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3 Armored Vehicles Moved to 'Freemen' Ranch

June 03, 1996|KIM MURPHY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

JORDAN, Mont. — Three armored vehicles were moved Sunday to the outskirts of the ranch where the Montana "freemen" are locked in a standoff with the FBI, but there were no indications that law enforcement agents were preparing a raid on the compound.

The dark-colored armored cars, marked with large white FBI logos and equipped with megaphones, moved down a back road toward the ranch and are believed to have stopped at least two to four miles outside the compound.

A rescue helicopter was briefly prepared for takeoff at the FBI's staging area 35 miles away, but two men in flight suits later closed the doors and tied down the blades.

From the pace of Sunday's activity, there were no signs the FBI was preparing to escalate pressure against the 18 people holed up at the ranch for the past 70 days. The bureau has said it still hopes to negotiate a peaceful resolution.

Though emergency generators have been moved in to service the ranches surrounding the freemen's self-declared "Justus Township," the local electrical co-op still has received no orders to cut off power to the compound.

The FBI said the three armored cars and the helicopter were being brought in for rescue purposes in case it becomes necessary to rescue some of those at the ranch or to "occupy" part of the property.

The bureau in recent weeks has focused some negotiation efforts on three children inside the compound who they believe are being held in part as a shield to protect about half a dozen hard-core freemen.

Former Army Col. James "Bo" Gritz, who conducted about five days of negotiations, said he had initially hoped to bring out at least two of the children, the 8- and 10-year-old daughters of Gloria Ward, who is inside the compound with her new husband but is wanted on a custody-violation charge in another state.

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But Gritz said the freemen leaders expressed concern about what would happen "to the rest of us" if the children were to be released. He said Ward had initially agreed to leave with her daughters but that her husband subsequently told him she had changed her mind.

A 14-year-old girl, Ashley Taylor, is also on the ranch with her mother and has reportedly expressed a desire to leave.

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