Despite various allegations, Texas child welfare officials say child abuse claims against cult leader Vernon Howell couldn’t be verified in the past, and they can’t be verified now.
One source told the Tribune-Herald that a child released from the Mount Carmel compound during the 51-day standoff gave details of what appears to have been abusive incidents.
It was only this week that the Justice Department said evidence showed children living at the compound were continually being abused, even after the Feb. 28 raid by federal agents.
Janice M. Caldwell, executive director of the Texas Department of Protective and Regulatory Services, released a statement Friday saying that an investigation that began on Feb. 26, 1992, and ended April 30, 1992, did not verify allegations of any type of abuse.
The release also said that none of the children released from the compound has confirmed any of the allegations “or described any other incidents which would verify our concerns that they have been victims of physical or sexual abuse.”
But one source said it is doubtful the children coming out of the compound are normal, happy children.
The source said a child out of the compound said that boys were punished by having to sit on the toilet with the lid up for hours and that children had to “sit upside down” in their seats if they were caught sleeping during one of Howell’s sermons.
The child also said she was “hit pretty bad” for looking out the windows, but never described the severity or location on her body.
Stewart Davis, a spokesman with PRS, said that such incidents might or might not be considered abusive.
“It would probably take an investigation as to whether that could be validated as abuse,” he said.
But David Jewell told the Tribune-Herald in its series “The Sinful Messiah” that he called Children’s Protective Services in Waco last summer to discuss filing statutory rape charges against Howell. Jewell’s daughter once lived at the compound.
The series also reported that in 1990 a private detective from Australia met with federal, state and local law enforcement to deliver nine signed and notarized affidavits outlining allegations that babies were whipped until their bottoms bled and that Howell was having sex with minors.
And in a federal Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms affidavit filed April 13, Joyce Sparks, investigation supervisor with the Department of Human Services in Waco, gave an account where she interviewed a child who had once been in the cult.
The affidavit said that when the girl was 10, she was taken out of the compound to a motel room in Waco, where Howell was waiting in bed for her with no pants on. The girl said Howell sexually molested her. She said it was understood in the cult that “this is what happens.”
But Davis said, “It makes it very difficult to pin down those kind of statements. We just have no way to respond to that at this point.
Davis said that, on the surface, such a situation would fall under the category of statutory rape and would be under the jurisdiction of the local law enforcement.
This statement said that in February and March 1992, McLennan County sheriff’s deputies accompanied child welfare workers on two visits to the Mount Carmel compound.
The children denied being abused in any way and denied any knowledge of other children being abused, the release said.
The adults also denied any participation or knowledge of any abuse to children. Investigators also were unable to find any evidence of previous abuse.