A Houston Fire Department official Monday branded the fire that destroyed Mount Carmel as arson, saying it started in “at least two locations.”
“We believe it was intentionally set by persons inside the compound,” said Paul Gray, who heads a four-man arson investigation team. “At least two locations were significantly distant enough from each other that they couldn’t have been set by the same source at the same time.”
In other news Monday, the identity of another Branch Davidian who died in the fire was announced, and Paul Fatta, a cult member sought by authorities, turned himself over to a Houston attorney.
The April 19 fire at Mount Carmel killed an estimated 86 members of the Branch Davidians, a religious group that long ago spun off from the Seventh-day Adventists. Gray called the cult’s compound 10 miles east of Waco, a “fire hazard.”
“It had no fire walls or other fire-spread inhibitors,” Gray said. “It had long passageways as well as unprotected vertical openings. It was unsafe from a fire protection point of view and by the nature of its construction was a fire hazard and dangerous to life.”
Arson investigators found bales of hay, flammable liquids and a “remarkable number” of firearms and munitions, according to Gray.
A strong south wind and opening in the compound made by armored vehicles releasing canisters of tear gas “allowed full ventilation and an unlimited air supply,” Gray said.
Arson investigators’ version of what happened supports FBI statements concerning the fire.
The FBI said its snipers saw a cult member stoop down and start a fire and that observers in helicopters saw the blaze begin in three separate places at about the same time.
Several of the nine cultists who survived, however, say it started when armored vehicles knocked over lanterns and smashed a propane tank.
“By the time water was applied to the fire, the building was already totally destroyed,” Gray said. However, the team concluded that because of the other factors, a quicker response “may have been inconsequential.”
Authorities on Monday identified a second victim of the Mount Carmel fire, which ended a 51-day siege that began when four agents with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms and six Branch Davidians died in a shootout. The agents were attempting to arrest cult leader Vernon Howell for possession of automatic weapons.
The body of Shari Doyle, 18, was found on top of the cinderblock building surviving the fire, said Justice of the Peace David Pareya.
Doyle, like David Jones, 38, previously identified, was shot in the head.
Her body was identified through dental records, Pareya said, who added that 44 bodies have been recovered so far.
Clive Doyle, 52, her father, remains in good condition at Parkland Memorial Hospital in Dallas. He is due to undergo skin grafts on his hands, which were burned in the fire.
Debborah Brown, Shari Doyle’s mother, lives in the Waco area. She is divorced from Clive Doyle.
Brown, who is not a cult member, finds how her daughter died troubling.
“I don’t think Shari could have shot herself,” Brown said. “David Jones was a different matter. But I guess it depends on what they did to her mind. I find it disturbing, to say the least, that she was shot in the head.”
Brown said she talked to Karen Doyle, Shari’s sister and her older daughter, about the Mount Carmel fire.
Karen Doyle, who is staying at the cult’s house in La Verne, Calif., is upbeat about the fate of those who died, Brown said, believing Howell’s prophecy that he and his followers will one day return to Earth and slay the Babylonians, or unbelievers.
Gray said the final report on the fire and its causes will be turned over directly to U.S. Attorney Janet Reno.
He stressed the arson team’s independence. None of the four members — which also includes William Case, Los Angeles Fire Department; John Ricketts, San Francisco Fire Department; and Tom Hitchings, deputy fire marshal, Allegheny County, Pa. — have any ties to federal law enforcement, Gray said.
However, ATF spokeswoman Franceska Perot told the Associated Press on Monday that Gray’s wife is a secretary for ATF’s Houston office.
Early Monday, one of Howell’s most loyal followers turned himself over to authorities. Paul Fatta, 35, was taken into custody by Texas Rangers in Houston and charged with conspiracy to manufacture and possess unregistered machine guns, said Texas Ranger Brantley Foster.
The Branch Davidians amassed a huge stockpile of weapons and munitions.
Fatta, however, said the cult sold weapons and munitions to the public to raise money.
He and his 14-year-old son had left the cult’s Mount Carmel compound early Feb. 28 to attend a gun show in Austin. They could not return after authorities sealed off the area following the initial gun battle.
After clearing the front of the cinderblock building, authorities will look for more bodies at Mount Carmel today, Pareya said.
The woman identified Monday had been a Branch Davidian all her life, former cult members said.
Shari Doyle was born into the religious group in the days when Ben and Lois Roden were the leaders, said former cult member Jeanine Bunds. Doyle’s grandmother, Edna, is a longtime Branch Davidian.
Robyn Bunds, 23, also a former cult member, remembered Shari Doyle as a typical teenager, calling her “fun-loving.”
Brown said she would like to be the one to bury her daughter rather than someone from the cult.
“I think they’ve done enough,” she said. “I’d like to have her now.”