Standoff leaders arrested
Authorities surround occupied nature refuge following shooting death of one occupier
The Oregon nature preserve being occupied by an armed anti-government group was surrounded by law-enforcement agents Wednesday, a day after one of the occupiers was killed by officers during a traffic stop and eight others, including group leader Ammon Bundy, were arrested.
The confrontation came amid increasing calls for authorities to take action against Bundy for the illegal occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, which was seized by the group on Jan. 2 in a bid to force the government to turn federal lands over to local officials.
The traffic stop was supposed to bring a peaceful resolution to the situation but ended badly, Harney County Sheriff Dave Ward said, adding he was disappointed.
“Multiple law enforcement agencies put a lot of work putting together the best tactical plan they could to take these guys down peacefully,” Ward said at a news conference Wednesday.
The death didn’t happen, he said.
Details of the fatal encounter were sparse. It occurred as Bundy and his followers were heading to a community meeting late Tuesday afternoon in the town of John Day, about 70 miles north of Burns.
Arianna Finicum Brown confirmed that her father, Arizona rancher Robert “LaVoy” Finicum, was the man killed, the Oregonian reported. The 55-year-old was a frequent and public presence at the refuge, often speaking for the group at news conferences.
It was unclear what led to the shooting, or if Finicum or any of the other ranchers exchanged gunfire with officers. Authorities would not say how many shots were fired.
“This is where I’m going to breathe my last breath, whether I’m 90, 95 or 55,” Finicum told The Associated Press on Jan. 5. “... I’m going to not spend my days in a cell.”
The FBI and Oregon State Police would say only that the dead man was wanted by federal authorities. They said no more specifics would be released pending formal identification by the medical examiner.
Greg Bretzing, special agent in charge for the FBI in Oregon, said authorities took a deliberate and measured response to the occupiers and tried to conduct the traffic stop safely and away from local residents.
The armed activists were given ample opportunity to leave the refuge peacefully and have their grievances heard through legal means, he said.
“They threaten chose, instead, to the very America they profess to love, with violence, intimidation and criminal acts,” Bretzing said at the news conference.
Ward added the occupation has created stress among area residents, with some occupiers “trying to stir issues” in town. He and Bretzing urged the remaining group members to leave.
“This has been tearing our community apart. It’s time for everybody in this illegal occupation to move on,” the sheriff said. “There doesn’t have to be bloodshed in our community.”
Brand Thornton, one of Bundy’s supporters, said he left the refuge Monday and was not sure what those remaining would do.
“The entire leadership is gone,” he told the AP in a telephone interview. “I wouldn’t blame any of them for leaving.”
Thornton called the arrests “a dirty trick” by law enforcement.
Arizona rancher LaVoy Finicum carries his rifle after standing guard all night at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge near Burns, Ore. Jan. 6. Finicum’s daughter confirmed he was the man shot and killed late Tuesday during a confrontation with authorities.