Randy Weaver, an alleged white supremacist, had been targeted by the federal government for selling two illegal sawed-off shotguns to an undercover Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) informant. On August 21, 1992, after a period of surveillance, U.S. marshals came upon Harris, Weaver, Weaver’s 14-year-old son Sammy and the family dog on a road near the Weaver property. A marshal shot and killed the dog, prompting Sammy to fire at the marshal. In the ensuing gun battle, Sammy and U.S. Marshal William Degan were shot and killed. A tense standoff ensued, and on August 22 the FBI joined the marshals besieging Ruby Ridge.
Later that day, Harris, Weaver, and his daughter, Sarah, left the cabin, allegedly for the purpose of preparing Sammy’s body for burial. FBI sharpshooter Lon Horiuchi, waiting 200 yards away, opened fire, allegedly because he thought Harris was armed and intending to fire on a helicopter in the vicinity. Horiuchi wounded Weaver, and the group ran to the shed where Sammy’s body was lying. When they attempted to escape back into the cabin, Horiuchi fired again, wounding Harris as he dove through the door and killing Vicki Weaver, who was holding the door open with one hand and cradling her infant daughter with the other. Horiuchi claimed he didn’t know that Vicki Weaver was standing behind the door. Harris, Weaver and Weaver’s three daughters surrendered nine days later.
The controversial standoff spawned a nationwide debate on the use of force by federal law enforcement agencies, and a U.S. Senate panel accused the federal agencies involved of “substantial failures” in their handling of the Ruby Ridge operation.