Burns Chronicles No 2
by Gary Hunt
February 2, 2016
“I know not what course others may take; but as for me, give me liberty or give me death!”
Patrick Henry, March 23, 1775
The Death of LaVoy Finicum
Note: Times given are referenced to the aerial time stamps, minus eight hours. Quotations are based upon the best recollection of the witnesses.
I had lunch with Ammon Bundy while the Sharp family sang. It was the first time I had met Ammon, and we went over the articles I intended to write about the events that led up to the actions of January 2, 2016, with the investiture of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge administration complex, since renamed the Harney County Resource Center. The subjects for the articles were the misunderstanding of the people of Burns as to what source resulted in the fear and anxiety then extant in the town of Burns, and the information available in the “public” records contained in the filing cabinets at the refuge that might show the use of subterfuge in the obtaining of land to extend the federal “ownership”, not only in the Refuge, but throughout Harney County.
Ammon also indicated his pleasure for the upcoming meeting in the Grant County town of John Day, expecting to get additional support from Grant County Sheriff Glenn Palmer. As we discussed, it was to the backdrop of the Sharp family’s vary harmonious singing.
I then visited Ryan Payne, an old friend and fellow board member of the Operation Mutual Defense (OMD) Advisory Board. Ryan, too, was looking forward to a productive meeting with the Grant County community, hoping to establish a Committee of Safety to become a voice from the disenfranchised people of that County, as they had in Harney County.
The meeting was to begin at 6:00 PM on January 26, 2016. The drive, which in that part of the country, is a rather fixed route. From the Refuge, you go west on Sodhouse Lane to State Road 208, then North into Burns where you pick up US 395 North, through Malheur National Forest, through Seneca, and finally to John Day. The trip is just over 130 miles and is, unquestionably, the only practical way between the two locations.
Vehicle #1, the lead vehicle, LaVoy’s white 4-door pickup truck, contained Robert “LaVoy” Finicum driving, Ryan Payne at shotgun, and, from driver’s side to passenger side in the back seat, Ryan Bundy, Victoria Sharp, and Shawna Cox. Vehicle #2 contained Mark McConnell, driving his brown 4-door Jeep, with Brian “Budda” Cavalier at shotgun and Ammon Bundy in the rear. This was the position of all of the people as they left the HCRC, and the position of each until they left their respective vehicles. Thus, they began their 33-mile drive to Burns, which resulted in an unexpected and tragic termination.
After leaving Burns, they traveled up US 395 about 15 miles north of the intersection with US 20. As they passed National Forest Road 2820 (NF 2820) on their right, they noticed a line of trucks and other vehicles stacked up to enter US 395. There were at least eight vehicles, rather odd for the middle of a forest. This was about 4:25 PM, and about an hour out from their destination.
Once those vehicles turned north, the same direction they were traveling, it dawned on them that this might just not be a coincidence. However, optimistically, they continued on their way.
Less than a minute later, Vehicle #2 pulled over in response to flashing lights and sirens. Those who pulled over Vehicle #2 identified themselves as FBI HRT (Hostage Rescue Team) with a loudspeaker. They then instructed the driver to exit the vehicle and walk toward them, hands on his head. He approached them, he was instructed to lie on the ground, head away from them, and “low-crawl” back to them, where they disarmed him, cuffed him and patted him down. The same procedure was then addressed to the man in the back seat (Ammon), and finally to the man in the front seat (Budda), until all three were “secured”. All three acted without resisting, and fully compliant with the instructions given. They were then placed on the ground with their backs against one of the FBI vehicles, where they remained until after those from Vehicle #1 were finally returned to that area. Ammon’s hat and briefcase were still in the Jeep when it was recovered from impound, two days later
Vehicle #1, realizing that Vehicle #2 was no longer behind them, and not wanting to separate from and abandon their friends, slowed to a stop just beyond NF 31, about 3/4 mile from where the ambush began. They were followed by two FBI vehicles that stopped about 40 feet behind them. Ryan Payne then stuck his hands and head out of the passenger side window and a single shot was fired, striking the truck near the outside rear-view mirror.
The first shot having been fired, Ryan’s concern was for the women who were well within that line of fire. He exited the truck, hands held about shoulder level, and yelled, “There are women in here”. Seeing the number of guns pointed at him, when the command was given, “hands on your head. Walk toward us”, he complied. He was then searched, handcuffed, and taken back to where the three from Vehicle #2 were detained, a few hundred yards behind Vehicle #1.
