BURNS , Ore., Jan. 27 (UPI) — The FBI ordered the group occupying the Malheur Wildlife Refuge in eastern Oregon to leave Wednesday after one member was shot and killed in a shootout nearby, a second member wounded, and several others, including group leader Ammon Bundy, arrested.
Roadblocks were installed around the Malheur Wildlife Refuge near Burns, Ore., early Wednesday in a “containment” operation, authorities said, adding that any unauthorized people entering the refuge would be arrested.
The anti-government activists began their occupation of the refuge on Jan. 2 to protest the government’s prosecution of the head of an Oregon ranching family, 73-year-old Dwight Hammond, and his son, 46-year-old Steven Hammond, who were convicted in 2012 of arson for setting a fire in 2006 that burned grass on public land.
The Hammonds have maintained that they started the backfire on their property to put out fires ignited by a lightning storm and to protect their home and land. They had already served several months in prison for the offense (Dwight 3 months and Steven 12 months) before the U.S. Attorney General’s office charged them for the same offense under a federal anti-terrorism law and sentenced them to an additional five years in prison.
The Hammonds turned themselves in to authorities on Jan. 4.
Prior to Tuesday, members of the militia group were allowed to enter or leave the refuge at will, but late Tuesday authorities stopped several vehicles outside the refuge, leading to the arrest of eight people, including group leaders Ammon and Ryan Bundy.
The convoy was traveling about 100 miles to a community meeting in John Day. About 50 miles from their destination, the FBI and Oregon State police ordered them to stop. A police spokesman said all vehicles obeyed the order except one. That vehicle, containing Ryan Bundy and LaVoy Finicum, was fired upon and its occupants returned fire — though it is unclear who fired first. The group’s spokesman, LaVoy Finicum, was killed and Ryan Bundy was wounded.
The others arrested included Ryan W. Payne, 32, Brian Cavalier, 44, and Shawna J. Cox, 59. The group was charged with conspiracy to impede federal officers, a felony.
FBI officials invited those remaining at the refuge building to leave, but few took the opportunity, and it is unknown who, with the Bundy brothers arrested, is providing leadership. It is believed the protest started with about 40 people occupying the building.
Gary Hunt, a board member of Operation Mutual Defense, an umbrella network of militias and sympathizers, was six miles from the refuge. “The rest have decided they’re going to hold their ground,” he said.
Authorities did not immediately overrun the compound after its occupation, reportedly fearing a loss of life similar to that in 1993, when a siege at the Branch Davidian Compound in Waco, Texas, ended with a fire and gunfire, and the deaths of four federal officials and 82 civilians.
Shawn Price contributed to this story.