Everyone knew that LaVoy Finicum kept a Colt .45 on his hip.
That common knowledge could help explain how the occupier in Oregon died.
In the moments before he was shot by authorities Tuesday afternoon, Finicum led a high-speed getaway attempt. He then reached for his waistband, prompting authorities to open fire, according to a CNN report.
The report, which cites anonymous law enforcement officials but has not been confirmed by The Washington Post, is corroborated by a statement from an occupier who said he was traveling with Finicum at the time of the traffic stop.
Another self-described witness disputes that, saying that authorities opened fire before the getaway chase and that Finicum had his hands up when he was shot.
Authorities have not provided details publicly on the incident. But the FBI pinned the blame squarely on the occupiers.
“The occupiers had ample opportunity to leave peacefully,” FBI Special Agent Greg Bretzing said Wednesday morning. “They brought this on themselves.”
According to the CNN report, the FBI and Oregon State Police had been watching occupiers come and go from the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge near Burns for days before they spotted a rare opportunity to nab the militant movement’s leaders all at once: Finicum, Ammon Bundy, Ryan Bundy and a handful of others climbed into two trucks and drove from the refuge to a meeting in John Day, Ore., two hours north.
Authorities chose a cold, deserted stretch of highway to attempt a traffic stop. One vehicle complied with orders and pulled over, but the other — allegedly driven by Finicum — sped off at high speed, according to the report.
A mile away, though, Finicum reportedly ran into a roadblock. When he tried to go around the roadblock, his truck got stuck in a snowbank.
When Finicum emerged from the vehicle, FBI and state police ordered him to surrender, according to the report. Instead, the Arizona cattle rancher, a day shy of his 55th birthday, reached down toward his waistband, where he kept his Colt .45, CNN reported.
Authorities opened fire, killing Finicum and injuring Ryan Bundy in the arm.
The account is partially backed up by an occupier who said he was the driver of the other car.
In a video uploaded to Facebook on Wednesday morning, Mark McConnell recounted the events that allegedly led to Finicum’s death.
“Well, since I can’t sleep I might as well go ahead and do this video,” McConnell said, adding that he hoped to dispel some of the “rumors and nonsense that are flying.”
McConnell said Ammon Bundy and another occupier,Brian Cavalier, were in his vehicle, while Finicum was driving a pickup carrying Ryan Bundy, Ryan Payne, Shawna Cox and an 18-year-old woman.
As they were driving along U.S. Route 395 toward John Day, McConnell spotted “approximately 11 heavy-duty” police trucks waiting for them.
“They whipped out, pulled us over, pulled me out of the jeep first,” McConnell said. Authorities then arrested Ammon Bundy and Cavalier before calling ahead to their colleagues to arrest the occupants of the other car, which was stopped roughly 200 yards ahead on the road.
McConnell saw Ryan Payne climb out of the other vehicle. But then the situation suddenly escalated.
“Next thing we know, LaVoy takes off with his pickup and the other occupants,” McConnell said, calling the getaway attempt “an act of aggression and foolish.”
The rest of McConnell’s account relies on what he said he heard from Payne and Cox.
“Payne said while they were sitting there and clearing my vehicle, him and LaVoy kind of had a heated discussion and LaVoy was rather heated,” McConnell continued. “I’m not going to degrade LaVoy at all. LaVoy was very passionate about this, about the movement, about what we were doing up here. But emotionally thinking, that’s not always the best. …
“I loved the dude. I met him three weeks ago. I admired him,” McConnell continued. “But he took off. The authorities had to chase him. And from what Shawna Cox is saying, once they got down there by the roadblock, I don’t know if he tried to go around the roadblock or what he did, but anyways the nose of his truck got stuck in the snowbank right there.”
Finicum then exited his vehicle and “charged after law enforcement,” McConnell said.
“I didn’t see the shooting,” McConnell said, but from what he was told by Cox, Finicum “was not on his knees” when he was shot — a claim made by Nevada Assemblywoman Michele Fiore, who also tweeted that Finicum was “murdered with his hands up.”
“He was none of that nonsense,” McConnell said. “He went after them. He charged them.”
McConnell’s account conflicts with statements made by Victoria Sharp, who said she was the 18-year-old in the car with Finicum. In a 12-minute audio clip uploaded to YouTube, Sharp said Payne was trying to get herand Cox out of the car when police took their first shot.
“He put his hands out the window, he was trying to talk with them,” Sharp said of Payne. “He said, ‘We have women in the car, at least let the women get out.’ And he stuck his head out and they shot at him, but they missed him, or he ducked just in time.”
The shot showed that the occupiers that authorities “meant business,” Sharp said, but it also led Finicum to speed off, yelling that he was going to go “talk to the sheriff.”
“He drove and we all got down on the floorboards and they just started firing at us, shooting at us a bunch of times,” Sharp said.
Then Finicum rammed his truck into the snowbank at the roadblock.
“He got out of the car and he had his hands in the air and he was like, ‘Just shoot me then. Is this what you want? Just shoot me.’
“And they did,” she said. “They shot him dead.”