After Ryan left the vehicle, LaVoy, seeing laser dots around him, and the observers in the back seat seeing a laser dot directly on LaVoy’s hat, he sticks his head and one hand out the window and yells, “Go ahead and shoot me.” He follows that with, “We are going to meet with the Sheriff [Palmer of Grant County]. We have a meeting with the Sheriff. You are going to have to shoot me. We are going to see the Sheriff. We are going to see the Sheriff.”
LaVoy then turned to the remaining occupants and said, “We are going to see the Sheriff. If you girls want to get out, then you can.” Victoria then replied, “I am not getting out.” She was terrified because Ryan had been shot at.
Shawna, a grandmother herself, was not going to leave a little girl by herself, opted to go with the flow. So, the three in the back seat slid down, knees against the back of the front seat, getting their heads as low as possible. In the forest, there was no cell phone service, so efforts to call out were futile. Shawna, however, had her phone video camera on and was filming these events, as they happened.
At 4:33:47 PM, LaVoy accelerates and the chase was on. Shawna then asked how far they would make it before the tires would be shot out. Receiving no answer, she asked, “How far is it to John Day?” LaVoy replied, “Fifty miles.”
Just over a mile up the road, at the end of a left sweeping curve, three vehicles block the roadway. The roadside has a snow bank about 2-3 feet high. After just about 1 minute of flight, hoping to get to Sheriff Palmer at John Day, their hopes decelerate as rapidly as LaVoy’s truck before it turns slightly to the left and plows through the snow. As an agent runs into the path of the truck, LaVoy swerves further to the left, probably to avoid injuring the agent. The truck comes to its final rest. Although past the vehicles blocking the road to John Day, the failed momentum of LaVoy’s efforts to reach sanctuary with Sheriff Palmer.
Unknown to those in the truck, and those back down the road, an effort was made to warn them of what was to come.
Victoria and Shawna were last minute passengers in Vehicle #1 because Victoria was late in preparing for the trip to John Day. Her family had left more than ten minutes ahead of LaVoy, in that they were scheduled to sing at the Community Meeting, the destination of all.
When the Sharp family passed the checkpoint at Seneca, they tried to contact those behind them, but cell reception was non-existent where these events were unfolding. Any chance to forewarn them of what they might expect was not able to be conveyed.
Within seconds, LaVoy is out of the truck, hands raised, and observing where the agents are, walks widely away from the truck and towards its rear to assure that if gunfire begins, that the truck and those inside of it are not in the line of fire.
[Note: A Witness has provided a correction — that the gunfire started even before LaVoy got out of the truck, that being the shots fired at LaVoy’s truck while he was still on the road driving toward the roadblock. opf ]
The rear seat occupants slowly rise, after LaVoy exits. They are still trying to stay low, but also to observe, as best they can, what is occurring outside of the vehicle. They see LaVoy, hands in the air, trying to negotiate deep snow and probably uneven ground, stumbling, occasionally, probably because he was wearing his narrow cowboy boots.
[Note: Ryan Bundy is recording, verbally, on his cell phone, what is transpiring. Shawna Cox is taking video of the events, as they go down. Neither phone nor camera have been returned to their owners. opf ]
LaVoy then, probably still attempting to remove the threat from those still in the vehicle, yells, “Shoot me, just go ahead and shoot me.” As he is being shot, he turns back towards his friends, still in the truck, as if in a final good-bye. Just 13 seconds after LaVoy left the truck, he falls to the ground, dead. However, his arm does move, slightly, after he lay on the ground, perhaps as a last gesture to those still inside, perhaps a reflexive reaction.
Note: Second person information from one of the witnesses, indicates that LaVoy was shot
[Note: The witness has provided a correction to the article – that the witness observed at least three shots that hit LaVoy, though there may have been more. opf ]
There is no reason to believe that he was shot in the face, only in the body-mass.
Those inside are terrified; they see that LaVoy is shot, while unarmed. In reflection, if soldiers (or Marines) in Afghanistan, had acted as the agents and shot an unarmed man, without provocation, would have violated the Rules of Engagement (ROE) of war, and would have stood Court Martial, then probably imprisoned or discharged from service. Unfortunately, the ROE do not apply here, in our own “free” country.
At the same time that the gunfire was directed at LaVoy, by two agents clearly aiming at him, those inside of the truck begin seeing laser dots, perhaps thirty or forty at any given time, and Ryan Bundy is shot in the shoulder. Bullets begin to pierce the truck; windows break, impacted by bullets. All hell breaks loose as perhaps hundreds of bullets penetrate the vehicle or hit the snow, outside, sending clouds of snow into the air. All of the windows had been broken by gunfire, which was described as “coming from every direction”.
