of our lives. One purpose of a genuinely healing community is providing a space for each member to identify their mistakes, work through them, make corrections and to do so with the open support of their community. With open support, it is easier to not repeat mistakes. Forgiveness is a powerful tool that aids the person who chooses it, leading to better choices in the future and fewer repeat mistakes. To be clear, we’re not advocating for any individual who does not recognize their mistakes, nor those who do not seek a better path forward, nor those with a pervasive pattern of harm and lack of moving beyond those harmful behaviors.
The petition and specific harms associated with it:
Please consider the specific behavior of those behind this petition. We will demonstrate how groups of people can be manipulated to ostracize, terrorize, and harm anyone that those in power here have deemed as unworthy. Let’s start first with the petition itself, which as previously mentioned has become so redacted that anyone reading it without knowing Melissa’s vendetta against these individuals might be confused as to what the intent actually is. Melissa could have started with contacting the Mountaineers directly, or perhaps with a petition requesting the Mountaineers review and update some of their policies. We are aware that he Mountaineers already has an established code of conduct that has resulted in banning members who did not follow the code.
Instead of focusing on the issue of concern, Melissa Fernandes instead chose to name several individuals, all men who she felt had committed such heinous acts that naming them would help bolster the petition. She named members who had committed acts at actual mountaineers events, and she also named people who have never been to a mountaineers event and merely carry a membership. Melissa then chose to highlight a few members past histories including naming what she said were crimes but are not verifiable as such. As of 12/18/2023 almost every person named in this petition by Melissa Fernandes has filed legal complaints against her, for this and previous actions. These complaints include temporary orders of protection (granted based on provided evidence), and a civil lawsuit for slander/libel.
Change.org chose to redact almost every instance highlighted in the petition based on their community guidelines against misinformation, disinformation, bullying and harassment. You can review their complete policy here: https://www.change.org/policies/community.
Beyond the concerning issues, there are good points brought up by Melissa Fernandes with this petition. We think that every organization should have a clear code of conduct so that all people feel welcome. We believe in a clear and transparent and fair process to investigated any potential misconduct. We know that no Mountaineers member should have allegations of misconduct discussed by instructors and the leadership at the Mountaineers with anyone not involved in the situation with the exception of legal situation or law enforcement involvement. We believe very strongly that what took place here is an excellent example of why the Mountaineers should not be talking to uninvolved parties about their members. Current litigation and the now heavily redacted petition prove that the Mountaineers have crossed a line here.
We are specifically concerned that the Mountaineers are having discussions with Melissa Fernandes, Rikki-Rachelle Hinz, and Jackie Burkett about other Mountaineers members. Several of the individuals slandered by Melissa have contacted the Mountaineers organization since this petition, yet none of them have been called back. A process where someone is accused without opportunity to explain themselves or correct their actions is not the transparent process requested in Melissa’s petition. Any discussions should take place with community instead of behind closed doors as they have been doing with Melissa Fernandes, Rikki-Rachelle Hinz, and Jackie Burkett. Only Rikki-Rachelle held any affiliation with the Mountaineers organization. We also fear that the alignment from the Mountaineers with Melissa Fernandes, Rikki-Rachelle Hinz, and Jackie Burkett might subject them to legal liability, especially since any and all documents and conversations will likely be compelled during upcoming legal proceedings.
Why are the Mountaineers making clandestine agreements with an individual who has legal paperwork filed against her, including numerous orders of protection for harassment against its own members? Melissa Fernandes has a demonstrated difficulty following organizational rules, believing she is morally superior to others and does not need to follow rules. As an example, she was banned from PNW Peak Baggers because she was unable to follow their rules regarding bullying, harassment and sharing screenshots with the intent to harm members. Several members in Peak Baggers (male and female) stated that Melissa was harassing them, repeatedly stating untrue accusations, and then bullying them when they attempted to resolve the issue constructively. We believe that this behavior violates the Mountaineers own code about equity, access, and inclusion, potentially warranting an investigation by the Attorney General's office. Mountaineers tax codes prohibit them from discriminatory behavior. We are not saying we are experts on these subjects, we do find it concerning and welcome input from anyone who is an expert in such matters.
We note that many of the accusations on Melisa’s petition are demonstrably false, misleading, unrelated to the issue at hand, and in many cases her actions are not aligned with her petition. Although not always connected to the Mountaineers, she chooses to include them in her petition.
