In Australia and the United States, relatives and friends of Branch Davidian cult members wait for news of the shootout between federal authorities and the cult.
At least one waits in fear.
“I’m scared,” said ex-cult member Robyn Bunds, who says she was part of cult leader Vernon Howell’s harem and had his son, Shaun.
Bunds, her son, and mother, Jeannine — also a former cult member — took refuge at the La Verne Police Department in California Sunday in wake of the gun battle between Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms agents and cult members at Mount Carmel.
“I know Vernon told them to hurt people,” she said. “I’m scared. I don’t know if it’s justified, but I’m freaking out.”
“I still love my daddy even though he’s crazy,” she said. “And I’m also worried about the kids and the people I know out there — I know everybody. It’s hard for me not to worry.”
Her brother, Mark Bunds of Waco, said he also is worried about his father. Mark said he was a member of the cult 18 years ago.
“I told my wife there is going to be a war,” he said. “I have heard nothing.”
‘Maybe I was just blind’
Dana Okimoto, who left the cult a year ago and now lives in Hawaii, said she was shocked. She also gave birth to at least one child while in the cult. She will not say who the father is.
“I didn’t see something like this happening,” she said. “Maybe I was just blind.”
On Sunday, she was concerned for her friends and the children in the cult.
“They won’t leave him,” she said, her voice cracking with emotion. “If they’re badly wounded, they could die.”
The concern stretched across the Pacific to Australia, where people wait for news.
They ask the basic questions. Are their loved ones and friends wounded or safe — dead or alive?
And some think things could have been different — if only authorities would have listened sooner.
Marc Breault, a one-time confidant of Howell’s who has spent years debunking Howell’s message, said he, too, is worried about his friends still in the cult.
“Because I think Vernon’s greatest fear is to go to prison,” he said, adding Howell would rather resist than lose everything and go there.
Breault said people in Australia with family in the cult are waiting on information.
Bruce Gent of Australia said Sunday he found out at 4 a.m., Australia time, about the gun battle. He told the Tribune-Herald he had heard “nothing at all” about the welfare of his children in the cult — Peter Gent, Nicole Gent — and his grandchildren, reportedly fathered by Howell.
“I’m sitting by the phone now to see . . . what state things are in,” he said.
For now, Gent said, he and his wife, Lisa, will “ride this out” to see what happens. Even if his children come back to him safely, the pain will not be over for his family.
Walking time bombs
“My two children and Nicole’s children are walking time bombs now,” Gent said. “Vernon Howell has brainwashed them so badly ...”
Lisa said she is sure her stepchildren, Nicole and Peter, would follow Howell — even in death.
“They don’t mind dying for the cause,” she said.
“My heart goes out to the children who don’t know anything,” said Lisa Gent. “I just don’t know. I’ve got butterflies in my stomach.”
Gent said he isn’t surprised by the shootout, though he thinks it could have been avoided.
“We have anticipated this for years,” he said. “The Waco sheriff’s department has had this information . . . for 2½ years. It seems if things had been done earlier, none of this would have come out.”
“Every report we sent to the authorities . . . is we flagged the situation as extremely dangerous,” said Geoffrey N. Hossack, an Australian private detective hired by Gent and other Australians who broke away from the cult.
“I think it could have been avoided,” he said.
“I will imagine the end play is Howell will kill himself,” he said. “I would think his objective would be to kill as many agents as possible.”
Michelle Tom, a former cult member and stepsister of Nicole and Peter Gent, said she is relieved authorities are acting.
‘It’s just got to stop’
“I can’t believe something’s finally going ahead and being done about it. It’s just got to stop,” she said. “It’s just terrible so many people are being killed. It’s just so typical of him to start firing.”
Tom also thinks cult members will “fight to the end.” Cult members think “if I die, then I’m saved,” she said.
She also fears what will happen if Howell dies. Howell’s control will continue beyond the grave, she said.
“If he gets killed, people will wait for him to be resurrected,” she said.