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Oregon Arrests: Feds Intercepted Occupation Leaders as Part of Plan: Official

The details of Tuesday afternoon's operation ended with the arrest of occupation protest leaders and the death of one anti-government rancher.
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Authorities seeking to end a nearly month-long protest at an Oregon wildlife refuge realized there was only one way to bring the drama to a close: Arrest the leadership.

The details of Tuesday afternoon's local and federal operation — provided to NBC News by a senior law enforcement official Wednesday — ended with the arrest of brothers and occupation protest leaders Ammon and Ryan Bundy, and the shooting death of anti-government rancher LaVoy Finicum.

The decision to carry out the arrests was set into motion when the defiant leaders left the refuge Tuesday to attend a community meeting in the town of John Day. The incident took place some 45 miles north of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge on Highway 395.

Arresting the group away from the refuge was meant to minimize the potential for violence, the official said.

During a news conference Wednesday, federal and county law enforcement declined to discuss the circumstances that led to the traffic stop and shooting, which occurred at about 4:25 p.m. (7:25 p.m. ET). The FBI earlier described the stop as an "enforcement action" done by federal agents and Oregon State Police in connection with the occupation.

PHOTOS: A Look Back at the Oregon Standoff

Harney County Sheriff David Ward told reporters that prior to the stop, the occupiers had "ultimatums that I couldn't meet."

"I’m disappointed that a traffic stop yesterday that was supposed to bring peaceful resolution to this ended badly," said Ward, who spoke haltingly.

The protesters — a total of nine people — were in two vehicles during the stop, the law enforcement official told NBC News.

The FBI and state police staked out a spot along the route to John Day to stop the caravan. At first, both vehicles complied with an order to pull over, but then the lead vehicle took off, the law enforcement official said.

It didn't get very far, hitting a snow bank. Finicum, the official said, jumped out of that vehicle "brandishing a firearm." He was shot and killed.

Image: Oregon Protest
Top: Brian Cavalier, Ammon Edward Bundy, Joseph O'Shaughnessy, Peter Santilli | Bottom: Ryan Bundy, Ryan Payne, Shawna Cox, Jon RitzheimerMCSO | AFP - Getty Images

Ryan Bundy, 43, of Nevada, was also struck by gunfire. He was wounded in the arm, the official added, and was released Tuesday night from a local hospital where he'd been treated for the gunshot wound.

The official did not know who fired the shot or shots that killed Finicum, 54, of Arizona. His death was also confirmed by his daughter.

Finicum was a Mormon rancher with 11 children, 19 grandchildren and a wife of 23 years. He told NBC News three weeks ago that he would rather die than be taken into custody as part of the occupation.

The group had seized the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge on Jan. 2 in the wake of a protest in the nearby town of Burns against the imprisonment of two ranchers convicted of setting fires on government land. The occupation is also tied to a long-running dispute over how public land is used in the West.

Related: Oregon Arrests: Dead Occupier LaVoy Finicum Was Dad of 11

Three other occupiers were arrested during Tuesday's incident, authorities said: Brian Cavalier, 44, of Bunkerville, Nevada; Shawna Cox, 59, of Kanab, Utah; and Ryan Waylen Payne, 32, of Anaconda, Montana.

Two more — Joseph Donald O'Shaughnessy, 45, of Cottonwood, Arizona, and Peter Santilli, 50, of Cincinnati — were arrested later in separate but related incidents, the FBI said.

All face federal felony charges of conspiracy to impede federal officers from discharging their official duties through the use of force, intimidation or threats, authorities said. The charge carries a maximum sentence of six years in prison.

The seven occupiers arrested in Oregon, including the Bundy brothers, were expected to appear in federal court in Portland later Wednesday.

The FBI and Oregon State Police have established a series of checkpoints for people trying to get into and out of the area around the refuge.

FBI Special Agent in Charge Greg Bretzing said at Wednesday's news conference that other occupiers still remain at the site and have been given "ample opportunity to leave the refuge peacefully." It was not immediately clear how many people were there.

Bretzing added that the disruption at the refuge may continue "for now," and didn't specify what any further action by authorities might entail.

Related: What Is the Occupation in Oregon Really All About?

Ward said the protest has only torn the community apart and begged for those still at the refuge to "move on."

"There doesn’t have to be bloodshed in our community," he said. "We have issues with the way things are going with our government. We have the responsibility as citizens to act ... in an appropriate manner. We don’t arm up and rebel. We work through the appropriate channels."

"This can't happen anymore," Ward added. "This can't happen in America, and it can't happen in Harney County."