Child support payments. We are unsure why any member who is behind on child support payments could be concerning to the Mountaineers or community as there are many non-criminal reasons this could happen. Our writers have been provided documentation that this specific accusation is a false accusation against this individual.
Fraud committed by an instructor in the distant past. This did not take place at a Mountaineers event or against a member. Please note this individual filed a lawsuit and has a temporary order of protection against Melissa Fernandes.
Banning individuals from Edgeworks and other climbing gyms, and other places this person had been banned from. She neglects to mention that she was instrumental in forcing the locations in question to ban anyone she has a vendetta against.
Banning individuals from the Mountaineers. We realize that this could indeed be yet another example of Melissa lying on her social media, so we took the extra step of verifying this with several Mountaineers instructors. Based on the information provided by these instructors, we believe that the Mountaineers did indeed agree to unofficially ban this person and several others by making sure their applications would be denied for any Mountaineers activities. This was done without opportunity for the individuals banned to have the opportunity to hear and correct any accusations against them.
We were able to sit down with most of the individuals originally named in the petition. They were given the opportunity to provide documents, cell phone records, conversations, social media conversations, criminal histories, and speak freely with us about the events that have taken place. This open conversation should have happened before any public accusations were put forth. The documentation we have seen proves that many accusations made in this petition are false, half-truth, and misleading.
Case study, Individual 1’s specific accusations debunked:
Rape. We were shown documentation that this individual was questioned by both law enforcement and the military about a rape almost 10 years ago, as it is customary for both agencies to be involved with such an accusation against a member of the military. The alleged victim kept in contact with him for almost 4 months after the alleged assault, repeatedly asked to see him again and sent him images of herself. The day prior to filing the rape accusation she threatened him, stating “I told you not to mess with me”. After the accusation was filed, he passed two polygraph tests, and provided their text conversations to both sets of investigators. At this time, his accuser stopped responding to the investigators. The investigation took place for under a week before being dismissed as without basis.
Sexual harassment. He also showed us letters from every single employer going back 10 years stating that not only had he never been accused of, investigated for, nor terminated for any sexual harassment but that he was an exemplary employee, and that his relationships with other members of their organizations were never called into question.
Harassment at a climbing gym. We were shown an email from Edgeworks climbing where they stated his membership was being terminated because they were given information that he had harassed members of their gym and staff. 1 of the people writing this letter works at Edgeworks climbing in Tacoma and she contacted us to make sure that everyone knew that no one ever filed any incident report complaining about being harassed, that no employee every once made an accusation, nor claimed that they were harassed at Edgeworks climbing nor any Edgeworks climbing events instead that the day after Edgeworks featured a picture posted by this individual on their Instagram story that they were contacted by Melissa Fernandes and Jackie Burkett- who don’t climb at Edgeworks- claiming that they should ban him. This person as also banned from every local climbing gym as a result of the things said by Jackie and Melissa including from gyms he has never been to. This individual was directly banned from gyms based on what they said and not for anything he had done, and that no one has at any point stated they were harassed by him at a gym. Melissa Fernandes last online post about Edgeworks and this individual claimed that he was “allegedly” kicked out for harassment.
Failure to pay child support. We were also given documentation of his child support payments and found that 16 years ago when he joined the military that he did not make 3 payments, that his acct was in arrears and that it was caught up within 60 days and has remained current and paid on time and that his child is now almost 18 years old.
Domestic Violence. This person was never accused, investigated or convicted of domestic violence. It is incredible to us that this baseless accusation from Melissa Fernandes that went out to her thousands of social media followers has been repeated so many times by her, Jackie Burkett and Rikki-Rachelle Hinz. He provided us documentation from when he left the Army showing an honorable discharge, that he was flagged for 4 months for an investigation (see above), that he was never charged, that he passed a polygraph given by the United States Army. He is subject to background checks, drug tests, and even random inspections of his credit report as is everyone with secret clearance status. These actions would not be performed by the armed forces if the individual in question had been convicted of domestic violence.
Banned from service. This individual provided a copy of his honorable discharge from the United States Army at the conclusion of his contract. He was then was given a full background check before the Washington State National Guard allowed him to join their organization. He has since then reenlisted which runs contrary again to their statements that he was barred from reenlistment by the Army.
Harassing Melissa Fernandes. Melissa Fernandes also has said repeatedly on her social media that this individual has threatened, and harassed her. He showed us their message history. He texted her saying “if you want to know something about me just ask”. She never replied. This was the only communication made directly between them . Melissa Fernandes has supplied no proof of harassment or threats, yet has said to numerous people he threatened to physically harm her. We believe that if he had harassed or threatened her, Melissa would have immediately contacted the police. If we are incorrect and harassment or threats were made, we fully support her contacting the police with this evidence.
