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Sara Weaver says a strong belief in God allows her to forgive those responsible for the deaths of her brother and mother 20 years ago during a standoff at Ruby Ridge, Idaho, with her father, Randy Weaver.

On the 20th anniversary of her family’s deadly standoff with federal law enforcement officers at Ruby Ridge, Idaho, Sara Weaver is an advocate of forgiveness.

“Three years ago I Googled my name, and I thought – that’s not the legacy I want to leave for my son,” Weaver said. “That doesn’t represent what God has done with my life.”

Weaver was 16 when her father, Randy Weaver, got in a shootout with federal marshals at his cabin in northern Idaho. Deputy U.S. Marshal William Degan and Weaver’s 14-year-old son Sammy Weaver were both killed on the first day after officers tried to serve a warrant for weapons charges.

Sara Weaver’s mother, Vicki Weaver, was shot dead by an FBI sniper the next day, and her father and another man were wounded. The standoff lasted 11 days.

In 1995, the U.S. Justice Department settled a civil suit with the Weaver family, paying them $3.1 million. A FBI officer later pleaded guilty to obstructing justice by destroying documents about agents’ behavior during and after the siege.

Those events left Sara Weaver with post-traumatic stress disorder and what she called “a toxic bond” with her own victimization.

“It was a terrible pain, and many people allowed me to stay in that place,” Weaver said. “But it’s not a healthy place, and it doesn’t do you or anyone around you any good.”

Three years ago while thumbing her Sunday School Bible, Weaver said she came upon the one verse she’d ever memorized: John 3:16’s “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”

The passage made her rethink how she dealt with her memories of the standoff, she said.

She also went through a divorce, which she said made her “carry the guilt and shame of hurting someone else. God showed me that carrying the guilt of hurting someone is worse than the pain of being a victim. I realized I needed to forgive the perpetrators in my life.”

Weaver made a distinction between forgiving someone and condoning what that person did. Forgiving simply meant she gave up holding onto the negative feelings and emotions of the incidents.

“It’s not like saying, ‘It’s sunny today, there’s a rainbow – I feel like forgiving someone today,’ ” she said. “It’s that in my heart and life, I’ve got freedom from hanging onto toxic grudges.”

Later this month, Weaver plans to tell her story to supporters of Missoula’s Teen Challenge, a faith-based nonprofit organization that helps women 18 and older with drug and alcohol addiction. The residential program also operates a thrift store and espresso stand that helps its clients build job skills.

This would be the first time Weaver has worked to support a charity program, she said. She also has a book due out in August recounting her journey to forgiveness.

“Many people want to do something to earn forgiveness,” Weaver said. “But it’s a gift to be received. Everyone always wants to complicate it. They say if ‘I let this go, who will I be? This is my identity.’ I’m hoping I can say – hey, I’ve been there. I understand that. And you can do it.”

Reporter Rob Chaney can be reached at 523-5382 or at rchaney@missoulian.com.

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