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Miles Away From Oregon, the Longest Armed Standoff in U.S. History Quietly Comes to a Close in Texas After 15 Years


"If they come out after us, bring extra body bags."

Image source: WFAA-TV

A nearly 15-year armed standoff along the Trinity River in Texas quietly came to a close Wednesday after a reporter informed John Joe Gray that a district attorney actually had dropped the charges against him way back in December 2014.

This longest armed standoff in U.S. history began in 1999 when Gray, a carpenter linked to various antigovernment militia groups, was charged with assaulting a police officer during a traffic stop, according to WFAA-TV. The officer initially took issue with the fact that Gray, now 66, was carrying a pistol without a concealed carry permit while Gray insisted that he had a a God-given right to carry his weapon. During the ensuing scuffle, Gray admitted to biting the officer.

Gray was jailed and charged with assaulting a state trooper before he was released on bond in 2000. But when he was ordered to appear in court, he opted instead to remain on his 47-acre private property with his wife, his children and his grandchildren — all of whom were armed and ready to patrol the barbed-wire fences surrounding the property, according to the New York Times. Gray did not step off his property for nearly 15 years.

"If they come out after us, bring extra body bags. Those who live by the sword will die by the sword," Gray once said in an interview, WFAA reported. "We've never shot no one yet. But they know, if they come on us, they'll be surprised what's going to happen to them."

And for those 15 years, local government officials heeded his warning and left the Grays alone, although Ray Nutt, the sheriff of Henderson County, monitored Gray's property from a safe distance.

"My nature is to want to go out there and get him every day I’ve been in office, but then you got to start weighing the lives that might be lost over this,” Nutt told the Times.

Eventually, the standoff came to close in December 2014 when Douglas E. Lowe, then the district attorney of nearby Anderson County, dismissed the charges against Gray — even though no one informed Nutt or the Grays themselves of the dismissal in 2014 until reporters approached them this week.

“I didn’t do that to concede victory to that guy,” Lowe told the Times. “It had been going on for 15 years, and somebody just had to make a decision that it was time to say it’s over.” 

Nutt emphasized that Gray's armed standoff should not be compared with the standoff currently occurring in Oregon.

"Those folks have occupied a public building. Joe Gray is on 47-acres that he owns out there," Nutt told WFAA, adding that going in to get Gray "wasn't worth it" because "Joe Gray has been in prison out there himself, in my opinion, for 14 years."

Follow Kathryn Blackhurst (@kablackhurst) on Twitter

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