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Participant in Ruby Ridge standoff, Randy Weaver, dies at 74

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

Randy Weaver, known for the Ruby Ridge standoff in Idaho, has died. News coverage of Weaver's 11-day gunfire standoff with federal agents had Americans glued to their TVs in August of 1992. Three people died - Weaver's wife Vicki, his son Samuel and a deputy U.S. marshal. Federal agents were investigating Weaver for possible ties to white supremacist and anti-government groups. And the standoff helped spark the growth of anti-government extremists. Weaver's daughter Sara confirmed the news of her father's death today on Facebook. NPR's Rachel Martin spoke with her in 2016.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

SARA WEAVER: I remember being very upset when I heard the gunshots, panicked and helpless.

RACHEL MARTIN: The situation escalated. Journalist Jess Walter picks up the story.

JESS WALTER: As the FBI is getting information on this case from the Marshals Service, they aren't told that Randy Weaver's son has been killed. They aren't told that there's some question about who fired first. They're only told that some marshals were in the woods surveilling Randy Weaver, possibly to arrest him for this outstanding warrant when he and his family attacked them and killed a U.S. marshal.

MARTIN: Walter says the FBI scrambled its hostage rescue team. They flew west to Idaho.

WALTER: And at the highest levels of the FBI, something that's never happened before or since happens in which the FBI agrees to suspend the rules of engagement, tells their agents, you're going into an active firefight. If you see an armed adult, you can and should open fire.

So the FBI surrounds the cabin. The next morning, the Weaver family, mourning the fact that Samuel's been killed - and, remember; the FBI at this point doesn't know that - goes out to where they've put his body. The family's gone back to their cabin and put his body in an outbuilding. Randy Weaver reaches up to open the shed door. A shot rings out from the woods, and he's shot in the shoulder. His wife Vicki, holding their baby, throws the door open and screams, get back in the cabin. Get back in the cabin. And the FBI agent fires again. And this shot hits Vicki Weaver in the face and kills her.

So for the next ten days, the Weaver family is in the cabin with their dead mother, their wounded father and their wounded friend. And their - and two girls are taking care of the family, taking care of this baby. And they think if they step outside, they'll be shot and killed.

WEAVER: I was so drowning in grief. I pretty much felt that I didn't have a chance of coming out alive.

MARTIN: But after a harrowing 11 days, the standoff finally ended. And Sara Weaver did come out alive, along with her two sisters and their father. Ultimately, Randy Weaver was acquitted of every major charge because the jury decided that the original weapons charge against him had been entrapment.

WALTER: On the far right, you'll hear people talk about Randy Weaver like he was a gentleman farmer minding his own business. And on the far left, you'll have people say, well, that's what you get for being - you know, for having these awful beliefs. And it's such a complex case, and it's such a case of, you know, mistakes and cover-ups. And it really changed the way federal law enforcement dealt with groups like this. Rather than feeding a paranoid fire by throwing more wood on it, it was just better to let it burn out and simmer.

CHANG: That was Jess Walter and Sara Weaver talking with NPR in 2016 about the Ruby Ridge standoff. Randy Weaver was 74. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.