Ryan and Victoria had gotten on their knees, ducking as low as they could while Shawna remained in the previously described position. They began to wonder if the gunfire would ever stop, and that eventually they, too, would be killed by the agents.
Laser dots were appearing on knees, seats, all over, inside of the truck and they realized that other agents had come out from behind trees on the left side, and perhaps the right side of the road, firing randomly into the truck and surrounding area. Whether through the grace of God, or simply poor marksmanship, after nearly six minutes, those inside began yelling, “Stop, stop”. Then, gunfire, flash-bang grenades, and tear gas projectiles, ceased.
During this ordeal, Victoria, who had, just finished EMT school, said, “They shot him. I want to help him”, though she was restrained from doing so by Ryan and Shawna. At eighteen years of age, gentle Victoria had seen war come to her own country.
The right side of the truck had plowed snow, so the occupants were told to exit the left door, Ryan Bundy, being first, walks, with hands up, onto the paved roadway and is secured. Next comes Victoria, and finally, Shawna. With no female agents present, Shawna watched very closely as an agent simply ran his fingers around Victoria’s waistband of her pants.
The three were then detained, but allowed to lean against a van, in an effort to stay warm, as opposed to those from Vehicle #2, where they were forced to sit on the cold ground.
After a while, Shawna and Victoria were loaded in a van (not sure of the vehicle type) and driven back to pick up Payne, McConnell, Ammon and Budda. Ryan Bundy was transported by ambulance back to Burns.
They were detained at that location for what seemed like hours. Ryan Payne, after learning of LaVoy’s death, berated the forty, or so, agents, calling them murderers and that they had blood on their hands — something that those who took over the refuge had attempted to avoid, since January 2. However, those who had constantly expressed a desire for a “peaceful resolution” had, finally, drawn first blood in a contemptible act against American citizens, thereby proving the assertions made by Ammon Bundy throughout the course of the occupation of the refuge.
Victoria was extremely upset and constantly expressing her outrage over what the government had done. Mark McConnell, surely upset himself, took it out on Victoria, for her vocal expressions, until quieted by the others.
Somehow Ammon, when searched, managed to sneak his cell phone past the pat down, and as they drove towards Burns, the interior lights of the vehicle being left on, was able to call his wife, Lisa, and began telling her what had happened, including the first outside knowledge of LaVoy’s death. As they approached Burns, the interior lights were turned off, probably so that those on the street could not see who the occupants were. The glow from the phone face now showing brightly on Ammon’s face. They then stopped, pulled them out of the vehicle and found the cell phone.
Next stop was the hospital to check on Ryan Bundy, who still had a bullet in his shoulder, then on to a rest area west of Burns, where everybody was removed. About the same time, Ryan Bundy was also delivered to the rest area.
All were given their Miranda Rights, and it is unknown whether anybody answered any subsequent questions. They were then advised that they were being charged with “conspiracy to impede officers”. The document, the Criminal Complaint, must have been prepared after the arrests were made. A nefarious practice, and probably illegal even by the standards of justice that were intended by the “due process” concept of law. This is abundantly clear by the fact that “Robert ‘LaVoy’ Finicum” is not listed on the Complaint, for if it were prepared before the arrests were made, his name most surely would have been included, unless they had already intended to kill him. More logically, the Criminal Complaint, a requisite for this type of arrest, was prepared after the FBI Special Agent, Katherine Armstrong, signed the Complaint, and Stacie F. Beckerman, U. S. Magistrate, signed the document, purportedly in Portland, some 300 miles away by road. Certainly, not what we should expect from our government.
Finally, all were together, though, then, each was placed in a separate vehicle for transport to their final destinations. Two vehicles transported Mark McConnell and Victoria Sharp back to Burns, where they were released. The remainder went in the opposite direction, presumably directly to Multnomah County Jail.
As far as firearms, one witness said that LaVoy had a 9-mm in his shoulder holster, well under his armpit, and there is no indication that he reached high enough or deep enough under his jacket to even get his hand close to it. With the exception of Shawna and Victoria, all were probably armed, as was the practice. Ryan Bundy appears to have dropped his firearm into the snow as he exited the vehicle. Mark McConnell had his taken when he was “apprehended” at the first stop. LaVoy’s well recognized revolver was left beside the seat when he exited Vehicle #1 to draw fire away from the remaining occupants of that vehicle.