The traditional elements of an international media event include the local experts, the travelers who come from afar to view history in the making, and that icon of culture in the closing years of the 20th century, the T-shirt salesman. They were all there Saturday, on a hill east of Mount Carmel.
David Mevis, a student at McLennan Community College, was hustling T-shirts from the back of his truck.
His shirts proclaimed: “Mount Carmel Erupts” and “What’s Up, Vern” and marked Waco’s location on a map of Texas.
“I am doing it to make money,” he said. He wasn’t making much.
“I’m in a hole and haven’t made enough to get out of the hole” he admitted.
Mevis said he had thought about donating some of the profits to a police support group, but decided against it when there weren’t any.
Hoping to see history unfold before his very eyes, Mike Hejl of Whitney drove to Waco with a telescope, but he said he was unable to see much.
“I got it spotted, but it was just too powerful,” Hejl said.
The two main buildings were visible from the hill, he said, but there wasn’t much else to see. Except people standing around him.
People have come from all over, said Woodie Lambert, who lives just across the street from the hill.
Lambert has been eyeballing the compound since Monday morning and offering a rundown of the ongoing drama to visitors. He also lends them his binoculars.
“I have been by there, but that was years ago,” Lambert said. “The place has changed a lot since them.”
Although Lambert doesn’t claim to know much about the Bible, he tells people of the similarities between Vernon Howell and Jesus Christ.
The similarities seem to indicate, to him, a violent end to the standoff, with Howell and his followers taking their lives.
“Is it another Jonestown?” Lambert asks many of the people who stop to view the compound.
Another Waco resident, who finally ventured to the hill to see Mount Carmel, said she believed that Howell would die in “a blaze of glory.”
She said she believes that the isolation and the pressure of facing prison or the death penalty would finally get to Howell and would force him to do something.
“I don’t believe he’d surrender,” she said. “I believe that he’d rather die than face the death penalty.”
She thinks that in a matter of days Howell will feel the loss of his freedom, and will begin to make mistakes.
M.R. has seen both sides of the Branch Davidian group. She said she attended school with members of the group when it was “a legitimate organization”
She puts some of the blame for the group’s current misfortune on Howell.
“He’s not religious,” M.R. said. “Religious people don’t hoard guns. Peaceful people don’t hoard guns.
“If they’re up to no good, they do that.”