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Oregon Sheriff Says Refuge Standoff "Has Been Tearing Our Community Apart"

The FBI and state police on Wednesday surrounded the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge a day after a shootout with militia members that saw one person killed and eight others arrested.

Last updated on January 27, 2016, at 2:38 p.m. ET

Posted on January 26, 2016, at 9:52 p.m. ET

Keith Ridler / AP Photo

One day after one of the armed occupiers of a federal wildlife refuge in Oregon was killed in a shootout with authorities, the local sheriff had a message: Enough is enough.

Harney County Sheriff Dave Ward emphasized the toll that the conflict between the militia and local authorities — which began in November 2015 — has had on the community.

"It hasn't just been isolated to the refuge," Harney County Sheriff Dave Ward said at a news conference. "This has been tearing our community apart."

Harney County Sheriff Dave Ward

He criticized the armed militia's handling of the weeks-long occupation, saying those who have issues with the federal government should act on "in an appropriate manner."

"We don’t arm up and rebel," he said. "We work through the appropriate channels."

The FBI and Oregon State Police on Wednesday surrounded the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge after one of its armed occupiers was killed in a shootout that led to the arrest of eight other militia members.

Among those arrested was Ammon Bundy, the leader of an armed anti-government group that took over the refuge, leading to a tense, 24-day standoff.

Seven others were ultimately arrested, including Bundy's 43-year-old brother Ryan. Their father was also behind a tense standoff with authorities over federal land use in 2014.

Both federal and local authorities said during a news conference Wednesday that, due to the ongoing investigation, they were unable to reveal details of the deadly shootout.

However, Greg Bretzing, the FBI special agent in charge for in Oregon, called the response by federal and local agencies "very deliberate and measured."

"I will say that the armed occupiers were given ample opportunities to leave peacefully. They were given the opportunity to negotiate," he said. "They chose, instead, to threaten the very America they profess to love with violence, intimidation and criminal acts."

Bretzing reiterated that the FBI had established checkpoints around the refuge, and said those still occupying the compound would be stopped should they exit through them.

"Let me be clear," he said, "It is fully and unequivocally the behavior and the choices made by the armed occupiers that have led us to where we are today."

Dave Killen / AP

An Oregon State Police officer stands by a vehicle as police officers block Highway 395.

Brian Cavalier, Shawna Cox, 44, and Ryan Waylen Payne, 59, were also taken into custody after gunfire was exchange during the traffic stop on U.S. Highway 395, according to the FBI and Oregon State Police.

The group was stopped while en route to a community meeting in John Day, more than 100 miles away from the refuge.

Authorities did not release details on the shooting or identify the individual who was killed. However, Nevada Assemblywoman Michele Fiore tweeted that Robert "LaVoy" Finicum was killed in the confrontation.

My heart & prays go out to LaVoy Finicum's family he was just murdered with his hands up in Burns OR.Ryan Bundy has been shot in the arm

Finicum acted as a spokesman for the occupation and has been a vocal supporter of the Bundy family, and participated in the 2014 standoff at their family ranch in Nevada. Finicum spoke often against the involvement of federal officials on lands in the West and advocated for them to be turned over to local ranchers.

A message on his family's Facebook page asked supporters for prayers just minutes after the altercation.

No law enforcement officials were injured in the confrontation.

In a separate incident, officers arrested Joseph Donald O'Shaughnessy, another supporter of the armed occupation, in Burns, Oregon. FBI officials also confirmed that Pete Santilli, 50, a supporter of the occupation who live-streamed much of the event, was also taken into custody.

And in Arizona, another high-profile supporter of the occupation, Jon Ritzheimer, said on Facebook he too was facing federal charges stemming from his role in the Oregon standoff.

"The Feds know I am here and are asking me to turn myself in," he wrote.

FBI officials later confirmed Ritzheimer was taken into custody after he surrendered to the Peoria Police Department.

The group of eight are facing felony charges for impeding officers of the United States from discharging their official duties through the use of force, intimidation, or threats.


Top row from left: Ammon Bundy, Ryan Bundy, Brian Cavalier and Shawna Cox. Bottom row from left: Joseph Donald O'Shaughnessy, Ryan Payne, Jon Eric Ritzheimer and Peter Santilli.

The deadly confrontation in Oregon was the first of what appeared to be a series of actions taken Tuesday by federal authorities after weeks of a tense but quiet standoff with militia members at the refuge.

The group of militants had been occupying the federal building in Burns, Oregon, since Jan. 2 in support of two local ranchers who were set to be incarcerated. But Bundy and a faction of the protesters headed to the refuge for the armed occupation, leading to a tense standoff between the group and law enforcement.

Tensions in the community also led several local residents to leave town until the situation diffused.

Keith Ridler / AP

Law enforcement authorities took mostly to interacting with the group and its leaders through intermediaries until last week, when Bundy met with FBI agents stationed in the town and spoke with a negotiator over the phone.

On Wednesday, the FBI said authorities had initiated a containment of the refuge out of an abundance of caution. At checkpoints set up down-road, those leaving the area would be required to show identification and subject to search, and only residents would be allowed in.

Malheur County Sheriff officials told BuzzFeed News they had no information about the situation at the refuge after the arrests, but local media reported that some members of the militia were still at the site and planned to remain there.

Occupier Jason Patrick at the refuge: We’re all standing here ready to defend our peaceful resolution.

Members of the group would not reveal to reporters how many occupiers were at the refuge, but BuzzFeed News observed women and children staying at the site during the 24-day standoff.

After the arrests, police set up roadblocks around the refuge headquarters and the FBI told those still at the compound they were free to leave and should do so. A number of people left the site, among them women and children, The Oregonian reported.

Harney County Judge Steve Grasty said in a statement Wednesday that he was "relieved this situation is coming to an end," but was "saddened" by the loss of life.

But Cliven Bundy, the Nevada cattle rancher whose sons were heavily involved in the Oregon standoff, defended the occupation in a video to the Las Vegas Review-Journal.

"This is a total disaster to be happening in America, where we have, I’m guessing, federal people killing innocent people."

He added that his sons and other militia members "were there to do good."

"No harm was intended, they never threatened anybody," Cliven Bundy said. "They were just trying to teach people about the Constitution."

The Oregon Cattlemen's Association clarified on Wednesday an earlier statement it had made about the standoff.

The Oregon Cattlemen’s Association does not support or endorse groups that take illegal action against the government. This includes militia takeover of government property, such as the Malheur Wildlife Refuge. We are saddened to hear that resolution to the Malheur takeover has resulted in bloodshed, but are hopeful that the people of Burns will soon be able to return to everyday life. Our leadership has faith in authorities and their efforts to encourage citizens to abide by the law and restore peace to Harney County.

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