ST. GEORGE — Details about the encounter between state and federal law enforcement and members of the armed group occupying an Oregon wildlife refuge that resulted in the death of Arizona rancher LaVoy Finicum and the arrests of others Tuesday remain murky. While accounts on social media reportedly give some detail concerning Finicum’s death, authorities have only confirmed that a man who was part of the group was killed.
“Eight people were arrested, and one man died yesterday as we attempted to take him into custody,” FBI Special Agent in Charge Greg Bretzing said during the news conference Wednesday. “Because there is an ongoing investigation by the Deschutes County Major Crimes Team on behalf of OSP (Oregon State Police) related to this piece of the investigation, I will not be able to comment on the specifics.”
Finicum, 55, of Cane Beds, Arizona, and others, including brothers Ammon and Ryan Bundy, who have been considered the leadership of the group, were in a two-vehicle convoy heading to a meeting with area ranchers when they were stopped by the FBI and Oregon State Police on U.S. 395 around 4:40 p.m. Oregon time Tuesday.
The FBI and other agencies haven’t gone into detail about what happened next, yet gunfire was involved and Finicum was killed.
While the FBI has not yet released the name of the man killed during what authorities are describing as a traffic stop, Finicum’s daughter, Arianna Finicum Brown, said police confirmed to her mother that he had died, The Associated Press reported.
Concerning Finicum’s death, his family released a statement Wednesday:
We thank all those reaching out to us in love during this difficult time. Your faithful prayers are felt. Please keep praying and keep using your voice to get the truth out. This fight against tyranny is not over. Press forward.
Forgiveness is what we can extend and understanding is what we want.
Christ was and is LaVoy’s exemplar. Though there are evil and conspiring men at work, Christ still forgave the executioners for they knew not what they did.
Ammon Bundy asks holdouts to leave the refuge
According to the Associated Press, Ammon Bundy, through his lawyer, Mike Arnold, asked the remaining protesters at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge to go home. During his court appearance in Portland, Oregon, Wednesday, Arnold read a short statement from his client: “Please stand down. Go home and hug your families. This fight is now in the courts.”
Traffic stop turned fatal
Following the incident Tuesday night, a recording of Cliven Bundy, father of Ammon and Ryan Bundy, was posted on social media recounting a call Ammon made to his wife during the traffic stop.
Ammon Bundy reported… he had been arrested and was in the back of a police car. He still had his cellphone. He calls his wife, Lisa Bundy, and he tells Lisa, ‘There have been five of us arrested. Ryan has been shot in the arm, and LaVoy Finicum has been cold bloodedly murdered. I watch him. He had his hands in the air and said he was unarmed, and they shot him.’
Another account of the incident came from a video posted to Facebook by Mark McConnell, who was driving one of the vehicles in the convoy.
McConnell said he saw a number of “heavy-duty trucks” while driving to a meeting in the town of John Bay, Oregon. Those trucks ended up being the FBI and Oregon State Police who pulled the convoy over.
After McConnell’s vehicle was secured, agents went to check the truck reportedly driven by Finicum. Someone got out of the passenger side of the truck who then went to the ground and was handcuffed. McConnell said he couldn’t tell who though, as Finicum’s truck was about 200 yards ahead of him.
“Next thing we know, LaVoy takes off (in the truck),” he said.
McConnell said he did not see what happened next but heard from others who were in Finicum’s vehicle that they encountered a roadblock.
“… Once they got down there by the road block, I don’t know if he tried to go around the roadblock or what he did, but the nose of his truck got stuck in a snowbank, right there,” he said.
As he understands it, taking “pieces here and pieces there” from what he’s been told by those who were with Finicum and what he had seen himself, McConnell said, he believes that Finicum got out of his truck and charged at law enforcement.
“… He went after them. He charged them,” McConnell said.
Relatives of Ammon Bundy offered similar accounts, but they said Finicum did nothing to provoke FBI agents, the Associated Press reported.
Briana Bundy, a sister of Ammon Bundy, said he called his wife after his arrest. He said the group was stopped by state and federal officers.
Her recount of what Ammon Bundy told his wife largely reflects parts of what Cliven Bundy said in the recording posted to social media Tuesday night and also added additional details from that perspective.
She said people in the two vehicles complied with instructions to get out with their hands up.
“LaVoy shouted, ‘Don’t shoot. We’re unarmed,'” Briana Bundy said in an interview with the Associated Press. “They began to fire on them. Ammon said it happened real fast.”
“Ammon said, ‘They murdered him in cold blood. We did everything they asked, and they murdered him. We complied with their demands,'” Briana Bundy said.
McConnell had a different perspective.
“Anytime someone takes off with a vehicle away from law enforcement after they’ve exercised a stop, it’s typically considered an act of aggression, and foolish,” he said in a video posted on Facebook and YouTube.
McConnell said he was questioned by authorities and he believes he was not charged because he was not considered a leader of the group.
Briana Bundy confirmed that McConnell was in the convoy on Tuesday, the Associated Press reported.
Authorities: “Actions are not without consequences”
In the press conference Wednesday, Bretzing said the armed protesters have had ample time and opportunity to leave. What happened Tuesday was a consequence of the group’s actions, he said.
“Let me be clear: It is fully and unequivocally the behavior and the choices made by the armed occupiers that have led us to where we are today,” Bretzing said. “And, as the FBI and our partners have demonstrated, actions are not without consequences.”
Bretzing, along with Harney County Sheriff Dave Ward and others are asking those who remain at the wildlife refuge to leave. Those who do will be met and identified by law enforcement who have established checkpoints around the refuge.
Ward said the occupation of the wildlife refuge, which has been ongoing since Jan. 2, has been tearing the community apart and again asked the protesters to leave. He also told them to take their grievances with the government through legitimate means and not through armed rebellion.
“We don’t arm up and rebel,” Ward said. “We work through the appropriate channels. This can’t happen anymore. This can’t happen in America and it can’t happen in Harney County.”
Along with Ammon and Ryan Bundy, others who were arrested include Brian Cavalier, 44, of Bunkerville, Nevada; Shawna Cox, 59, of Kanab, Utah; and Ryan Payne, 32, or Anaconda, Montana, during what authorities characterize as a traffic stop on U.S. Highway 395 Tuesday afternoon. Authorities also arrested Joseph Donald O’Shaughnessy, 45, of Cottonwood, Arizona, who was arrested in Burns, and Peter Santilli, 50, of Cincinnati, Ohio, and Jon Ritzheimer, 32, of Peoria, Arizona.
According to an FBI press release, those arrested are facing a federal felony charge of impeding officers of the United States from discharging their official duties through the use of force, intimidation or threats.
The group, which has included people from as far away as Michigan, calls itself Citizens for Constitutional Freedom. It came to the frozen high desert of eastern Oregon to decry what it calls onerous federal land restrictions and to object to the prison sentences of two local ranchers convicted of setting fires.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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