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U.S. marshal fatally shot at Ruby Ridge; fugitive’s cabin surrounded

Editor’s note: The following is The Spokesman-Review’s report from Ruby Ridge events of Aug. 21, 1992.

NAPLES, Idaho – A Federal marshal was shot and killed Friday while keeping an eye on the North Idaho mountaintop fortress of a fugitive who has vowed he and his family will not be taken alive.

Two other marshals, who had been pinned down by sniper fire for nearly 12 hours with the dead man, were rescued shortly before 10 p.m. by a special team. The Idaho Department of Law Enforcement crisis response team also got the body of the marshal off the mountain.

The killing triggered a siege that continued early today as federal and state law officers laid the groundwork for an expected assault by as many as 100 federal agents, state police and sheriff’s deputies on the home of Randy Weaver.

Boundary County deputies and Idaho State Police Officers – carrying assault rifles – blocked off Ruby Creek Road and set up other checkpoints of the mountain where Weaver has exiled himself.

A GTE phone truck was sent up the road late Friday to establish a communications post near the cabin. Boundary County Sheriff Bruce Whittaker said no attempts had yet been made to contact Weaver, who has no phone.

“We’re here for the night,” said Bonners Ferry Police Chief David Kramer.

Four helicopters, each capable of carrying up to eight officers and a crew of two, were on standby at the Washington Army National Guard facility at Spokane International Airport. Federal marshals were expected to be briefed there before being flown to a staging area, most likely the Bonners Ferry airport, just north of Naples.

The siege pits highly trained federal marksman against Weaver and his three gun-toting children and wife, who has an 8-month-old child born in the cabin.

At least one other man also is believed to be in the cabin of the survivalists, who are said to be heavily armed and who have had 20 months to get ready to repel any approach by federal officers.

After the Friday shooting, sheriff’s deputies evacuated at least nine families who live on a dead-end logging road that winds its way to the base of the mountain where Weaver lives.

Airplanes were banned from flying over the cabin within hours of the shooting that left Deputy U.S. Marshal William F. Degan, 42, of Boston, fatally wounded.

Degan, a father of two, was one of five federal marshals conducting surveillance near Weaver’s stronghold. He was shot through the sternum and apparently died instantly.

Two marshals with him escaped, but two were pinned down near Degan’s body by repeated sniper fire from the cabin. It is not known whether the marshals returned gunfire.

Marshals Service spokesman Stephen Boyle said the deputies were only in the area Friday to try to determine how many people might be inside the cabin and how difficult it might be for authorities to move closer.

Authorities have been watching the cabin on and off for the last year and a half, Boyle said. The group that Degan was a part of had arrived at the cabin either Thursday or Friday, he said.

Naples is about 70 miles north of Coeur d’Alene, in a remote, heavily forested area of scattered homes and a resort filled with tourists – many of who wondered Friday night what the frantic activity and talk was about.

At the Deep Creek Resort, authorities had converted a lawn into a landing pad in case a medical helicopter was needed.

Weaver’s cabin is east of Priest Lake, not far from Roman Nose, in an area that is accessible only certain times of the year, and then only by 4-wheel-drive vehicles.

Weaver has been a federal fugitive since January 1991, when he failed to show up for a court appearance after being arrested by Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco & Firearms agents on federal firearms charges.

He was released by a federal magistrate in Coeur d’Alene after promising to put his property up as collateral.

But authorities later learned the promissory note wasn’t worth the paper it was written on: Weaver hasn’t paid taxes on the property for years and may not legally own the land.

U.S. District Court Judge Harold Ryan issued a bench warrant for his arrest in February 1991, and the U.S. Marshals Service was supposed to make the arrest.

But Weaver sought refuge in the home he built by hand.

He has claimed he is not associated with white supremacist groups, although federal officials say he has past ties to the Aryan Nations. He says he is a Christian concerned about a “new world order” perpetuated by Jews, Free Masons and others.

By late Friday, the assault team included 60 members of the Marshals Service Special Operations Group, an elite SWAT unit that specializes in arrests and hostage rescues.

Boundary County Sheriff Whittaker said Weaver and his family, who have a portable generator for electricity, can receive Spokane television stations. The sheriff was reluctant to talk, saying “We don’t want to tip our hand.”

“What we hope to do is get a team in there to negotiate and get them out of the residence,” Whittaker said.

“Right now it’s kind of a waiting game,” he said. “We haven’t had any contact with him yet.”

Even before other federal marshals and an Idaho State Police SWAT team were called to the scene, Weaver’s friends in nearby Naples were fearing the worst.

Many accused the federal government of laying a trap to deliberately harass Weaver and get him involved in a gun battle.

“It’s a headstrong federal government against a headstrong guy up on that mountaintop,” said Greg DeBoer, a Naples resident who knows Weaver.

Another friend, Bill Grider, said the shooting was “a government setup, that’s what it is.”

Grider said he was one of several of Weaver’s friends who has packed food and supplies into the Weaver cabin so the family didn’t have to leave the mountaintop hideaway.

“The man ain’t done nothin’,” Grider said. “He isn’t hurting anybody up there, and he has never hurt anyone.”

Grider said he hasn’t visited the Weaver cabin for about two months, and stopped supplying food after Weaver suspected him of being a federal informant.

Grider’s son, Eric, 14, said he also has visited Weaver and his three older children, two girls and a boy, who range in age from 11 to 14.

“I think the feds should have just left them alone,” the teenager said. “as far as I can see, he’s a peace-loving man, and has never harmed anyone.”

But federal law enforcement officials paint a different picture. They describe Weaver as someone who deliberately sawed off two shotguns and sold them in defiance of federal firearms laws.

His open defiance of the marshals turned into a public embarrassment this past spring after media accounts depicted Weaver as a mountain man whom federal authorities were afraid to apprehend.

Ranking officials within the U.S. Marshals Service wanted to mount a sophisticated attack plan that was put in detailed, written form and included aerial photos taken by a military jet.

But the plan was called off by Henry Hudson, who was appointed as the acting director of the Marshals Service by President Bush. At the time, Hudson was awaiting confirmation for the position by the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Degan is the second federal marshal to be gunned down this summer. Another federal marshal was killed in Chicago in July while transporting a prisoner to court.

The killings this summer are believed to be the first involving U.S. marshals since February 1983, when tax protester Gordon Kahl killed two marshals who were attempting to arrest him in North Dakota.


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