The FBI reported Tuesday that it held a “symbolic” face-to-face meeting with Branch Davidian representatives in an effort to end their standoff.

But an agency spokesman hesitated calling the meeting a breakthrough.

Cult members Wayne Martin and Steve Schneider met an FBI negotiator and McLennan County Sheriff Jack Harwell halfway between Double EE Ranch Road and the compound, where a gunbattle Feb. 28 left four agents with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms dead.

Schneider has assumed more of a leadership role in negotiations, with cult leader Vernon Howell complaining of pain from a wound in his side. Martin is a Harvard-educated attorney.

FBI agent Dick Swensen said the meeting began at 4:20 p.m. Monday and lasted an hour.

He called it “helpful.”

“I think at this stage we view any meeting as a successful meeting,” Swensen said.

Howell has told negotiators that 17 children, 46 women and 42 men remain in the compound. Four adults and 21 children have left since the siege began.

Much of the discussion Monday afternoon concerned the legal process that will go into effect if the Davidians surrender to authorities surrounding their compound 10 miles east of Waco.

Waco attorney Lawrence Johnson said any involvement by Martin, who has worked with Johnson, is a “positive sign.”

“He’s level-headed and will be able to understand all the issues,” said Johnson, also a Waco council member. “He’s very analytical.”

Johnsons said Martin rarely talked about his life at Mount Carmel.

“He touched on it in some instances,” Johnson said, “but nothing to the point where I was alarmed or sought additional information.”

Martin’s law office is at the Mount Carmel compound, but he usually met his clients downtown, Johnson said.

“He knows how to negotiate,” Johnson said. “I’m aware of good plea bargains he has negotiated. I’ve known him to hang tough. . . . If he’s in the role of any attorney, then I think he is going to do what is in the best interest of his clients.”

Meanwhile, the wife of one top Howell lieutenant has hired an attorney to represent her children, still inside the compound. Mary Bell Jones, wife of Perry Jones and the mother of two of Howell’s “wives,” visited Waco attorney Gary Coker on Monday

Jones, contacted by telephone Tuesday, said several people have told her that Perry Jones was killed during the ATF raid. But she has not been able to confirm those reports.

Jones said she had not lived steadily at the compound for about three months. She said Branch Davidians tore down the small homes that used to dot the religious encampment, leaving no room for her. Since then, she has alternated between living with a son and his family and with her husband at the compound, she said.

Negotiators continue to deal mostly with Schneider, whose wife, Judy, is in the House of David.

The House of David is comprised of the women in the cult who have had Howell’s children, which are supposedly destined to rule the earth with Howell one day.

Howell is reporting that a wound to his side continues to drain, making it painful for him to move around, Swensen said. Howell’s injuries are not considered life-threatening.

“He was somewhat ambulatory,” Swensen said. “Now he is basically lying down or sitting up most of the time.”

Howell still maintains control of the cult, however.

“There’s no one who thinks the person who is on the phone doesn’t go immediately to him,” Swensen said.

The Davidians’ “piecemeal” approach to negotiations hampers progress, Swensen said.

“In my opinion, it is a hesitation to consider that aspect, everyone coming out at one time, on the part of the people in the compound,” he said. “. . . It’s more let’s talk about Judy (Schneider). They want to talk about the pieces as opposed to a far-reaching how-to-end-this-thing.”

On Tuesday night, federal agents continued to illuminate the compound with bright lights. The tactic started Sunday. Swensen said the lights are to prevent gun-toting Branch Davidians from seeing federal agents behind barricades surrounding the compound.

Also, four Branch Davidian children have been released from protective custody to their relatives following completion of initial home studies and with court approval, according to Bob Boyd, program director for Children’s Protective Services in Waco.

“We are aggressively working on home studies with the relatives of the other children so they can be reunited,” Boyd said.

Twenty-one children were originally in state protective custody, the agency said. Three were released to a parent on March 9 and four children from three families were released to relatives Friday, leaving 14 children in protective custody, according to the agency.

Although officials have reported the cult’s children are in good shape, Nese Vaega said Tuesday there is a dark side to what the children have been through.

Vaega, of New Zealand, met last Thursday with her niece for the first time since the 7-year-old was released March 1.

When asked how her parents, Neil and Margarida Vaega, were doing, the girl told Vaega, “They’re going to die.”

The little girl also said “naughty daddy” during the visit, Vaega said. She assumes that her niece is talking about Neil Vaega, her biological father, Vaega said.

Tribune-Herald staff writers Marc Masferrer, Darlene McCormick and Tommy Witherspoon contributed to this story.

Read the Tribune-Herald's 7-part investigative series on the inner workings of the Branch Davidians. Hours after Part 2 appeared in print, the ATF raided the group's compound.

Read the Tribune-Herald’s account of the ATF raid on the Branch Davidian compound on Feb. 28, 1993. Four ATF agents and six in the compound were killed in the gunfight.

Read the daily news accounts of the 51-day siege at the Branch Davidian compound near Elk, which began Feb. 28 and lasted until April.

April 19 and beyond: FBI agents began inserting canisters of tear gas into the Branch Davidian compound in the early morning hours. By noon, it was on fire.

Federal officials left the compound site in late May 1993. As identifications of bodies continued, questions about the survivors, the compound and the cult itself began to emerge.

As the world began to take a critical look back at the events and legal proceedings continue, the ATF's bombshell report forces a shakeup at the top after the raid gone "tragically wrong."

In 1994, the surviving Davidians went on trial in San Antonio. Over six weeks, more than 140 witnesses testified, with the verdict coming just two days prior to the anniversary of the ATF raid.

The Rodenville shootout and the 1988 trial, the end of the world in 1959 and more stories from deep in the Trib archives.