Negotiators waited anxiously Tuesday night to see if Vernon Howell, whom Branch Davidians consider Christ, would keep his word and surrender.
Howell promised that if he were allowed to preach for an hour on radio, he and his followers would surrender peacefully, ending a standoff that began Sunday.
Mount Carmel, the Branch Davidians’ base 10 miles east of Waco, continued to be surrounded by hundreds of federal, state and local officers.
They encircled the compound after the cult repelled a Sunday morning assault by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms. Deadly automatic weapons fire, possibly including 50-caliber machine guns, killed four ATF agents.
About 100 ATF agents stormed the compound. They were trying to arrest Howell for possessing illegal weapons.
Howell’s hour-long sermon began at 1:30 p.m. Tuesday and was played on KRLD radio in Dallas.
The taped sermon was first sent from the cult’s compound to radio station KBBW in Waco. Its contents were transmitted by digital phone line to Christian radio talk show host Craig Smith’s studio in Phoenix, Ariz. A copy was provided to KRLD.
About 10 minutes into his message, Howell said:
“I’m sure you’re all aware of how I’m involved in a very serious thing right now,” he said. “I’m sure a lot of you realize I should be possibly scared, concerned. There’s women, children and men involved in our situation here at Mount Carmel. And I am really concerned about the lives of my brethren here and also really concerned even greater about the lives of all those in this world.”
Howell, 33, moved quickly to a teaching on the Seven Seals found in Revelation. Howell tried to persuade listeners, as he has followers, that he is the Lamb who will open the Seven Seals, loosing the catastrophic events that will end the world.
Many Christians believe the Lamb is Jesus Christ.
So does Howell.
Speaking in a weak, raspy voice, Howell spoke almost non-stop.
“You see, when the Lamb comes again, there’s only one way to know who he is,” Howell said. “He has to reveal the Seven Seals, that man may not be judged by the law, for all have broken the law and come short of the glory of God, so he might be judged by nothing more than truth.”
Former cult member Marc Breault said he has heard the message many times.
‘Know it by heart’
“I know it by heart,” he said. “About the only good thing that comes from letting him read it is that it buys negotiators time.”
The tape contained Howell’s promise to surrender immediately. But as the hours passed, he and his followers remained holed up in their compound.
The Houston Chronicle, in its afternoon edition, said between 7 and 15 bodies might be in the compound. ATF sources told the Chronicle the information came from children taken out of the compound.
But Karen Eells, regional director of Children’s Protective Services in Austin, said case workers asked the children if they saw the reported shooting of a 2-year-old child. They said they had not, Eells said.
Workers, at least initially, did not ask the children additional questions about possibly injured Davidians in the compound.
Soon after Howell’s radio message began airing, three large buses left TSTC campus buildings off Seventh Street.
In addition, authorities notified two Waco hospitals to be ready for wounded and sealed off the emergency area of one, Hillcrest Baptist Medical Center.
Members of the media contingent at TSTC — cordoned off about 200 yards away — reported that they saw officers carrying what appeared to be a stenography machine into a nearby hangar.
Jim Robinette, a programmer analyst at the college, said all of the school’s employees were instructed to go home by 3 p.m. There were no students at the campus because they were on vacation, he said.
Early in the day, about 8 a.m., two vans carried six children and possibly two adults away from the Branch Davidians’ complex and through media barricades.
2 women charged
Margaret Lawson, 75, and Catherine Mattson, 77, were charged with conspiracy to murder federal agents, a possible capital offense, U.S. Attorney Ron Ederer said.
There were reports another 20 children had been released, but ATF agent David Troy said the reports were not true and other agents said the activity was merely a shift change.
So far, 18 children have been released.
All the Branch Davidians released were taken to the ATF command center at Texas State Technical College.
The McLennan County District Attorney’s office continued Tuesday to seek temporary custody of the children on behalf of the state.
But hearing the names of six of the cult children released frightened several former cult members, including Robyn Bunds.
“Those children are not of his seed,” she said. “He has said his children will be murdered along with him.”
Court documents on the identity of the other cult children released were filed just before the district clerk’s office closed, making them unavailable until Wednesday.
Sunday’s assault had been planned for months by ATF agents.
It failed when the agents encountered overwhelming firepower, including at least one .50-caliber machine gun.
In the aftermath, some Waco police officers on Tuesday wore black bands over their badges in memory of the slain ATF agents. Some carried the Latin words, “Nemo Me Impune Lacessit.”
Translated, the reported motto of Scotland means, “Nobody harms me with impunity.”
Asked if officers might seek revenge for the slayings, Sgt. Malissa Sims of the Waco Police Department said, “Well, we all have to meet our maker one day. Vengeance is mine sayeth . . . You can tell I have been listening to Koresh too much today. Now I’m quoting Scriptures. But it is a sign out of respect and it is done traditionally across the United States by officers. From my standpoint, I say that you can kill my body but you can’t take my soul or my spirit. That is kind of the philosophy behind it.”
As negotiators tried to get Howell to surrender late into the night, a Branch Davidian flag raised above the compound Monday continued to fly.
A former cult member said the flying of the Branch Davidian flag might mean the supposed establishment of Mount Zion, where believers are supposed to ascend to heaven.
“Originally, Vernon thought Mount Zion was going to be in heaven,” said a former cult member, who asked not to be identified. “But as he studied the Bible more and more, he decided it could be here. This is his Mount Zion. He’s a martyr. The ones who go up will be the priests and judges in the kingdom. He made it sound so beautiful. If it’s true, lucky them. If it’s not, what a waste.”
A McLennan County deputy, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told the Los Angeles Times that authorities initially thought they had an agreement with the cult to emerge peacefully at about 11 a.m. When they failed to materialize, officials believed the cult would come out at about 1:30 p.m., when the Koresh tape was broadcast. Neither came to pass.
“The best thing you could hope for are three buses coming out and the worst you could hope for is a lot of white smoke coming out of that compound,” the deputy said.
“If you see an Apache helicopter,” he said, “look out.”
As Howell’s deadline for surrendering passed, one cult member worried that Howell may still clash with the law enforcement army surrounding Mount Carmel.
“He’s 33,” Robyn Bunds said. “He’s the same age Christ was when he died. He wants to die. He wants to fulfill prophecy. It just worries me that he’ll do something to make them harm him.”