Authorities are combing the charred ruins of a house in Washougal, Wash., today, looking for the remains of a man who appears to have past ties to illegal firearms, domestic violence and white supremacists.
Steven Douglas Stanbary, who once said his hero was white supremacist Randy Weaver of Ruby Ridge fame, is believed to have died Wednesday as his home burned to the ground. Firefighters and police were held at bay by repeated gunfire and explosions.
The whereabouts of Stanbary’s wife and her teenage daughter also weren’t known late Wednesday. Authorities weren’t commenting on how many bodies they were searching for.
Today’s search takes place on the 27th anniversary of a landmark gun battle and standoff between the FBI and Robert J. Mathews – another iconic hero of white supremacists -- about 180 miles away on Whidbey Island, Wash. Mathews headed a neo-Nazi terrorist group called The Order, some of whose members were previously involved in a shoot-out with FBI agents in Portland, Ore., not far from Washougal.
The current investigation involves the Clark County Sheriff’s Office and agents assigned to a Joint Terrorism Task Force, including FBI and ATF agents.
Wednesday’s day-long conflagration, which included at least one significant explosion, shut down schools in Washougal, a small community near Vancouver, in southwestern Washington, just across the Columbia River from Portland.
Gunfire from inside the burning house, apparently from high-powered rifles and possibly shotguns, lasted for more than 90 minutes, authorities said. Deputies scrambled to safely evacuate neighbors as the shots rang out.
There were no injuries to neighbors or spectators, but one close call. A neighbor who spotted the fire shortly after 8 a.m. pounded on the front door, only to be told “go away” by an armed man who then fired several shots through the home’s front window as firefighters arrived.
Clark County Sheriff Sgt. Scott Schanaker told The Columbian of Vancouver that a bullet smashed through the front driver’s window of a responding police vehicle, but the officer wasn’t hit. Bobby Joe Bean, who also lives nearby, told Portland’s KGW-TV that he “barely escaped with his life.”
The gunman in the burning home “had to make a decision there of whether to shoot me or not, and he just shot shots, thank God,” Bean told the television station. “That was probably the longest run of my life. I was hoping not to get shot, trying to get away from that house.” It wasn’t immediately clear if Bean was the same neighbor who initially pounded on the door of the burning home.
Authorities weren’t commenting on the identity of the shooter inside the burning home, but the Vancouver newspaper reported the property at 3275 F Place in Washougal was purchased in 2002 by Steven and Leona Stanbary. Steven Stanbary’s date of birth, public records show, is in January 1964.
The Washougal shooter is believed to be the same Steven Douglas Stanbary who, at Christmastime in 1994, threatened to kill himself, his wife and children during a brief standoff with deputies in Elmira, Idaho. That community is in Bonner County, not far from Naples, Idaho, and the scene of the deadly 1992 Ruby Ridge standoff that resulted in the deaths of Randy Weaver’s wife, son and a deputy U.S. marshal. The confrontation was widely watched in radical-right circles, and helped to kick off the militia movement of the mid-1990s.
Then-Bonner County Sheriff Chip Roos was quoted by The Associated Press in 1994 as saying Stanbary “had enough ammunition for World War III” and considered Randy Weaver a hero for holding federal agents at bay for 10 days before finally surrendering.
Deputies in that case used a ruse to arrest Stanbary, who ultimately only served 90 days in jail on domestic violence charges even though it appears he was in violation of federal firearms law by possessing a sawed-off shotgun and a grenade launcher.
His arsenal in 1992 also include six AK-47 assault rifles, almost two dozen other rifles, three handguns, several shotguns, a flak jacket and thousands of rounds of ammunition, according to the AP dispatch.
Contacted Wednesday by Laura McVicker, a reporter with The Columbian, the now-retired sheriff Roos said Stanbary’s case “was among a slew of white supremacy investigations that took place in northern Idaho between 1978 and 1998.” “The former sheriff said he could not recall many facts about Stanbary’s case because of the frequency of similar cases,” the newspaper reported.
Said Roos: “We pulled out a lot of these kinds of people, radical nuts.”