Eight people involved in the armed occupation of a central Oregon wildlife refuge were arrested Tuesday in the wake of a traffic stop during which shots were fired. Another unnamed individual was killed during the confrontation, according to the FBI and Oregon State Police.
Authorities said that shots were exchanged during a traffic stop along Highway 395 around 4:25 p.m. local time. Police were carrying out a federal probable cause arrest for a number of people involved in the armed standoff at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, which has been occupied since Jan. 2.
The Oregon State Police said Tuesday night that an incident team has been dispatched to investigate the officer-involved shooting. No law enforcement personnel were injured in the confrontation about 15 miles north of Burns, Ore.
Five people were arrested at that time, including occupation leaders Ammon and Ryan Bundy.
Arianna Finicum Brown, the daughter of the occupiers’ spokesperson LaVoy Finicum, told the Oregonian that her father was the man killed during the exchange of gunfire.
“My dad was such a good good man, through and through,” Brown told the Oregon paper. “He would never ever want to hurt somebody, but he does believe in defending freedom and he knew the risks involved.”
Two participants in the occupation also told The Washington Post that the deceased man was Finicum, a 54-year-old rancher from Cane Beds, Ariz. Finicum had previously told NBC News that he’d rather die than be arrested.
“I have no intention of spending any of my days in a concrete box,” he said on Jan. 6, just days into the standoff that would stretch on for weeks. “There are things more important than your life and freedom is one of them.”
Police said information about the person who was killed will not be released until they can be identified by the medical examiner’s office. Another of the arrested individuals was injured and taken to a local hospital, but has since been taken into custody.
A sixth person involved in the occupation, Joseph Donald O’Shaughnessy of Cottonwood, Ariz., was arrested about an hour and a half after the initial confrontation. Shortly after that, a seventh person — Peter Santilli of Cincinnati, who is known for live streaming refuge events — was arrested in Burns.
All arrested face federal felony charges for conspiracy to impede federal officers.
In addition to O’Shaughnessy and the Bundy brothers, the FBI statement said that Ryan W. Payne, 32, of Anaconda, Mont., Brian Cavalier, 44, of Bunkerville, Nevada, and Shawna J. Cox, 59, of Kanab, Utah were also arrested.
Meanwhile, Jon Eric Ritzheimer, 32, a key leader of the armed occupation, surrendered to police in Arizona on a conspiracy charge Tuesday, the FBI said.
There were few details available about the confrontation that ended the Bundy’s weeks-long armed standoff in Oregon, which ignited a fierce debate about land use, federal government overreach, the Constitution and community in Oregon and around the country. It’s not clear who fired first, or how the arrests unfolded.
Jason Patrick, a participant in the occupation who was at the Malheur refuge Tuesday night, told the Washington Post that Ryan Bundy was injured in the arm during the confrontation with police.
St. Charles Health System in Bend told Oregon Public Broadcasting Tuesday evening that a helicopter had been dispatched to Harney County and would be transporting patients to its level II trauma center. The Harney County Hospital is on lockdown, as well as a section of Highway 395 near Burns.
FBI special agent in charge of the case, Greg Bretzing will be holding a news conference alongside U.S. Attorney Bill Williams and Harney County Sheriff David Ward on Wednesday morning.
Anthony Bosworth a Yakima, Wash., resident who has been at the Malheur Refuge, told OPB that Ammon Bundy was headed to a meeting in John Day, Ore., Tuesday, about 100 miles from the occupied refuge. Bundy never showed up in the city.
The arrests come after a more than three-week-long standoff between the Bundys and their followers and local and federal law enforcement. The armed group seized the Malheur Refuge on Jan. 2 after participating in a march protesting the imprisonment of Oregon ranchers Dwight and Steven Hammond, who were convicted of committing arson on federal land.
After the march, Ammon Bundy urged rally-goers who wanted to “take a hard stand” to get in their trucks and follow him to the refuge, according to several people in attendance.
The occupiers say they aim to “take back” the federally controlled land for the county and private use.
Ammon Bundy, 40, has lived in Arizona and Idaho. His brother Ryan, 43, runs a construction company in Cedar City, Utah. In 2014, their father Cliven Bundy spearheaded an armed standoff with federal agents in Nevada.
In a video posted New Year’s Day, Ammon Bundy described the occupation as a “righteous cause” that he and others were obligated to take on.
“I began to understand how the Lord felt about Harney County and about this country, and I clearly understood that the Lord was not pleased,” he said.
The occupation at the Malheur refuge has also attracted anti-government activists from across the West.
Ryan Payne, an army veteran from Montana and one of the six people arrested Tuesday, had participated in Cliven Bundy’s standoff in Nevada in 2014, according to the Oregonian. After reading about the family’s dispute with the Bureau of Land Management over grazing fees, he drove 12 hours overnight to their ranch, an act that reportedly impressed Bundy.
Payne has been a fixture in the standoff since the beginning. As protesters gathered in Burns late last month, just before the beginning of the occupation, Payne told the Oregonian that the “militia” would defend Harney County residents if they decided to defy law enforcement and establish a sanctuary for the Hammonds.
“We’re sending the message: We will protect you,” Payne said.
Cox, another of the arrested occupiers, spoke to Fox about the occupation in early January. A resident of southern Utah, she read aloud a letter on behalf of the group of occupiers, who call themselves “Citizens for Constitutional Freedom.”
The letter demanded that the Hammonds’ case be reviewed by an “independent evidential hearing board.”
Ritzheimer, who surrendered to officials in Peoria, Ariz. Tuesday, was recognized nationally before the Oregon standoff for organizing protests and selling profane t-shirts denouncing Islam. This month, the Marine from Arizona became better known for an online video he posted complaining about the delivery of sex toys sent to the refuge to mock the occupiers.
The occupation of the refuge has been condemned by local and federal officials, who say that the takeover has cost taxpayers some half a million dollars.
After news that the Bundys and others have been arrested, Oregon Sen. Jeff Merkley (D) applauded the law enforcement response.
“I am pleased that the FBI has listened to the concerns of the local community and responded to the illegal activity occurring in Harney County by outside extremists,” he said in a statement. “The leaders of this group are now in custody and I hope that the remaining individuals occupying the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge will peacefully surrender so this community can begin to heal the deep wounds that this illegal activity has created over the last month.”
Kieran Suckling, the executive director of the Tuscon-based Center for Biological Diversity, has spent the past two weeks in Burns following the occupation. He issued a statement to OPB Tuesday after hearing news of the arrests.
“I’m saddened to see this standoff culminating in violence,” it said. “But the Bundys and their followers showed up armed to the teeth and took over lands that belong to all American people. We hope and pray those remaining at the compound surrender peacefully and immediately. Here’s hoping cooler heads now prevail in southeastern Oregon and we can return to a semblance of peace and civility.”
Meanwhile, an image posted on the Bundy Ranch Facebook page condemned the violent outcome.
“Tonight peaceful patriots were attacked on a remote road for supporting the constitution. One was killed,” it read. “Who are the terrorists?”
Armed occupier Jason Patrick, who was at the Malheur refuge Tuesday, said that the arrests don’t change his group’s demands. He wouldn’t say how many people remain at the refuge, or who else was with him, but said they don’t plan to pick up and leave because of Tuesday’s events.
“Right now, we’re doing fine,” he told The Washington Post by phone. “We’re just trying to figure out how a dead cowboy equals peaceful resolution.”