Someone from the Branch Davidian compound near Waco called McLennan County’s 9-1-1 emergency number Sunday morning during or before an assault by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, a Waco city official said.
Those inside the compound, populated by members of a religious sect who believe that Vernon Howell is Christ, killed four agents and wounded 15 others before agents pulled back and called in reinforcements.
The standoff between federal, state and local law enforcement and those in the compound continued into the night Wednesday.
The official who mentioned the 9-1-1 call said he heard of it from another city source. He referred further comment to the Waco Police Department.
“As long as this situation is ongoing, no records about 9-1-1 calls can be released,” said Waco Police Sgt. Malissa Sims, a spokeswoman for the police department.
She said she received her instructions from Waco Police Chief Gil Miller and the police department’s legal counsel.
Robert A. (Tony) Ball, executive director of McLennan County’s 9-1-1 emergency system, said he couldn’t comment, either.
McLennan County’s three-digit emergency system has been in place more than three years. It allows anyone with a telephone to call 9-1-1 and gain access to a police or fire department, the sheriff’s department or an emergency medical service.
“The telephone number of the caller does show up on computer screens—and the address shows up if there is an address,” Ball said. “We’re in the process of addressing the county right now.”
Ball said the authorities he spoke to would neither confirm nor deny that someone made a 9-1-1 call from the compound Sunday morning.
Any call from the compound would first have been routed through the Waco Police Department, where the technology and operators are stationed, and then relayed to the McLennan County Sheriff’s Department, Ball said.
“I have no knowledge of that at all,” said Sheriff’s Capt. Dan Weyenberg, when asked about the emergency call.
Agents Sunday were trying to arrest Howell for possession of illegal firearms. His cache reportedly includes .50-caliber machine guns.
Marc Breault, a former follower and confidant of Howell’s, said he could envision two scenarios producing a call.
“Somebody could have gone spastic and panicked while Vernon was somewhere else,” Breault said. “It’s my first impression that Vernon would not have authorized a 9-1-1 call.”
However, Breault added that if Howell or others noticed the approach of vehicles several minutes before authorities entered the compound, “he could have been trying to prove after the fact that the ATF fired first.”
“We’re just peaceful people,” he might say, “so we called 9-1-1.”
Waco attorney Gary Coker, who successfully represented Howell and other cult members on attempted murder charges in 1988 after a shootout with rival prophet George Roden, said he would not be surprised to find that someone from the compound called 9-1-1.
“They may very well have done that,” he said. “They have a history of coordinating their affairs with law enforcement.”
He said Howell and other cult members in 1987 sought to prove that Roden was abusing a corpse trying to resurrect a woman buried on the site of the compound. He added that authorities told cult members that photographs of the casket were not sufficient evidence and that they needed photographs of the body.