Stand-off at wildlife refuge in Oregon ends

FBI agents mannning the entry to the Burns Municipal Airport in Burns, Oregon, on Jan 30, 2016.
FBI agents mannning the entry to the Burns Municipal Airport in Burns, Oregon, on Jan 30, 2016.PHOTO: REUTERS

PORTLAND, Oregon (REUTERS) – The final four holdouts in an armed protest at a federal wildlife refuge in Oregon surrendered on Thursday, with the last occupier repeatedly threatening suicide before he walked out, ending the 41-day stand-off with the FBI.

David Fry, 27, had remained behind for more than an hour and told supporters by phone he had not agreed with the other three to leave.

The phone conversation was broadcast live on an audio feed posted on the Internet.

“I’m actually pointing a gun at my head, I’m tired of living,” Fry said during the phone call.

He later added, “Until you address my grievances, you’re probably going to have to watch me be killed, or kill myself.”

Fry finally surrendered and authorities could be heard over the phone line telling him to put his hands up before the call disconnected.

Portland’s KGW television later showed a caravan of sport utility vehicles escorted by police driving out of the refuge in remote eastern Oregon.

The FBI said in a statement the final four occupiers had surrendered.

The takeover at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, which began on Jan 2, was sparked by the return to prison of two Oregon ranchers convicted of setting fires that spread to federal property in the vicinity of the refuge.

The stand-off, originally led by brothers Ammon and Ryan Bundy, came to a head after the arrest on Wednesday in Portland of their father, Cliven Bundy, 74. On Thursday he was charged with conspiracy, assault on a federal officer and obstruction of justice in connection with a separate 2014 stand-off on federal land near his Nevada ranch.

Ammon and Ryan Bundy had been arrested in January along with nine other protesters on a snow-covered roadside where a spokesman for the group, Robert “LaVoy” Finicum, was shot dead. A 12th member of the group surrendered to police in Arizona.

The Malheur occupation had also been a protest against federal control over millions of acres public land in the West.

After Cliven Bundy’s arrest, three of four remaining occupiers surrendered to the FBI at the urging of Nevada state Assemblywoman Michele Fiore, a Republican, and Rev. Franklin Graham, the son of Christian evangelist Billy Graham, who both travelled to the site.

Jeff Banta, 46, of Elko, Nevada, and married couple Sean Anderson, 48, and Sandy Anderson, 47, of Riggins, Idaho, surrendered peacefully, according to the webcast of a phone call with the protesters.

The protesters narrated the surrender, with the married Andersons described as emerging with their hands up, holding hands.

Blaine Cooper, one of the original occupiers, has been arrested, according to a Twitter tweet from a reporter for the Oregonian newspaper, who attributed the information to Cooper’s wife. Both left the refuge after Finicum was shot.

The last four holdouts were indicted last week along with 12 others previously arrested on charges of conspiring to impede federal officers during the occupation.

A judge has cited the continuing standoff as a major obstacle to the release of at least some of those who remain jailed on federal charges.