NAPLES, Idaho – As a tense standoff on Ruby Ridge passed its 100th hour, fugitive Randy Weaver made his first contact with federal agents Wednesday after a robot dropped a telephone beneath his porch window.
“Less than an hour ago, we got our first response,” FBI supervisor Gene Glenn said during a 3 p.m. press briefing that yielded little new information.
“I wouldn’t say it was a positive response, but it was a response after no response for days,” he said.
Weaver did not pick up the telephone but reacted to it by saying something authorities wouldn’t disclose.
For six days, more than 100 law enforcement officers have sealed off the perimeter to Weaver’s isolated mountain home, hoping to peacefully end a standoff that began Friday in a volley of gunfire.
As the siege continued Wednesday, its effects spilled beyond the yellow barricaded area of Ruby Creek, about 40 miles south of the Canadian Border.
Boundary County school officials and community leaders delayed today’s opening of school to calm the fears of parents and to help law enforcement officers seeking respite in the high school gymnasium.
Out-of-town protesters and Weaver family friends maintained their stations outside the barricades blocking access to the mountain hideaway. By evening, famed Green Beret and third-party presidential candidate Bo Gritz had joined them, offering to talk down his fellow veteran.
At least two people have died since the beginning of the North Idaho standoff with Weaver, wanted for skipping his arraignment on federal charges he sold two sawed-off shotguns to an informer.
Before violence erupted, federal authorities have watched Weaver’s bunker for more than a year and a half, trying to figure out how to oust the white supremacist.
Six federal marshals were on that ridge Friday, gathering final pieces of information needed before they could make a move.
During the initial exchange of gunfire Friday, both deputy U.S. Marshal William Degan and 14-year-old Samuel Weaver were killed.
Deputy U.S. Marshal Arthur D. Roderick took a bullet through the front of his “Hard Rock Cafe” T-shirt but was not hurt.
When the Weaver boy was brought down from the mountain, he was naked and his face was covered with a shroud, said a Boundary County emergency medical technician Wednesday. He refused to be identified, but said he helped move the body.
Authorities believe Weaver fired the shot that grazed Roderick. A warrant has been issued for his arrest for aggravated assault.
Weaver family friend Kevin Harris, 24, has been charged in connection with Degan’s death.
Weaver, Harris, Weaver’s wife and three daughters remained holed up on the mountain. Agents continued on Wednesday to try to persuade Weaver to use the telephone, but by late afternoon, it remained outside the cabin.
“We have reason for cautious optimism,” said Glenn of the FBI. “Hopefully, this will lead to initiation of dialogue to work out a resolution.”
A robot – a tracked vehicle with mechanical arms – put the telephone about 25 feet from Weaver’s cabin over the weekend and moved it to the porch Wednesday.
In another attempt to establish communication, just before 7 p.m. former Green Beret Gritz stepped out of a truck, swaggered past the rowdy line of protesters and announced to law enforcement officials he’d come to bring Weaver down from the mountain.
The crowd – an angry mix of skinheads, gawkers and concerned friends – fell in behind him and applauded his 30-minute speech.
Gritz, a right-wing independent presidential candidate, said he remembered Weaver, who is also an Army Special Forces veteran.
“I want to defuse this thing,” Gritz said. “If he says, colonel, get me out of here, great… If he said, I never liked you anyway, we’ve at least given him a chance.”
Gritz said he wouldn’t wear a bullet-proof vest and wasn’t afraid of being taken hostage.
“He wouldn’t want me as a hostage,” said Gritz, who became famous more than a decade ago for his covert treks into Southeast Asia in search of POWs and MIAs from the Vietnam War.
There was no indication authorities were going to take him up on his offer.
Earlier, Gritz made a cassette tape that agents hoped to play for the Weavers, along with the messages they continued to blast from friends and relatives, urging the Weavers to surrender at their hideaway.
At the roadblock on Old Highway 2 and Ruby Creek Road, up to 20 officers – four times the previous regiment – watched 65 demonstrators, including a few neo-Nazi skinheads.
Cars lined Old Highway 2 north and south of the checkpoint. Some protesters are family friends who have camped at the roadblock since the standoff began. They shouted slogans and defamatory remarks at any vehicles passing the yellow police cordon.
But Boundary County and Bonners Ferry officials said the protesters do not reflect the majority’s views, and that many are out-of-town troublemakers.
“Our belief is when the media leaves, so will the agitators,” said Darrell Kerby, president of the Bonners Ferry City Council and a native of the area. “This is a typical, hard-working, law-abiding lumber and farming community. This is a nice little place.”
Kerby and other city boosters complain the media only listen to demonstrators who support Weaver and hate the government, and not the honest citizens in their homes, out of sight from TV lights, microphones and notepads.
“The media are as large and magnetic of an event as the tragedy on Ruby Creek,” said Kerby. “The media have turned this place into an absolute zoo.”
The mountaintop chaos has spread down from the ridge throughout the county. The migration of journalists, neo-Nazi skinheads and curious tourists have crowded restaurants, filled motels, packed roads and kept telephones constantly busy.
The only games at Bonner’s Ferry High School today are war games.
Federal and state officers, overflowing the National Guard Armory across the street, have turned the school gym into an encampment. Students have been replaced with camouflaged federal agents in sleeping bags and high-tech equipment. In showers usually reserved for sweating adolescent athletes, agents remove the stakeout grit of Ruby Creek Road.
They won’t be leaving until the siege ends with a surrender or bloodshed.
“We’re closing the schools as a precautionary measure because of the situation in the county. That’s all we’re going to say,” Superintendent Bob Singleton said after a meeting that included the police chief and sheriff.
The fact that the high school is occupied and a new junior high isn’t finished also added to the decision, he said. If the standoff continues, a school board meeting on Sunday night will decide any further delays to the start of the school year, he said.
“Why take a chance?” School Board Chairman Leonard Kucera said. “The presence is here. The potential is here. If we’ve got nervous parents, why not put them at ease?”
Staff writers Greg Lee and Diana Dawson contributed to this report.
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