Easter Sunday was a day of rest at Mount Carmel.
Those who turned out for the sideshow that has sprung up along Loop 340 saw almost no one stirring in or out of the compound looming on the horizon — as the Branch Davidians most holy time, Passover, neared an end.
Authorities took the day off, too.
The FBI held no daily press briefing Sunday for the first time in more than a month because of the holiday.
In every way, there is a lull in the siege.
Attorney Dick DeGuerin, who represents cult leader Vernon Howell, raised hopes that the 44-day old standoff would end after Passover, which for the cult could last until sundown Wednesday. But Steve Schneider, Howell’s top lieutenant, checked those hopes last week, telling FBI negotiators that the cult made no such promise.
In the meantime, hundreds of people spent Easter high on a hill in Bellmead, at a spot affording viewers a glimpse of Mount Carmel, where four agents with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms and at least two cult members died in a Feb. 28 shootout.
If one peered intently through binoculars, the compound’s image could be seen waving on the horizon. Nearby, a horde of entrepreneurs hawked their goods at what has become the T-shirt capital of Central Texas.
“It’s been a good day,” said vendor Tom Dobyanski of Houston. “It’s been a good weekend. If I wanted to stay, I could sell everything I have. But I’m fixing to close up. I want to go home.”
He sold about 500 T-shirts over the weekend at $14 and $12 a pop, Dobyanski said.
His hottest seller had a caricature of Howell, also known as David Koresh, and Mount Carmel. Written underneath was, “Brother Dave’s Guns and Gospel: Where everything is half-off (including Dave).”
A woman, who flatly refused to give her name, brought out-of-town friends to the site about a mile north of Loop 340 and Highway 6 to buy T-shirts.
“One girl is buying a T-shirt for a friend in New York,” the woman said. “She was planning to fly down here to buy one herself, but she got sick.”
John Duncan accompanied a friend to the Bellmead site.
“I guess most people are here out of boredom,” he said. “Maybe it’s evidence of a society with no value system. Myself, I don’t read about it anymore. It’s a saturated topic for me.”
FBI agents spent the weekend trying to interpret a letter that Howell had delivered on Friday. The letter, signed “Yahweh Koresh,” was a revelation from God, Howell told the FBI. It contained “many references to violence,” said Special Agent Bob Ricks.
Phoenix cult expert Rick Ross, who has deprogrammed Branch Davidians, told the Associated Press Sunday that he doesn’t believe the FBI will find much meaning in the letter.
“The letter is just the ravings of an egomaniac,” Ross said. “He’s frustrated with his lack of control over the situation.”
Howell isn’t the only one, though, feeling helpless.
At Satellite City, where the media covering the siege is stationed, about the only sound was a kite, tied to a mailbox, rustling in the wind.
“It’s been deathly quiet,” said a CNN reporter, reading a book and getting some sun.
Some of the languor may have been a hangover from Saturday night, one of the reporters said. Troopers from the Texas Department of Public Safety doused a party by refusing to allow a band to enter Satellite City for a scheduled dance, he said.
Channel 25 reporter Jim Wright summed up the mood.
“Nothing’s going on,” he said. “That’s the hardest part. Making nothing sound interesting.”