20 years after Ruby Ridge standoff, there's forgiveness

By Nicholas K. Geranios

Associated Press

Published: Sunday, Aug. 19 2012 10:59 p.m. MDT

This photo taken Aug. 7, 2012 shows Sara Weaver at her horse at her ranch outside Kalispell, Mont. Weaver has finally forgiven the federal agents who 20 years ago shot her mother and younger brother to death during the siege at Idaho's Ruby Ridge. (AP Photo/Nicholas K. Geranios)

Associated Press

KALISPELL, Mont. — When Sara Weaver saw her father Randy struck in the shoulder by a government sniper's bullet in the Idaho wilderness in August 1992, she began to sprint back to the family's cabin on a mountaintop called Ruby Ridge.

As the 16-year-old closed in, her mother, Vicki, opened the cabin door and stood behind it, holding Sara Weaver's 10-month-old sister in her arms. Just then, a sniper's bullet struck her mother in the head, killing her.

For the next nine days, the surviving Weavers holed up in the cabin while hundreds of federal agents laid siege in a standoff that helped spark an anti-government patriot movement that grew to include the Oklahoma City bombing.

Today, 20 years later, Sara Weaver has left the anger behind, finding religion — and forgiveness.

"I went 10 years without understanding how to heal" until becoming a born-again Christian, she said. "All bitterness and anger had to go," she said. "I forgave those that pulled the trigger."

These days, the Weavers live near Kalispell, Mont., a city in the northwestern part of the state that is the gateway to Glacier National Park and more than 100 east of Ruby Ridge.

Patriarch Randy Weaver, 63, is a doting grandfather, his daughter said. Her two sisters, including the one who was in Vicki Weaver's arms, are working.

For a time, it seemed doubtful that any family members would survive the siege.

Randy Weaver moved his family to northern Idaho in the 1980s to escape what he saw as a corrupt world. Over time, federal agents began investigating the Army veteran for possible ties to white supremacist and anti-government groups. Weaver was eventually suspected of selling a government informant two illegal sawed-off shotguns.

To avoid arrest, Weaver holed up on his land.

On Aug. 21, 1992, a team of U.S. marshals scouting the forest to find suitable places to ambush and arrest Weaver came across his friend, Kevin Harris, and Weaver's 14-year-old son Samuel in the woods. A gunfight broke out. Samuel Weaver and Deputy U.S. Marshal William Degan were killed.

The next day, an FBI sniper shot and wounded Randy Weaver. As Weaver, Harris and Sara ran back toward the house, the sniper fired a second bullet, which passed through Vicki Weaver's head and wounded Harris in the chest.

During the siege, Sara Weaver crawled around her mother's blanket-covered body to get food and water for the survivors, including the infant, until the family surrendered on Aug. 31, 1992.

Harris and Randy Weaver were arrested, and Weaver's daughters went to live with their mother's family in Iowa. Randy Weaver was acquitted of the most serious charges and Harris was acquitted of all charges.

The surviving members of the Weaver family filed a wrongful death lawsuit. The federal government awarded Randy Weaver a $100,000 settlement and his three daughters $1 million each in 1995.

"Ruby Ridge was the opening shot of a new era of anti-government hatred not seen since the Civil War," said Mark Potok of the Southern Poverty Law Center, which keeps tabs on hate groups.

After Ruby Ridge, federal agents laid siege to the Branch Davidian compound in Waco, Texas. It ended violently after 51 days on April 19, 1993, when a fire destroyed the compound after an assault was launched, killing 76 people.

Timothy McVeigh cited both Ruby Ridge and Waco as motivators when he bombed the federal building in Oklahoma City in 1995. Ruby Ridge has been cited often by militia and patriot groups since.

Sara Weaver said she is devastated each time someone commits a violent act in the name of Ruby Ridge. "It killed me inside," she said of the Oklahoma City bombing. "I knew what it was like to lose a family member in violence. I wouldn't wish that on anyone."

In the years after Ruby Ridge, Sara Weaver, now 36, struggled with depression and post-traumatic stress disorder, as well as what she called a "toxic bondage" of bitterness and anger at the government.

In 2003, a meeting with a childhood friend from Ruby Ridge helped her turn things around.

The friend mentioned her positive relationship with Jesus Christ, and something clicked for Sara Weaver. "I was shocked at that," she said. "I had a fear-based relationship with God."

"I decided I was broken and needed to be fixed," she said.

Weaver began reading the Bible, where she learned that "Jesus commands us to forgive," and embarked on a journey that, by 2011, found her speaking to religious groups across the nation. Her journey is described in her recently released book, "From Ruby Ridge to Freedom."

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