Deputies relive shootout at Miracle Valley - Tucson News Now

Deputies relive shootout at Miracle Valley

By Scott Kilbury - bio | email

The day will be remembered in infamy for many of Southern Arizonans especially for those involved.  

Larry dever quickly recalled the day on the calender that jumps out at him, "Oct. 23, 1982," he said.   "If i happen to forget, someone calls me on that day."

Dever is the sheriff of Cochise County now but, nearly 27 years ago, he was a young deputy caught in a crossfire.  

"Looking back,  there are lessons learned, " Dever said.  "When we went there I realize we shouldn't have gone so deep into their compound but at the time you're thinking 'is this really happening?"

Dever and the deptuties say they were unfairly portrayed in the media and never got to tell their story nor have their day in court.   In fact, the county settled out of court the very day he was set to testify.   

Dever said,  "We were finally going to get to have our say...We had testified before a grand jury but this would be on record to hear."

Now Dever and his deputies are getting a chance have their story heard in print.   "Shootout at Miracle Valley" is a new book written by William R. Daniel.  

"It was the dying wish of Jimmy Judd, the sherrif of Cochise county at the time," Daniel said.   "His friend, Larry Demster, a rancher from Willcox, promised him he would make sure a book was written telling the real story."  Judd passed away three years ago but made sure to call Demster three times on that day to confirm his promise would be kept.  

In a series of book signings, the deputies have gotten together and remembered that day.   Dever says it has helped coping with the disturbing memory.   "Now we can look at objectively and not get so emotional," Dever said.   "It feels better now that our story is being told."

The trouble didn't start immediately when the members of the Faith  Healing church moved to the Miracle Valley in 1979.   Over the next three years, membership grew to more than 300 and coexisted with the surrounding community until Frances Thomas relocated from Chicago to take control.   She took over the leadership of the compound and began professing what locals said was an anti-white doctrine.  

The group isolated itself even more from the outside and even started patroling the property with its own armed security patrol.   That caused confrontations with utility workers, neighbors and eventually law enforcement.

Even our very own KOLD News 13 photographer Jamie Lopez, who still works with the station,  was caught in the middle of the melee.    He was caught on national news fleeing from three women armed with hammers.   "It was a dark day in Southern Arizona's history," Lopez said.   We were parked across the street and they still chased us down... I'm just glad nothing more serious didn't happen to us."

On that dark day in October, two members of the church were killed, so was a deputy.  Dever was one of seven injured with a gun shot wound to the face.   "Looking back, we should have shot the first guy that came out with a 30-30 shotgun," Dever said.   "We let him shout and point the gun at us and that just impowered them... Noone wanted to be the flashpoint to set off a shootout."

The book has already exceed expectations in sales with more six thousand sold in Cochise County.  "It's similar to the Shootout at O.K. Corrall," Daniel said.  "But it's actually a more important part of our history because we're still struggling with the same issues." Now the book signings are starting up in Tucson.  The first, for now, is at Mostly Books on 6208 E. Speedway on Saturday from 1pm to 2:30. 

The deptuites are not receiving any proceeds from the book they welcome the opportunity to be heard.

"It's just good to relfect about it together because we never did," Dever added.  "It's been interesing to say the least."

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