By Curtis Skinner and Dan Whitcomb
(Reuters) — The leader of an armed occupation at a federal wildlife refuge in Oregon and others were arrested on Tuesday after shots were fired during a traffic stop, leaving one person dead and another wounded, the FBI said.
Protesters were still occupying the remote Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in eastern Oregon after leader Ammon Bundy’s arrest and the Federal Bureau of Investigation was setting up a perimeter with the hopes of a peaceful resolution, a law enforcement official told Reuters.
A total of eight people were arrested in two states.
The takeover at Malheur that started Jan. 2 is the latest flare-up in the so-called Sagebrush Rebellion, a decades-old conflict over the U.S. government’s control of millions acres of land in the West.
Several media outlets, including the Oregonian and CNN, reported that law enforcement sources said LaVoy Finicum was killed. Finicum, a rancher who acted as a spokesman for the occupiers, told NBC News earlier this month that he would rather die than be arrested.
“There are things more important than your life, and freedom is one of them,” he said in the NBC interview.
Bundy and four leaders of the occupation were taken into custody following the confrontation along Highway 395 in northeast Oregon around 4:25 p.m. local time (0025 GMT), according to the FBI.
A sixth individual was arrested by the Oregon State Police in Burns, Oregon, about 1.5 hours later. The FBI said a seventh person was later arrested, 50-year-old Peter Santilli, an independent journalist who livestreamed events at the refuge.
The FBI said they also arrested an eighth person in Peoria, Arizona, in relation to the occupation.
All of those arrested face federal charges of conspiracy to use force, intimidation or threats to impede federal officers from discharging their duties, the FBI said.
The Oregonian reported that Bundy had been en route to a community meeting in John Day, Oregon, with several other members of the occupation, where he was scheduled to be a guest speaker, when authorities stopped his vehicle.
The newspaper said 43-year-old Ryan Bundy, Ammon’s brother, was injured in the arrest, suffering a minor gunshot wound. Authorities did not release the identity of the person killed, but added that he was the subject of a federal probable cause arrest.
Some 25 miles (40 km) of Highway 395 was shut down in both directions following the incident, a dispatcher for the state department of transportation said. The highway was expected to remain closed as authorities investigate the shooting.
The occupiers of the wildlife refuge said they were supporting two local ranchers who were returned to prison this month for setting fires that spread to federal land. The ranchers’ lawyer has said the occupiers do not speak for the family.
Burns Mayor Craig LaFollette told Reuters that while he had limited information about the night’s events, he hoped the stand-off would come to a peaceful end.
“I think my perception is that people’s patience was running thin and that the community as a whole was looking for some resolution and to have these people leave,” he said.
Law enforcement officials had largely kept their distance from the buildings at the refuge, 30 miles (48 km) south of the small town of Burns in rural southeast Oregon’s Harney County, in the hope of avoiding a violent confrontation.
Local residents have expressed a mixture of sympathy for the Hammond family, suspicion of the federal government’s motives and frustration with the occupation.
(Reporting by Curtis Skinner in San Francisco and Dan Whitcomb in Los Angeles; Additional reporting by Julia Edwards in Washington and Jonathan Allen in New York; Editing by Lisa Shumaker)
Photo: Leader of a group of armed protesters Ammon Bundy talks to the media at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge near Burns, Oregon, January 8, 2016. REUTERS/Jim Urquhart