FBI agents interviewed members of a black religious sect today in the investigation of a violent confrontation between members of the group and police that left two dead and nine injured.
William Thomas Jr., 38, the son of the founder of the controversial Christ Miracle Healing Center and Church, and another member of the sect identified as either Agustar or Arguster Tate, 52, were both killed Saturday with high-powered rifles, police said.
Two other church members remained hospitalized, one with a severed spine. Two deputies also were in a hospital. Five officers were treated and released Saturday.
The FBI is conducting a civil rights investigation, at the request of Gov. Bruce Babbitt. The state Department of Public Safety is conducting a criminal investigation.
Confrontations have been frequent and tensions high in the past between members of the sect and mostly white townspeople.
Nine church members were arraigned today before Justice of the Peace John Sharp in nearby Bisbee on one count each of aggravated assault on a peace officer. They were ordered held on bond of $68,500 each.
A tenth church member was arrested today for investigation of carrying a concealed weapon, authorities said.
Authorities said deputies had entered Miracle Valley Saturday to arrest three church members, two for misdemeanor traffic violations and a third on a warrant charging felony fleeing.
Sheriff's Lt. Frank E. Peterson said bond was posted today for the two church members, Billy Bernard and Frank Bernard, sought on the misdemeanor warrants and that authorities no longer were trying to take them into custody. The agreement to post the bond was made in a meeting between the Rev. Frances Thomas, leader of the church, FBI agents and Phoenix police negotiator Lt. Harold Hurtt. The third church member named on a warrant, James Pipkins, was not believed to be in the area, he said.
After the bond was posted, more than 100 lawmen, who had been called in Saturday night to surround the area, began to leave. Roadblocks were relaxed this afternoon as officers allowed nonresidential traffic to enter the area.
Witnesses said the shooting erupted after a large crowd of church members surrounded deputies who reinforced the officers trying to serve the warrants.
Paul Brinkley-Rogers, a reporter for the Arizona Daily Star, wrote that he was threatened by a female church member as he witnessed the melee. "I was trying to take down her words in my notebook and watch for the women behind me running toward the law officers with ax handles, hammers, baseball bats, gardening implements, scissors and even a broom," he wrote.
Sgt. Allan Schmidt of the state Department of Public Safety said details of Saturday's incident were sketchy, but he said both church members and deputies fired shots during the confrontation. He said it is not clear who fired the first shot.