Family of Four Leave Freemen Compound; First To Leave Since April
JORDAN, Mont. (AP) _ A family of four, including two children, left the Freemen ranch days after the FBI cut off the group’s electricity and began other pressure tactics to try to end the 2 1/2-month-old standoff.
The departures Thursday afternoon of the Ward family _ the first from the compound since April _ led some lawmakers to speculate that authorities would now move quickly and aggressively to force a surrender.
``Now they can do what they have to do,″ said Montana state Rep. Joe Quilici of Butte, one of four state legislators involved in early talks with the anti-government group. ``You should see things start moving now.″
Others insisted the FBI still was hoping for a peaceful end to the 75-day-old standoff, noting that a 16-year-old girl remained on the eastern Montana ranch.
``I don’t think this sends a sign that now there will be necessarily be forced confrontation,″ said Montana Attorney General Joe Mazurek. ``People should keep in mind the objective here is to arrest these people, not to create an armed confrontation.″
The FBI cut off power to the group on Monday, although the Freemen are believed to have restored partial electricity with power generators. Since last week, the FBI has moved three armored cars closer to the compound and added a second helicopter to its positions around the ranch.
Authorities also are considering further measures to isolate the Freemen, including disrupting the group’s satellite television, cellular telephone and radio communications signals, The New York Times has reported.
Gloria Ward, her common-law husband Elwin Ward and her two daughters, Courtnie, 10, and Jaylynn, 8, were the first to leave the extremist group’s ranch since a Freeman sympathizer left April 27.
The four emerged after entreaties from Ms. Ward’s sister, Lynn Nielsen, who had visited the 960-acre compound several times, authorities said. The Wards drove out in Ward’s car, accompanied by an unidentified person who had entered the ranch two hours earlier.
FBI agents then drove Gloria Ward and the children to Miles City, about 80 miles away, while Elwin Ward followed in his own car. They were taken to a city-county building, where police officers entertained the children in a basement community center.
``They’re just as happy as larks,″ said Miles City Mayor George T. Kurkowski, who visited them. ``The fellas down there are getting them pop and ice cream.″
Ms. Ward had been charged with felony custodial interference in Utah for taking the children out of state against a court order. State District Judge Kenneth Wilson signed an order Thursday night giving temporary custody of the children to Ms. Nielsen, and giving Utah authorities jurisdiction over the children.
The judge said the children would be taken to Salt Lake City, and appear at a custody hearing there.
The departure of the Ward family was particularly significant because of the children. Colorado state Sen. Charles Duke, the last person to negotiate extensively with the Freemen, said the group had resorted to using the children as shields from FBI agents.
Republican state Rep. Karl Ohs said authorities still are trying to work out a peaceful solution.
``Tactical action is not imminent now that the girls are out,″ he said. ``There are other considerations.″
U.S. Attorney Sherry Scheel Matteucci also said the FBI still wants ``a peaceful, negotiated resolution″ of the standoff.
Still in the compound is Ashley Taylor, 16, the daughter of Freemen holdouts Dana Dudley and Russell Landers of Four Oaks, N.C. Both are wanted in Colorado on charges of filing phony property liens against officials they didn’t like. A total of 17 people remain at the ranch.
The FBI has isolated the rural area around the Freemen’s farm complex since March 25, when federal agents arrested two of its leaders who had left the ranch house.
Most of the Freemen in the compound face state or federal charges, including circulating millions of dollars in bogus checks and threatening the life of a federal judge.