A federal official at a Sunday press conference ripped into reports that some agents were possibly killed by “friendly fire” at Mount Carmel Feb. 28 and that the raid was ill-planned.
David Troy, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms chief intelligence, maintained that the raid on the Branch Davidian compound about 10 miles east of Waco was executed with “precision, professionalism and uncommon courage under fire.”
Federal agents landed in a brutal gun battle after trying to serve cult leader Vernon Howell, also known as David Koresh, with an arrest and search warrant for illegal weapons. Four ATF agents and at least two cult members died in the shootout. Sunday marked a month since the standoff began.
A story in this week’s Newsweek quotes an unnamed federal source as saying there is evidence to support the theory that friendly fire “brought down” some ATF agents. Friendly fire refers to injuries inflicted by colleagues.
“The only thing I can think of more ridiculous than that is Vernon Howell thinks he’s the Lamb of God when all he is is a cheap thug who interprets the Bible through the barrel of a gun,” Troy said.
“I think the authors of that Newsweek article will owe an apology to the families of those four dead agents when this investigation is complete.”
Troy also vehemently denied a New York Times story that reported that ATF supervisors ordered agents in even though they knew they had lost the element of surprise, that officials didn’t abort the raid even though helicopters were fired on from the compound before the raid began, and ATF didn’t prepare medically for the raid.
Troy said the article was in “error” and “not based on facts.”
He said he does not believe the raid was common knowledge in the community, again blaming the failed raid on a tip to the compound that Sunday morning.
“I do not believe that the information on our enforcement action was general information,” he said. “But I do in fact believe there was a tip made to that compound at some point prior to the raid which alerted them or allowed them to set up an ambush that killed four of our agents.”
There has been speculation that the alleged tip came from the media or law enforcement officials. The Tribune-Herald has denied that its employees were the source of the alleged tip.
However, media reports indicate the raid was not a well-kept secret.
The Tribune-Herald has reported that police scanner talk about the operation occurred before the raid, and local ambulance services, law enforcement and others had advance knowledge of the actual operation—or that some type of law enforcement activity was in the works.
Troy said the helicopters were a diversionary tactic and did not overfly the compound.
“The helicopters approached from the back side of the compound,” he said. “They drew fire from the compound the same time the agents stepped out of the trucks and drew fire at the front of the compound.”
Troy said each team of agents on the raid had an emergency medical technician assigned to it, and ambulances were parked about a half-mile away.
“In fact, one of those EMTs was also a surgical nurse who in fact treated many agents right there on the ground under fire,” Troy said.
Troy said agents carried only semiautomatic weapons, shotguns and sniper rifles, while cult members had a large number of assault-type weapons that were converted to fully automatic.
“The reason we did not assault the compound with fully automatic machine guns, as you are suggesting, is we are a law enforcement agency,” he said. “This was not a military assault where a body count was going to be added up at the end.
“The ATF agents operated under the rules of law when they executed that raid,” he said. “The members of that compound initiated the contact under the rules of war.”
Meanwhile, negotiations between authorities and Howell continued to deteriorate, and one more person was arrested Sunday for trying to get inside the compound.
Agents in helicopters picked up a Waco man who was hiking toward the compound after being turned away at a roadblock Sunday afternoon. The Department of Public Safety arrested Zachary Gordon for interfering with a police officer, said DPS Lt. James Whaley.
Gordon told troopers he wanted inside the compound, Whaley said.
Authorities Sunday also confirmed a second entry into the compound, indentifying the man as Jesse Amen of California.
“The story is he left California about a month ago, spent some time in Colorado and decided to drop by the compound,” FBI special agent Bob Ricks said Sunday.
Ricks said concern is rising over Howell’s refusal to negotiate. Federal officials have not spoken with him Wednesday afternoon, he said.
“We are getting more and more concerned about the isolation being demonstrated by Mr. Koresh,” he said. “We are concerned that he is . . . in fact becoming more delusional.”
“We have information that is pretty widely known . . . that various suicide pacts have been proposed by those inside the compound, principally by Mr. Koresh, and that more than likely that probably would have occurred following the raid, but Mr. Koresh lost his nerve.”
Ricks said that those inside the compound now say their last names are Koresh, including Howell’s right-hand man, Steve Schneider.
“We learned that Schneider may not be his last name,” Ricks said. “He says his last name is also Koresh. Apparently everybody in the compound is named Koresh.”