After almost 15 years, what is believed to be the longest armed standoff in American history quietly came to a peaceful close earlier this week.
John Joe Gray was arrested in 1999 for assaulting a state trooper during a traffic stop. Gray said it was his God-given right to carry the pistol he had that day, without a concealed handgun license. When the trooper tried to arrest him, Gray got into a scuffle with the officer and bit him.
Gray was eventually charged with assaulting a public servant, but he refused to return to court, and instead, armed himself at home.
“If they come out after us, bring extra body bags. Those who live by the sword will die by the sword,” Gray told ABC News in a 2000 interview.
Since the felony charge in 1999, Gray has never left his 47-acres along the banks of the Trinity River between Tool and Trinidad, Texas.
Instead, Gray, his children, grandchildren, and friends patrol their property with pistols and rifles and refuse to let strangers inside.
National Geographic said it took a crew two years to earn the family’s trust recently.
“We’ve never shot no one yet,” Gray told National Geographic. “But they know, if they come on us, they’ll be surprised what’s going to happen to them.”
An old mugshot of John Joe Gray. (Photo: Courtesy: Henderson Co. Sheriff’s Dept.)
The felony charge of assaulting a peace officer was actually dismissed in December 2014, when the district attorney left office. But for some reason, no one notified the Henderson County Sheriff’s Office or even the Gray family, until now.
“Being a peace officer, you do have some emotions — that you would like to see him brought before court and the case tried — but on the other hand, was it worth all that it might have cost to do that?” Henderson County Sheriff Ray Nutt said about the incident.
And while it may be easy to draw comparisons between the standoff currently underway in Oregonand what happened in this rural Texas county, the situations are completely different, according to Nutt.
“Those folks have occupied a public building. Joe Gray is on 47-acres that he owns out there,” the sheriff explained.
The Grays painted their paranoia on signs posted along their fence. “Vaccinations equal annihilation” reads one of the anti-government messages.
Sheriff Nutt said he’s glad the district attorney decided to drop charges.
Henderson County Sheriff Ray Nutt (Photo: WFAA)
“Yeah. It takes pressure off people. And it may take pressure off them,” the sheriff said. “There’s always been the potential for something bad happening.”
Nutt said he didn’t go get Gray because deputies could have died.
“It wasn’t worth it,” the sheriff said. “Joe Gray has been in prison out there himself, in my opinion, for 14 years.”
It was justice served, the sheriff suggested, in a felony case that never went to court. And for the first time this century, Joe Gray is free to leave his home.