KALISPELL, Mont. — When Sara Weaver saw her father Randy struck in the shoulder by a government sniper’s bullet in the Idaho wilderness in August 1992, she began to sprint back to the family’s cabin on a mountaintop called Ruby Ridge.
As the 16-year-old closed in, her mother, Vicki, opened the cabin door and stood behind it, holding Sara Weaver’s 10-month-old sister in her arms. Just then, a sniper’s bullet struck her mother in the head, killing her.
For the next nine days, the surviving Weavers holed up in the cabin while hundreds of federal agents laid siege in a standoff that helped spark an anti-government patriot movement that grew to include the Oklahoma City bombing.
Today, 20 years later, Sara Weaver has left the anger behind, finding religion — and forgiveness.
“I went 10 years without understanding how to heal” until becoming a born-again Christian, she said. “All bitterness and anger had to go,” she said. “I forgave those that pulled the trigger.”
These days, the Weavers live near Kalispell, Mont., a city in the northwestern part of the state that is the gateway to Glacier National Park and more than 100 east of Ruby Ridge.
Patriarch Randy Weaver, 63, is a doting grandfather, his daughter said. Her two sisters, including the one who was in Vicki Weaver’s arms, are working.
For a time, it seemed doubtful that any family members would survive the siege.
Randy Weaver moved his family to northern Idaho in the 1980s to escape what he saw as a corrupt world. Over time, federal agents began investigating the Army veteran for possible ties to white supremacist and anti-government groups. Weaver was eventually suspected of selling a government informant two illegal sawed-off shotguns.
To avoid arrest, Weaver holed up on his land.
On Aug. 21, 1992, a team of U.S. marshals scouting the forest to find suitable places to ambush and arrest Weaver came across his friend, Kevin Harris, and Weaver’s 14-year-old son Samuel in the woods. A gunfight broke out. Samuel Weaver and Deputy U.S. Marshal William Degan were killed.
The next day, an FBI sniper shot and wounded Randy Weaver. As Weaver, Harris and Sara ran back toward the house, the sniper fired a second bullet, which passed through Vicki Weaver’s head and wounded Harris in the chest.
During the siege, Sara Weaver crawled around her mother’s blanket-covered body to get food and water for the survivors, including the infant, until the family surrendered on Aug. 31, 1992.
Harris and Randy Weaver were arrested, and Weaver’s daughters went to live with their mother’s family in Iowa. Randy Weaver was acquitted of the most serious charges and Harris was acquitted of all charges.
The surviving members of the Weaver family filed a wrongful death lawsuit. The federal government awarded Randy Weaver a $100,000 settlement and his three daughters $1 million each in 1995.
“Ruby Ridge was the opening shot of a new era of anti-government hatred not seen since the Civil War,” said Mark Potok of the Southern Poverty Law Center, which keeps tabs on hate groups.
After Ruby Ridge, federal agents laid siege to the Branch Davidian compound in Waco, Texas. It ended violently after 51 days on April 19, 1993, when a fire destroyed the compound after an assault was launched, killing 76 people.
Timothy McVeigh cited both Ruby Ridge and Waco as motivators when he bombed the federal building in Oklahoma City in 1995. Ruby Ridge has been cited often by militia and patriot groups since.
“What Ruby Ridge did was energize the radical right in a way it had not been in years,” Potok said.
Sara Weaver said she is devastated each time someone commits a violent act in the name of Ruby Ridge. “It killed me inside,” she said of the Oklahoma City bombing. “I knew what it was like to lose a family member in violence. I wouldn’t wish that on anyone.”
In the years after Ruby Ridge, Sara Weaver, now 36, struggled with depression and post-traumatic stress disorder, as well as what she called a “toxic bondage” of bitterness and anger at the government.
“After losing mom and Sam, I almost felt guilty even thinking about being happy after they were gone,” she said. “But that’s a lie. Your family members don’t want you to grieve them. They want you to move on.”
After graduating from high school in Iowa, Sara Weaver moved to the Kalispell area in 1996. Her sisters and father followed shortly after. In 2003, a meeting with a childhood friend from Ruby Ridge helped her turn things around.
The friend mentioned her positive relationship with Jesus Christ, and something clicked for Sara Weaver. “I was shocked at that,” she said. “I had a fear-based relationship with God.”
“I decided I was broken and needed to be fixed,” she said.
Weaver began reading the Bible, where she learned that “Jesus commands us to forgive,” and embarked on a journey that, by 2011, found her speaking to religious groups across the nation. Her journey is described in her recently released book, “From Ruby Ridge to Freedom.”
Weaver has not spoken to any of the agents involved in the siege, and doesn’t plan to unless they want to meet her.
Not everything has been smooth sailing.
Weaver endured a painful divorce a few years ago, and is now married for a second time. She and her husband, Marc, operate a quarter horse breeding ranch just outside of Kalispell. She has an 11-year-old son from her first marriage.
Sara Weaver said Randy Weaver does not do interviews and would not release a statement on the anniversary.
She has been back to Ruby Ridge, to the land her family still owns. All that remains of the family’s modest home is the foundation, she said. She recalled with affection her unconventional childhood there, and her mother. “It’s hard to live without her to turn to,” she said. “I want to turn to my mother for advice.”
“We miss her terribly. It never goes away,” she said.