Authorities will not require Branch Davidians seeking custody of their children to be deprogrammed, but they must demonstrate firm ties to reality, according to a child welfare official.
“We’re staying away from the word ‘deprogramming,’ ” said Jesse Guardiola, a supervisor for Children’s Protective Services in Waco. “But parents need to be in tune with reality in order to provide for the daily care of their children.”
Guardiola said child welfare workers are walking “a fine line” between trying to respect the religious beliefs of the Branch Davidians while ensuring the safety of their children.
Only one of the children released from Mount Carmel is still in the custody of authorities, a child welfare supervisor said.
James Martin, 9, was placed in a so-called specialized home because he suffers from cerebral palsy. He is the son of Wayne and Sheila Martin, both of whom belonged to the Branch Davidians.
Wayne Martin, an attorney trained at Harvard, died in the April 19 fire that destroyed Mount Carmel.
Sheila Martin was released from Mount Carmel before the fire.
Judge Bill Logue denied her request for temporary conservatorship of her son. Martin’s attorney, Gary Coker, said she intends to renew her request.
For now, Martin is staying in Boston with her parents.
Cult member Kathryn Schroeder left Mount Carmel in early March to take care of her 3-year-old son by Michael Schroeder, who was killed in a shootout with agents of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms on the evening of Feb. 28.
She was eventually charged with conspiracy to murder a federal officer and was booked into McLennan County Jail. She was transferred to Hays County Jail on June 2.
Legally, all of the children released from Mount Carmel are still under the conservatorship of the state. At a future date, their parents or guardians may seek to become permanent conservators of the children, Guardiola said.
The assessment team that worked with the children when most of them were at Waco’s Methodist Home still stays in touch with them, said a spokeswoman for Dr. Bruce Perry of the Baylor College of Medicine. Perry headed the assessment team.
“We do have someone assigned to keep up with the children,” the spokeswoman said. “But it’s being done in the form of a weekly call.”
Most of the children seem to be doing well, according to child welfare workers, but they are all undergoing some form of counseling.
“Through hard work and good luck, they were all able to go to someone they knew,” Guardiola said. “They didn’t have to go into the unknown and make an adjustment to a new environment. They had a sense of security because they were going to someone they knew cared.”
Life in the cult was reportedly tough on children.
Former cult members have accused cult leader Vernon Howell, who died in the Mount Carmel fire, of having sex with girls as young as 12 and whipping babies until their bottoms bled.
Howell told CNN on Feb. 28 that he had many wives and many children, although he didn’t specify the ages of his wives. Aisha Gyarfas, 17, acknowledged having a child by Howell, according to FBI spokesman during the siege. According to former cult members, Howell began having sex with Gyarfas when she was 13 years old.
Former cult member Michelle Tom accused Howell of once whipping her baby, Tarah, for 45 minutes.
Howell denied such beatings, but a Michigan man, Lonnie Little, whose son, Jeff, died at Mount Carmel, told Newsweek that he witnessed a woman whipping a boy for 15 minutes with a stick. Howell had ordered the woman to quiet the boy, who was “acting up,” Little said.
Parents allowed Howell to abuse their children initially because he was considered a prophet, former cult members said.
Eventually cult members came to believe Howell was Christ.
Guardiola said CPS is aware of the allegations, but he said they have not been substantiated. Branch Davidian parents, however, will have to show they can keep their children from harm.
“Our intent will not be to ask questions about the allegations directly,” Guardiola said. “Our focus will be on their ability to protect the children, to make good judgments on their welfare.”
State officials at a court hearing were troubled by Sheila Martin’s lack of emotion over the deaths of her husband and three of their children at Mount Carmel. But Coker said his client’s apparent lack of anguish doesn’t demonstrate a lack of caring.
“She is a very sweet person,” Coker said. “As far as I know, she’s a good mother and was a good wife. It’s not always easy to read emotions. But all these people are different. There’s no question about it. Probably the only person in the group who was a regular fellow was Vernon Howell. He did more of the things associated with the secular world. He ate greasy foods, drank beer and rode around on motorcycles.”
Martin’s reaction could be explained by the Davidians’ belief that Howell and those who died at Mount Carmel will return in several years and slay the unbelievers.
In talks with CPS officials, Martin showed that Branch Davidians may be learning how to work within the system.
“Her approach was that she’ll see all her family on the day of resurrection,” Guardiola said. “But she modified it from waiting on the resurrection of David Koresh to how it is in the Bible.”
To get custody of a child, the parent will have to demonstrate an ability to protect the child, maintain a household and “demonstrate they can work within the expectations of the court,” Guardiola said.
“It is not our intent to judge their religious beliefs or values,” he said. “But in looking at social norms, we have to decide, ‘Are they with us or not?’ If they are on a philosophy at odds with social norms, it will be a concern for us.”
In addition to Schroeder’s transfer to Hays County Jail, Jaime Castillo, 25, and Livingstone Fagan, 33, were sent Wednesday to the Coryell County Jail in Gatesville, a spokesman for the U.S. Marshals Service said. Castillo is charged with conspiracy to murder a federal agent. Fagan, a Jamaican citizen, is being held as a material witness.
Their transfer was prompted by a complaint filed by the lawyer for another Davidian, 29-year-old British citizen Renos Avraam. He complained conditions were intolerably crowded in McLennan County’s jail.