Other notes: This individual also showed us a form he filed to alert his military security office that Melissa Fernandes had leaked his date of birth, legal name, address, mothers maiden name, and social security number onto the internet. We were also shown messages from both Melissa and Jackie Burkett where they were telling other women via text and chat that this person had “kidnapped a woman and raped her for over a week”, and that he had “committed domestic violence, abused women, and where they were calling him a rapist to these women. They also contacted several of his friends and accused them of “being friends and enabling a rapist” in numerous conversations.
We believe that the methods shown in this letter, used by Melissa Fernandes, Rikki-Rachelle Hinz, Jackie Burkett and others show a clear pattern of harassment, targeting, bullying, shaming, spreading lies and misinformation/disinformation have no future in the outdoor community, including the Mountaineers. We request the Mountaineers carefully review the information provided and immediately stop any dialogue with Melisa Fernandes and Jackie Burkett. They must follow a code of ethics by discussing issues with people themselves rather than behind their backs behind closed doors with others. Another option we welcome is with conversations amongst their members in an open forum to create a framework that fairly protects members.
Hypocrisy on parade:
Even though Melissa Fernandes may have wanted to help correct Mountaineers code, the evidence proves her tactics create the opposite of community. She divides community into the “in” group (anyone who believes her) and the “out” group (everyone else). Her website from her new “advocacy” nonprofit touts a paid workshop on “anti harassment”. We are astonished to consider this given that she is facing multiple lawsuits for harassment herself, with two hearings the week of 12/19/2023 alone. Melissa Fernandes should take no part in any discussions going forward about these issues. We hope that the Mountaineers will ask the individuals in questions to provide all the documentation we have seen so they can proceed in a manner which is fair to the individuals in question.
The petition stated that the Mountaineers create a policy to ban anyone who has a criminal record or violates their code of conduct. Using the criteria set forth by in this petition, we would like to highlight how contradictory and unfair this could be– the very proponents of this petition would not be allowed in the Mountaineers.
Jackie Burkett, a vocal proponent for this petition, was arrested for domestic violence against her parents. For the past 2+ or so years she has actively targeted people who she felt were unworthy of being in the outdoors. Under the criteria requested in the petition, Jackie would no longer be able to join the Mountaineers. Per online resumes, she touts her history as an OSAT instructor. Jackie has a history of alcoholism, the very population we risk to protect in our community. Jackie never once mentioned that she has herself committed an offense which would render her a victim of her own petition. Jackie hid her criminal record, and likely would not have mentioned it if several people in the outdoors community had not investigated and learned her history! Jackie’s live-in boyfriend was also arrested for domestic battery, and had an order of protection filed against him by a female member of our climbing community.
Rikki-Rachelle Hinz has at least one complaint filed against her at the Mountaineers for inappropriate sexual behavior, including when positioned as an instructor. She also has an order of protection filed against her that can be verified through King County court.
Melissa Fernandes, as previously mentioned, has multiple orders of protection against her, which can be verified through the court websites of the counties her victims reside in. Even after these orders were filed, she has been documented on social media stating that these orders were not filed. She claimed on her social media that she herself ran unauthorized background checks on several people in the outdoors community and then bemoaned that the people listed in her petition “hid their criminal histories” from her.
We find the behavior of Melissa, Rikki-Rachelle, and Jackie to be highly deceptive. Obviously, Jackie, Rikki-Rachelle, and Melissa knew about their histories, yet they chose to target several Mountaineers members most of whom have no verifiable criminal history.
We do want to stress that we do not make these allegations with the goal of harming any of those involved. We continue to have compassion towards Melissa, Rikki-Rachelle, and Jackie. Should they become ready, they deserve the same opportunity as anyone else to explain, apologize, learn and grow from their mistakes. We hope they will choose to follow the same transparency they request from the Mountaineers. We hope that we never have another member of our beloved community tell us that they are afraid to participate openly in our community over fear that they too will be “cancelled” by this cadre without the opportunity to discuss any perceived slight.
We love our community so dearly. We look forward to increased and transparent dialogue regarding all these issues. We wish for positive change. We wish for renewed opportunities to treat each other with dignity and respect. We wish to be a truly safe community for all.
Concerned members of Edgeworks, OSAT, and the outdoors community in the PNW