Four of the last holdouts remained hunkered down at an Oregon wildlife refuge Thursday as a tense standoff between federal authorities and armed militia members entered Day 26.
Despite calls from their leader to go home, four armed occupiers were believed to still be at the refuge Thursday evening as authorities continued to try to bring the nearly month-long stand off to an end.
At a press conference Thursday, Greg Bretzing, special agent in charge of the FBI's Portland office, said a total of nine people have left the refuge since the FBI and state troopers surrounded the area.
Three of them have been arrested, Bretzing said.
One person left the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge earlier in the day, before militia supporter David Fry posted a video message saying the group wanted to leave, but only if none of them face criminal charges.
So far, 12 people have been arrested and one killed.
Armed men and women took over the refuge Jan. 2 and led authorities into a tense standoff near the rural town of Burns, where some residents left town as the militia grew. Law enforcement personnel also alleged they and their families were being harassed.
For weeks, authorities took a hands-off approach to the armed occupation, choosing instead to use intermediaries to try to convince the group to leave.
But a week after FBI negotiators reached out to the leader of the group, Ammon Bundy, Oregon State Police and the FBI attempted to stop a convoy headed to the town of John Day, leading to a shooting that killed Robert LaVoy Finicum. Bundy and four others were arrested.
So far, 11 of the armed occupiers have been charged with a felony of interfering with a federal employee through threats or force. Another was arrested Jan. 15 after he was seen driving a truck from the refuge that had been reported stolen.
Back at the refuge, authorities surrounded the compound and told those still there to leave.
But a handful of men and woman remained, asking in online videos for help from nearby militias and promising an armed confrontation. In videos posted on YouTube, the group appeared to be camping just outside of the refuge and were heavily armed.
Thursday afternoon, reporters rushed past the outer perimeter after authorities removed one of multiple roadblocks. But they were kept about a mile from the refuge by a second barrier.
Bretzing said the area continued to be an active situation.
According to reporters at the scene, one of the last holdout appeared to be Fry, who set up a website with updates to the armed occupation and often live-streamed the refuge situation.
As law enforcement surrounded the compound, Fry appeared to be wearing a belt carrying ammunition and told his viewers they would at least "get to see us die live on DefendYourBase" — his YouTube channel.
Bretzing said those remaining at the refuge wanted guarantees that they would not be arrested.
He would not comment on which of the four at the refuge had warrants for their arrest.
"The option is you go out there and they get you and it's a felony crime and it's a prison sentence," Fry told Oregon Public Radio. "A lot of us are scared of that option."
Fry told the radio station the last holdouts were "not planning on using any guns," but that if they were attacked "then we got to defend ourselves."
"I don't really want to kill people," Fry said. "But I don't want to be put in prison. and If I have to make it where I have to die somehow, I'll do that. but you don't know if I'm gonna pull that trigger, you know?"
Salvador Hernandez is a reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in Los Angeles.
Contact Salvador Hernandez at email@example.com.
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