Rancher Robert Finicum, killed in wildlife refuge altercation, was vocal government critic
At a small-town community meeting in Oregon, the Sharp Family Singers from Kansas were scheduled to perform for an audience that would include occupiers from a standoff at a national wildlife refuge.
Two vehicles on the way to the meeting never made it. Inside were several protesters — and a Sharp family daughter.
Authorities stopped the vehicles Tuesday in what they said was an attempt to end the occupation peacefully, yet one of the drivers was killed.
Victoria Sharp, 18, was taken into custody and released. But at least one family member, a brother in Chicago, remained frantic Wednesday night about the safety of Victoria and the entire family.
“I’m very, very worried,” said Caleb Vazquez, 20. He said he didn’t know whether the family was still at the refuge, where most had performed over the weekend.
“That’s hanging in the air right now,” Vazquez said. “I’ve called the FBI, the police, the sheriff. Everybody that I’ve gotten through to doesn’t know where they are. It’s crazy out there right now.”
He spoke Wednesday night before word came from Oregon that the standoff had taken another dramatic turn.
The occupiers’ jailed leader urged the handful of remaining militants to abandon the wildlife refuge. After Ammon Bundy made his first court appearance in Portland on Wednesday, his attorney, Mike Arnold, read this statement from his client: “Please stand down. Go home and hug your families. This fight is now in the courts.”
It was unclear whether the remnant of Bundy’s followers still holed up at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge south of Burns was ready to heed his advice.
Citing family concerns, Vazquez said a sister had called her boyfriend after Tuesday’s shooting to say they were OK.
Seven of those arrested Tuesday near Burns, Ore. — including standoff leader Bundy — and an eighth person who surrendered to police in Arizona have been charged with conspiracy to interfere with a federal officer, a felony.
Robert “LaVoy” Finicum, 55, an Arizona rancher and spokesman at the occupation of the wildlife refuge, was shot and killed during the roadside stop.
On Wednesday, the FBI and Oregon State Police established a perimeter at the refuge that included a series of checkpoints along key routes into and out of the property.
An FBI official said authorities took the action Tuesday after nearly a month of working with other agencies to end the illegal takeover.
“Yesterday, the FBI with our partners took the first steps to bring this occupation to a conclusion,” said Greg Bretzing, the FBI’s special agent in charge in Oregon, at a news conference. “We worked to ensure that we could do so peacefully and safely, out of harm’s way of the citizens here in the county.”
Authorities will continue to try to empty the refuge of occupiers in the safest way possible, he said.
Victoria Sharp said in an audio interview posted Tuesday night on YouTube that the two vehicles were on the way to the meeting in the town of John Day.
“All of us Sharps were going to sing,” she said. “We were just going to try to talk, maybe do some negotiations, and we were going to sing. That was all.”
Sharp, who had arrived in Oregon from Montana after the weekend performances, gave an account of the shooting that differed from that of the driver of the other vehicle.
She said that when authorities stopped the pickup she was in, Finicum — who was driving — told them he wanted to go talk to the sheriff. Authorities told him to turn the ignition off and put his hands out the window, she said.
“Finally, he decided to just drive,” she said. “So we all got down on the floorboard and he took off. And they started firing at us. They had a roadblock set up. And so he ran into a snowbank and they were riddling the car with bullets.
“When we crashed, he got out of the car. He had his hands in the air and he’s like, ‘Just shoot me then. Just shoot me.’ And they did. They shot him dead. And then after he was down on the ground they shot him three more times. And then they bombarded our vehicle with bullets. … We were praying so hard. We were saying stop, please stop.”
She said the shooting lasted five to 10 minutes. “They shot at least 120 shots altogether,” she said.
Nobody in the vehicles fired a shot, she said: “We showed no aggression at all.”
But her version of the shooting contradicts that of a man who said he was the driver of the second vehicle, which was carrying Ammon Bundy and one other passenger.
Mark McConnell posted a video on his Facebook page Tuesday night telling people to stop spreading “nonsense” and speculating.
He said his vehicle was pulled over first, then the one Finicum was driving.
“Next thing we know, LaVoy takes off with his pickup and the other occupants,” he said. “Anytime somebody takes off with a vehicle away from law enforcement after they’ve exercised a stop is typically considered an act of aggression and foolish.”
McConnell said he did not witness the shooting, but two others in Finicum’s vehicle said he charged the law enforcement officers.
McConnell said he was not going “to dismiss or degrade LaVoy at all. … LaVoy is very passionate about this, about the movement.”
Afterward, McConnell said, “they brought me and the 18-year-old back here to the county sheriff’s facility; all the others went to Portland to a federal facility.”
He said he was interviewed and released after two hours.
Authorities have disclosed few details of the shooting. The traffic stop was supposed to bring a peaceful resolution to the situation but ended badly, Harney County Sheriff Dave Ward said at a news conference Wednesday.
“Multiple law enforcement agencies put a lot of work putting together the best tactical plan they could to take these guys down peacefully,” Ward said. “If it was as simple as just waiting out some folks down there to get out of some buildings, we could have waited a lot longer. But this has been tearing our community apart.”
The occupiers arrested Tuesday were Ammon Bundy, 40, of Emmett, Idaho; Ryan C. Bundy, 43, of Bunkerville, Nev.; Brian Cavalier, 44, of Bunkerville, Nev.; Shawna Cox, 59, of Kanab, Utah; Ryan Waylen Payne, 32, of Anaconda, Mont.; Joseph Donald O’Shaughnessy, 45, of Cottonwood, Ariz.; and Peter Santilli, 50, of Cincinnati. Another, Jon Eric Ritzheimer, 32, turned himself in to police in Arizona.
Victoria Sharp is one of 10 children of Odalis Sharp, whose family performs religious and patriotic music. Odalis Sharp took seven of her children to Oregon last weekend to perform for the armed occupiers at the refuge. The family, of Auburn, Kan., appeared on a video taken Saturday at the wildlife refuge.
“We’re here to sing for the Lord,” Odalis Sharp told the occupiers. “This is a very worthwhile cause, and we just hope to make a difference and we hope to just be able to bless the hearts of the people through the songs.”
The Sharps also spent several days at the Bundy Ranch in Nevada in 2014, performing for those participating in a standoff between federal authorities and hundreds of armed anti-government activists on the property of rancher Cliven Bundy.
Vazquez said Victoria had arrived at the Oregon refuge on Monday.
“I talked to my mom Monday night and they were excited because Victoria had shown up,” he said.
He said he could tell in the online recording that Victoria was shaken.
“Obviously, it was emotional, I’m sure a very, very scary situation for Victoria,” he said. “The other guy completely contradicts her, but everything he’s saying is hearsay. Nobody knows.”