Standoff a 'living hell' for Weaver family

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Sara Weaver-Balter of Kalispell, Mont., at the Redneck Chic store south of town earlier this week.


The family had gone into the woods to wait for the end times, Sara Weaver-Balter recalled.

The Weavers were trying to observe the Old Testament law as best they could but weren’t Christians, she said.

“For me it was bondage” and had “none of the freedom” she experiences today, Weaver-Balter said on Tuesday during work at Redneck Chic south of Kalispell, Mont.

The Weavers believed in the Apocalypse and were prepared to wait it out, she said. In essence, they believed that the New World Order was going to be implemented through a final world war.

Randy Weaver, Sara’s father, had attended some white supremacist meetings but had not joined. Weaver, who considered himself a separatist but not a supremacist, sold a couple sawed-off shotguns to an undercover federal agent.

The government tried to get Weaver to become an informant in exchange for dropping the weapons charges. Weaver refused and didn’t show up for his trial. He apparently received conflicting information about a change in his trial date.

A Senate Subcommittee on Terrorism, Technology and Government Information later concluded that pretrial services incorrectly informed Weaver about the change.

Eighteen months later, on the morning of Aug. 21, 1992, the family heard barking from their dog Striker, a yellow Labrador retriever.

Randy Weaver went outside with his 14-year-old son Sam and Kevin Harris, a 26-year-old who had been living with the family.

After Weaver had walked a while, a federal agent jumped out and told Weaver to “freeze.” Weaver ignored the agent, Weaver-Balter said.

Weaver then heard gunfire and told his son and Harris to get back to the house because their dog had been shot. U.S. Marshal Art Roderick shot and killed Striker using a silenced machine gun.

“Their purpose that day was to kill our dogs because they were our warning system,” Weaver-Balter said.

Sam Weaver fired a shot in the direction of the federal agents and fled.

A gunshot struck the gun he was carrying, ricocheted and nearly severed his arm at the elbow. Another shot struck him in the back and through the heart while he was running away.

After Sam Weaver was shot, Harris fired at Bill Degan, a highly decorated U.S. marshal, but it is questionable if his shots actually killed him.

A bullet later was found lodged in Degan’s backpack, Weaver-Balter said, noting this detail came out during her dad’s trial.

“Our attorney [Gerry Spence] believes Degan crouched in front of Roderick,” Weaver-Balter said. “If Kevin had really killed Degan, he would be put away right now.”

Later that day, Randy and his wife, Vicki, and Harris retrieved Sam’s body.

 By the next day, 400 law officers had swarmed around the Weavers’ property. At that point, the Weavers didn’t know Degan was dead, Weaver-Balter said. They later found out from radio reports.

The family washed Sam’s body and placed him in a sheet in a shed. Later, when Weaver went to say goodbye to Sam, he was shot in the shoulder by FBI sniper Lon Horiuchi.

Shortly afterward, Weaver-Balter said she pushed her dad through the door into their cabin and then felt something hit her face.

She thought she had been shot. Her mother, who was next to her holding 10-month-old Elisheba, was shot in the head. She immediately fell to the floor.

The bullet went through her head and through Harris’ arm and lodged in his chest. Harris had a wound on his arm the size of a soup can, Weaver-Balter said.

Randy Weaver picked up Elisheba and gave her to his 11-year-old daughter Rachel.

The surviving Weavers — Randy, Sara, Rachel and Elisheba, along with Harris — endured a siege in their house for 11 days.

“This was hell on earth, and we were living it,” Weaver-Balter wrote in “The Federal Siege at Ruby Ridge,” a book she co-wrote with her dad in 1998.

“I had to crawl through my mom’s blood to the pantry” to get food, Weaver-Balter said, noting they didn’t eat or drink much during that time.

Harris was in so much pain he begged Weaver to shoot him, said Weaver-Balter, who was bawling at this time. Her father finally told Harris he wasn’t going to shoot him, that if he wanted it done he had to do it himself.

At some point, federal agents crawled underneath the house.

“They were beneath us,” Weaver-Balter said. “We heard noises.”

People spoke on a bullhorn to her dead mother. “We’re having pancakes. Would you like to have pancakes with your children?” they asked.

Weaver-Balter said she was later told the agents didn’t know her mother was dead.

“To me it was a mind game,” Weaver-Balter said. At one point, Weaver yelled out that he would talk to Col. James “Bo” Gritz, a highly decorated Green Beret and presidential candidate in 1992 who came to the site to protest along with others.

Gritz had an “Oh my God” reaction when Weaver told him that his wife and son were dead, Weaver-Balter said. Eventually the standoff was resolved peacefully.

“They took us to an Army camp” they had set up in the area, Weaver-Balter said. The first question she was asked was, “Where are the booby traps?”

There were no booby traps, Weaver-Balter said, noting the dogs had been running around freely.

At trial, a jury found Weaver not guilty on most of the charges against him, including murder, assault and harboring a fugitive. He was found guilty of failure to appear and carrying a weapon during pre-trial release and sentenced to 18 months in prison.

Other legal results included:

• Harris was found not guilty on all charges.

• A state manslaughter charge against Horiuchi for killing Vicki Weaver was dismissed based on the Supremacy Clause of the U.S. Constitution.

• A Boundary County sheriff’s ballistics test found that a bullet from U.S. Marshal Larry Cooper’s 9 mm Colt killed Sam Weaver, but no charges were filed.

• FBI official E. Michael Kahoe was sentenced to 18 months in federal prison for destroying an internal critique of the siege of Ruby Ridge, ordering an aide to wipe out all traces of the report, and then lying about it to two sets of investigators.

• The Senate subcommittee concluded that special rules of engagement that allowed any armed adult male on the property to be shot on site were unconstitutional.

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