- Associated Press - Sunday, January 29, 2017

JOHN DAY, Ore. (AP) - The widow of one of the leaders of an armed occupation of a federal wildlife refuge in rural Oregon drew about 500 people to a small town to hear her message that federal lands should be turned over to states and counties.

The Oregonian/OregonLive reports (http://bit.ly/2kInRDh) that Jeanette Finicum on Saturday said at the meeting in John Day that her husband’s voice had been silenced but that created 13 loud voices counting herself and the couple’s 12 children.

“It is a long road, but it is a road that we, our family, is willing to make,” she said.

LaVoy Finicum was the spokesman for several dozen occupiers during the 41-day takeover of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge last winter. He died Jan. 26, 2016, when police shot and killed him as he and others traveled to the town of John Day for a meeting.

Police say Finicum was reaching for a gun inside a jacket when he was shot. Jeanette Finicum insists her husband was not a threat and that he was murdered. Her lawyer has said the family plans a wrongful-death lawsuit.

At Saturday’s event, visitors paid $15 to hear speakers talk about regulations that restrict farmers and ranchers, and speeches that mocked mainstream media.

Four of the defendants acquitted last fall of charges stemming from the occupation of the wildlife refuge attended the meeting, including Shawna Cox, who was a backseat passenger in the vehicle with LaVoy Finicum at the wheel on the day he was shot and killed.

“This is the first time I ever got to John Day,” she said.

Jeff Banta said he drove 14 hours from Nevada to attend the meeting.

“It’s great to be here,” he said. “It’s great to be a free man.”

Robert Finicum, LaVoy Finicum’s son, drove to the event from Utah and said he wishes his father would have come home during the refuge takeover.

“He was passionate about his cause,” he said.

The U.S. government owns nearly half of all land in the West, compared with 4 percent in other states, according to the Congressional Overview of Federal Land Ownership.

Bob Salinger of the Audubon Society of Portland said he was there out of curiosity.

“Public lands are under assault,” Salinger said.

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Information from: The Oregonian/OregonLive, http://www.oregonlive.com

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