The self-proclaimed spokesman of a Oregon militia occupying a wildlife refuge was shot and killed during a standoff with state police after vowing to never be taken alive, authorities said.
Robert “LaVoy” Finicum, 54, was killed and five others were arrested when police stopped them on Highway 395 as they headed to a meeting Tuesday afternoon, his family said.
Ammon Bundy, 40—who led the occupation of Malheur National Wildlife Refuge—and his brother Ryan Bundy, 43, were among those arrested at the scene, police said.
Occupiers Shawna Cox, 59; Brian Cavalier, 44; and Ryan Payne, 32; were also taken into custody.
The three others were: Joseph O’Shaughnessy, 45, who was arrested about 70 miles away in Burns, Oregon; Peter Santilli, 50, who was apprehended less than an hour later in the same area, and Jon Rizheimer, who surrendered to authorities in Arizona, officials said.
One of those arrested was reportedly wounded.
Harney County Sheriff Dave Ward on Wednesday blamed the occupiers for Tuesday's death, telling reporters: "Multiple agencies put a lot of work into this to put the best tactical plan that they could to arrest them peacefully. (The death) didn't have to happen. We all make choices in life. Sometimes our choices go bad."
All eight face a felony federal charge of conspiracy to impede officers, the FBI and Oregon State Police said in a statement.
“We continue to work with Harney County Sheriff Dave Ward and his deputies, (the) Oregon State Police and the United States Attorney’s Office to address any further outstanding issues,” officials said.
Law enforcement had set up checkpoints around the refuge early Wednesday, saying that only ranchers who own property there will be allowed inside.
[Eight people— Top, L to R: Shawna Cox , Brian Cavalier , Ryan Bundy, Ammon Bundy; Bottom: Joseph O'Shaughnessy, Peter Santilli, Ryan Payn, Jon Ritzheimer— were arrested.] (MSCO; Getty)
Ward urged those still occupying the refuge to "move on. There doesn't have to be bloodshed in our community."
Oregon Governor Kate Brown wrote on Twitter: “The situation in Harney County continues to be the subject of a federal investigation that is in progress. My priority is the safety of all Oregonians & communities. I ask for patience as officials continue pursuit of a swift & peaceful resolution.”
But the remaining occupiers told reporters Wednesday they have no intention of leaving.
"I just spoke to the new leaders ... They say that 5-6 (people) had a meeting, and by consensus they decided to stay," journalist John Sepulvado wrote on Twitter.
It was not immediately clear how many protestors were still at the refuge.
The militia group took over the grounds on January 2, after a peaceful protest in Burns over the imprisonment of two ranchers convicted of setting fires on government land.
Finicum reportedly assumed the role of de facto spokesman for the takeover and took it upon himself to stand guard outside the reserve, setting up a one-man camp while keeping his rifle close.
The Mormon rancher from Arizona said three weeks ago he would rather die than be taken into custody, telling MSNBC: “There are things more important than your life and freedom is one of them. I’m prepared to defend freedom.”
One of Finicum’s 11 children told reporters the protesters were “committed to not firing on federal agents.”
“We all thought it would end but not like this,” his daughter Challice Finch told NBC News. “My dad did stress that they wouldn’t pull a gun on they unless they pulled a gun.”
Loved ones were shocked by Finicum’s death, writing on Finch’s Facebook to share their condolences.
“I’m torn up inside to learn of this. Your Dad is a great man and will be missed. Prayers for you and your family. So sorry for your loss… may Gods justice be swift!” one person wrote.
“Your father is a true hero. I’m sorry for your family’s loss,” another person said.
Finicum had written on Facebook on Sunday, thanking people for their support as he wrote a novel entitled Only by Blood and Suffering: Regaining Lost Freedom.
A website dedicated to the novel says: “As he has watched the ever increasing encroachment of government into the lives of the American people he has felt to make a stand for freedom. He has drawn a line in the sand and that line is the Constitution in its original intent.
"The Constitution of the United States of America is a charter to protect the freedom of man by putting strict limits on government," the website says. " We are living in a day when that supreme law of the land has been shredded by the very government that took an oath to uphold it. By their actions the Federal Government has become lawless and stalks the liberties of this land under the guise of social justice.”
Occupiers took to social media after Tuesday's standoff, writing on the Bundy Ranch Facebook Page: "America was fired upon by our government and one of liberty's finest patriots is fallen. He will not go silent into eternity."
The protestors also clamed Finicum had his hands in the air when he was shot.
It was not clear what led to the traffic stop, but officials said it was “an enforcement action to bring into custody a number of individuals associated with the armed occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge."
“During that arrest, there were shots fired,” the FBI and Oregon State Police said.