Ruby Ridge was the location of a violent 11-day standoff in remote Boundary County, Idaho, beginning on August 21, 1992. U.S. Marshals and federal agents faced off against Randy Weaver, his wife and five children and his friend Kevin Harris. The Ruby Ridge incident was the culmination of years of investigation into Weaver by local authorities, the FBI, the ATF and the Secret Service. It ended with the shooting deaths of a U.S. marshal, Weaver’s wife Vicki and their teenage son Samuel (Sammy).
Randy Weaver was a college drop-out and former Green Beret. He and his wife Vicki were religious fundamentalists who distrusted the government and believed the end of the world was imminent. They started hoarding guns and made plans to move to a secluded area and live off the grid.
In 1984, Randy, Vicki and their children moved into a cabin they’d built themselves overlooking Ruby Creek in Idaho. By choice, they had no electricity or running water.
Weaver and Aryan Nation
After receiving information that Weaver had threatened President Ronald Reagan and other government officials, the FBI and the Secret Service opened an investigation. No charges were filed, but investigators documented that Weaver had ties to the Aryan Nation. Weaver denied the claim.
In 1989, undercover ATF agents claimed Weaver sold them illegal sawed-off shotguns and offered him the chance to become an informant on the Aryan Nation. When Weaver refused, he was indicted for making and keeping illegal weapons.
After being released on bail, his trial was set for February 1991, but his probation officer told him it wasn’t until March 20.
Weaver missed the February trial and a warrant was issued for his arrest. The March 20th trial came and went without an appearance from Weaver, and a grand jury indicted him for failing to appear at trial. Attempts to negotiate with Weaver over the next year via mail failed and he remained at large.
Marshals Plan Weaver’s Arrest
The U.S. Marshal Service was responsible for bringing in the now-fugitive Weaver. Given Weaver’s weapons arsenal and anti-government stance, they determined he wouldn’t give up peacefully. They planned a covert take-down to gather intelligence, survey the terrain and the Weaver family and, hopefully, eventually arrest Weaver.
Surveillance began, and the Weaver family became more and more isolated. Vicki Weaver gave birth to a baby girl at home and cared for her family as best she could under difficult circumstances.
Surveillance teams noted the Weavers were almost always armed and decided to settle in for the long haul. They planned to infiltrate the tight family unit with the help of a male and a female undercover deputy posing as the Weaver’s newest neighbors, but the deputies never got the chance.
Death on Ruby Ridge
Deputy Marshal Dave Hunt and Deputy Marshal Art Roderick knew the rugged terrain surrounding Weaver’s property well and led the undercover team which included Marshal William (Billy) Degan.
On the morning of August 21, 1992, as the team prepared to gather intelligence for the day, the Weaver’s dogs became aware of the their presence. The dogs, Sammy Weaver, Randy Weaver and Kevin Harris gave chase as the surveillance team scattered.
A firefight ensued, leaving 14-year old Sammy Weaver, Marshal Degan and one of the Weaver’s dogs dead. Who shot first and who shot whom would later be hotly debated by all surviving parties, in the courts and in the media.
But the carnage wasn’t over yet.
Ruby Ridge Siege
As the Weaver family holed up in their cabin, grieving Sammy and planning their next steps, Deputy Hunt called for help, desperate to get Marshal Degan’s body off the mountain and end the standoff.
On August 22, the FBI, under the impression they were entering an active, unprovoked firefight against U.S. Marshals, arrived on Ruby Ridge. As hundreds of law enforcement officers and federal agents surged into the area with the unusual orders to shoot any armed adult on sight, FBI snipers set up a perimeter hoping to force Weaver to negotiate.
Weaver had none of it, however, and ignored all negotiation attempts, including pleas from his sister. After heading to the nearby shed where they’d brought Sammy’s body earlier, Weaver and Harris along with Weaver’s 16-year-old daughter Sara trailing behind, were shot at by FBI sniper Lon Horiuchi who thought the men were about to fire on a helicopter.
Weaver was hit and he, Sara and Harris headed back to the apparent safety of the house.
As the men approached the house, Vicki stood behind the front door holding her infant daughter. Horiuchi fired again, hitting Vicki in the face and killing her. The bullet also seriously injured Harris. Horiuchi later claimed he didn’t know Vicki was in the doorway and had his sights on Harris.
Chaos ensued as Harris, Weaver and his surviving family took cover in the cabin. With both Harris and Weaver wounded and Vicki and Sammy dead, the situation was grim—it seemed to confirm the Weaver’s darkest suspicions about the federal government and the imminent apocalypse.
Yet Weaver wouldn’t give up. Outside the cabin, hundreds of protestors arrived to oppose the government’s actions and grew increasingly agitated when they learned of the deaths of Sammy and Vicki.
The Siege Ends
After being approached by the FBI to record a message to Weaver encouraging him to surrender, Special Forces soldier Bo Gritz arrived on the scene, confident he could peacefully end the botched standoff.
On August 30, Gritz convinced Weaver to give up the critically-injured Harris and allow Vicki’s body to be removed from the cabin. But Weaver and his surviving family, including his baby daughter, remained inside.
With time running out before federal agents ended the siege once and for all, Gritz went to the cabin again the morning of August 31. Although Weaver had vowed to die before giving himself up, Gritz convinced him otherwise and escorted Weaver and his terrified daughters out of the cabin.
Weaver was immediately arrested and his daughters handed over to relatives. The long siege of Ruby Ridge was finally over.
Ruby Ridge Aftermath
Despite being charged with murder, conspiracy and other crimes, Weaver was only convicted of failing to appear for trial on his original weapons charge. Harris was cleared of all charges.
A Department of Justice task force report found many faults with how federal agents handled the Ruby Ridge situation, such as:
- The rule change that allowed snipers to shoot any armed adult on sight without warning to surrender was unconstitutional.
- Horiuchi was unjustified in firing the shot that killed Vicki Weaver since Weaver and Harris were in retreat when he fired.
- Horiuchi placed Vicki Weaver and her children at risk by targeting the cabin door without knowing who was behind it.
At least one FBI agent, E. Michael Kahoe, participated in a cover-up about Ruby Ridge. He pled guilty to obstruction of justice and was sentenced to 18 months in prison and a $4,000 fine after admitting to destroying a report that condemned the FBI’s response during the standoff.
In 1997, FBI sniper Lon Horiuchi was charged with manslaughter for killing Vicki Weaver. A judge dismissed the case, however, claiming federal agents could not be charged for actions taken in the line of duty. In 2001, the ruling was overturned, but no further criminal charges were filed against Horiuchi.
The U.S. Government paid a high financial price for its role at Ruby Ridge. In 1995, Randy Weaver and his three daughters were awarded $3.1 million for the tragic loss of Sammy and Vicki.
In 2000, Harris was awarded $380,000 by the government in return for his dropping a $10 million lawsuit against them—the government never admitted any wrongdoing in Harris’ case.
F.B.I. Agent Can Be Charged in Idaho Siege, Court Rules. The New York Times.
Former FBI Official Sentenced in Ruby Ridge Probe. CNN.
Ruby Ridge, Part One: Suspicion. PBS American Experience.
PBS American Experience.
Ruby Ridge, Part Two: Confirmation. PBS American Experience.
U.S. Settles Final Civil Lawsuit Stemming from Ruby Ridge Siege. The New York Times.