Freemen siege captive girls escorted from ranch by FBI

Two children who spent 74 days inside the Freemen's ranch in eastern Montana left under FBI escort yesterday with their mother and the man she lives with. The Freemen had been accused of using the girls, aged eight and 10, as human shields in an armed stand-off with United States federal authorities.

It appeared to mark a breakthrough after two weeks in which the Freemen had no contact with the FBI. At the weekend, agents cut off electricity to the remote ranch in the first move to step up the pressure on those inside, and a new round of talks ensued.

The Freemen, a motley group of about 18 people led by a bankrupt rancher and united by their rejection of all government authority, have kept the FBI at bay since agents arrested two leaders and surrounded the ranch on 25 March.

About a dozen people inside are wanted on fraud charges, concerning the issuing of fake money orders, cheques for millions of dollars and the making of threats. Though they are routinely spotted carrying high-powered rifles, they are not accused of any violent crimes.

The departure of the two girls - Jaylynn and her elder sister Courtnie Ward - had been the main goal for a series of negotiators who have failed to talk the Freemen into giving up. Another girl, Ashley Taylor, 16, is believed to be the only minor still inside.

Some observers believe the presence of children at the ranch would have greatly complicated the task for the FBI's tactical teams as they looked at ways to bring an end to the longest siege of its type in US history.

Heavily criticised over their handling of two earlier episodes - at Waco, Texas, and at Ruby Ridge, Idaho - where casualties included children, federal agents have handled the Freemen with extreme caution from the beginning.

Amid mounting impatience with an operation reportedly costing close to $100,000 (pounds 65,000) a day, local residents on Thursday were due to present a petition with 200 signatures calling on authorities to use "reasonable force".

The girls' mother, Gloria Ward, was described as a member of a breakaway Mormon sect that believes girls are ready for marriage at puberty. She sought the refuge at the ranch, dubbed the Justus Township by the Freemen, after her former husband in Utah had won a custody order for Courtnie. An older daughter, Leslie, is already in state care.

James "Bo" Gritz, a decorated Vietnam veteran and a figurehead for far- right groups, was one of those who tried to negotiate the release of the children.

After visiting the compound last month he described them as chewing meagre rations of cracked corn. He said it was clear that the Freemen leaders knew "the value of placing children between themselves and the FBI". The FBI cut off power to the Freemen on Monday. Although they are said to have their own electrical generator and supplies of diesel fuel, only two dim lights were seen in the compound at night.

Armoured cars were openly moved into positions close to the ranch this week. However, officials also sent out signals that they were prepared to play the waiting game for months more if necessary.

On Wednesday night, in one sign that the harder line was beginning to take effect, rancher Edwin Clark emerged for two hours of talks with FBI negotiators before returning to the ranch. Three FBI agents in two vehicles entered the compound yesterday morning.

They emerged several hours later with the children, their mother and her husband, Elwin Ward, before they were all escorted to an FBI command post 30 miles away.

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
i100 In this video, the late actor Leonard Nimoy explains how he decided to use the gesture for his character
Arts and Entertainment
Secrets of JK Rowling's Harry Potter workings have been revealed in a new bibliography
arts + ents
Down-to-earth: Winstone isn't one for considering his 'legacy'
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Sauce Recruitment: Retail Planning Manager - Home Entertainment UK

salary equal to £40K pro-rata: Sauce Recruitment: Are you available to start a...

Ashdown Group: Front-End Developer - London - up to £40,000

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Creative Front-End Developer - Claph...

Recruitment Genius: Product Quality Assurance Technologist - Hardline & Electric

£18000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The role in this successful eco...

Ashdown Group: QA Tester - London - £30,000

£28000 - £30000 per annum: Ashdown Group: QA Tester - London - £30,000 QA Tes...

Day In a Page

HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?
How we must adjust our lifestyles to nature: Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch

Time to play God

Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch where we may need to redefine nature itself
MacGyver returns, but with a difference: Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman

MacGyver returns, but with a difference

Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman
Tunnel renaissance: Why cities are hiding roads down in the ground

Tunnel renaissance

Why cities are hiding roads underground
'Backstreet Boys - Show 'Em What You're Made Of': An affectionate look at five middle-aged men

Boys to men

The Backstreet Boys might be middle-aged, married and have dodgy knees, but a heartfelt documentary reveals they’re not going gently into pop’s good night
Crufts 2015: Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?

Crufts 2015

Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?
10 best projectors

How to make your home cinema more cinematic: 10 best projectors

Want to recreate the big-screen experience in your sitting room? IndyBest sizes up gadgets to form your film-watching
Manchester City 1 Barcelona 2 player ratings: Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man?

Manchester City vs Barcelona player ratings

Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man at the Etihad?
Arsenal vs Monaco: Monaco - the making of Gunners' manager Arsene Wenger

Monaco: the making of Wenger

Jack Pitt-Brooke speaks to former players and learns the Frenchman’s man-management has always been one of his best skills
Cricket World Cup 2015: Chris Gayle - the West Indies' enigma lives up to his reputation

Chris Gayle: The West Indies' enigma

Some said the game's eternal rebel was washed up. As ever, he proved he writes the scripts by producing a blistering World Cup innings
In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare and murky loyalties prevails

In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare

This war in the shadows has been going on since the fall of Mr Yanukovych
'Birdman' and 'Bullets Over Broadway': Homage or plagiarism?

Homage or plagiarism?

'Birdman' shares much DNA with Woody Allen's 'Bullets Over Broadway'
Broadchurch ends as damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

A damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

Broadchurch, Series 2 finale, review
A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower: inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

Inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower