MARION – When Sara Weaver was 16 years old, federal agents shot and killed her dog, younger brother and mother during a siege in northern Idaho that would grip the nation’s attention for 11 days. A U.S. Marshal also died in the confrontation.
The lives lost at Ruby Ridge are quantifiable – three humans and a dog. But harder to measure is what young Sara Weaver lost that August in 1992. In her childhood cabin, she witnessed her mother crumple to the floor after a gunshot to the head, still clutching a 10-month-old baby. She would spend nine more days hunkered down in that cabin with her mother’s body, uncertain when the bullets might rain again. After it was all over, she would spend a decade in deep depression.
There are things Sara Weaver will never get back from those 11 days on Ruby Ridge. They are lost forever. But Weaver now says there are things she has gained from the horrors, even if it took years to realize them. She has learned about the freedom of forgiveness and the healing of spirituality. These are hard lessons spawned from harsh realities, and she believes they should be shared.
With the 20th anniversary of the Ruby Ridge siege approaching in August, Weaver has been going public with her personal story. Her book, “From Ruby Ridge to Freedom,” is scheduled for release later this summer. She is the oldest daughter of Randy Weaver, the former Green Beret who was the target of the federal authorities’ 1992 siege.
In deciding to come forward with her story and message of forgiveness, Weaver says she hopes to urge zealots not to use the Ruby Ridge incident as a battle cry for their extremism. Timothy McVeigh cited Ruby Ridge’s role in developing his anti-government views, which led to the 1995 Oklahoma City bombings that killed 168 people.
“A couple of years ago I Googled my name and didn’t like what I saw: a lot of anger, a lot of anti-government,” Weaver said from her Marion home recently. “It’s not the legacy I want to leave my son.”
“Oklahoma City broke my heart,” she continued. “What if Tim McVeigh could have heard my message first?”
In the early 1980s, Randy and Vicki Weaver moved to secluded northern Idaho to escape what they believed to be a corrupted world and imminent apocalypse. Sara was 7 years old at the time. The Weavers purchased 20 acres of land in 1983 and began building their family cabin.
In 1989, Randy was accused of selling two illegal sawed-off shotguns to an undercover agent with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms. Leading up to that point, federal investigators had been looking into allegations that Randy had threatened public officials. Investigators had also come to believe he was associated with the Aryan Nations, which he denied though he was an acknowledged white separatist.
A federal grand jury indicted Randy in 1990 for making and possessing illegal weapons. He did not show up at his Feb. 20, 1991 trial and the judge issued a bench warrant for failure to appear. The judge opted not to withdraw the warrant after being informed that Randy had been sent a letter with the incorrect trial date. At that point, Randy became a fugitive and the case was passed over to the U.S. Marshal Service.
Marshals made a series of attempts at convincing Randy to surrender but he remained holed up in his northern Idaho cabin. The plan shifted to capturing him and taking him into custody, setting the stage for Aug. 21, 1992 when Marshals traveled to Ruby Ridge to scout the area and devise a capture plan.
On that day, the Weavers’ dog Striker alerted the family to something in the woods. Randy, family friend Kevin Harris and 14-year-old Sammy Weaver went to investigate. A firefight ensued, resulting in the deaths of U.S. Marshal William Francis Degan, Sammy and Striker. The next day, Randy and Harris were wounded by a sniper and Vicki was killed.
In the middle of it all were Sara, Rachel and baby Elisheba, three kids caught in the crossfire of a violent adult confrontation. At the end of the 11-day standoff, Randy and Harris would go into custody, while the three girls would go to live with family in Iowa.
Harris was acquitted of all criminal charges while Randy was acquitted of all but two of his 10 charges, including the most serious ones. For missing his original court date and violating his bail conditions, Randy was sentenced to 18 months in prison and a $10,000 fine.
A task force created by the Department of Justice was critical of the federal agencies’ actions during the siege, as was a 1995 Senate subcommittee. To avoid going to trial in a wrongful death lawsuit, the federal government awarded the Weaver family $3.1 million.
The events at Ruby Ridge in 1992 have been thoroughly dissected by everyone from legal experts to an inquiring public. Weaver is less concerned about debating the events than learning from them. Her message of forgiveness and compassion is meant to be universal, without finger pointing or drawing fault lines.
“What I came to understand is the men who pulled the trigger and killed my mom and brother, they were waking up with this everyday and maybe the pain they were feeling was worse than mine,” Weaver said.
It took her a long time to arrive where she is today. Suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, she spent many years in severe depression. The world was a confusing place for a girl who had grown up in an isolated cabin and then experienced the deaths of her mother and brother within two days of each other.
Beginning in 2003, Weaver said she began to find strength in her faith and remains deeply religious today. She has told her story in a variety of venues, including on the Biography Channel’s “Aftermath with William Shatner” show.
“I don’t think the pain ever really goes away, but God gives you the grace to move on,” she said. “God changed my life.”
Today she lives happily with her husband Marc and 11-year-old son in their Marion home. Randy also lives in the Marion area west of Kalispell, as do Sara’s younger sisters, Elisheba and Rachel.
If she can reach people with her personal story and message of forgiveness, Weaver said there will be a silver lining to her years of pain.
“It makes what happened to me not for nothing,” she said. “As hard as it is for me to go public again and to be vulnerable in public again, it’s worth it.”
For more information on Sara Weaver and her forthcoming book, “From Ruby Ridge to Freedom,” visit www.rubyridgetofreedom.com.
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