A McLennan County District Attorney’s office prosecutor said Thursday that her office began to look into child abuse allegations involving the cult as recently as a week before federal authorities raided the Branch Davidian compound.
“We were made aware of specific allegations of child abuse as recently as two weeks before the raid and as recently as one week before the raid we had begun a preliminary inquiry into the allegations and conducted interviews,” said prosecutor Beth Toben.
Toben said the district attorney’s office would “want to see how it would all end” when asked if the office would continue its investigation.
“If we can protect society without involving children, we would probably pursue that route first,” she said.
Toben said it would not be appropriate now to say who was interviewed. She said, to her knowledge, the district attorney’s office was not made aware of sexual abuse allegations made months before by the father of a girl who got out of the cult.
The Tribune-Herald reported in its series “The Sinful Messiah,” which began before the raid, that Children’s Protective Services knew of affidavits detailing sexual and physical abuse. Bob Boyd, director of the agency, said last fall that he had known of the affidavits for some time. The series also reported how [David] Jewell said he called the agency last summer to discuss filing a statutory rape charge against Howell over his daughter, Kiri, who is now 12.
Jewell told the Tribune-Herald that the agency did not think law enforcement officials would pursue the case, and it would be difficult to find people to corroborate the allegation.
Jewell said the agency did ask for the names of girls who might still be in danger of sexual molestation at Mount Carmel. He said he gave them two names after talking to his daughter.
Boyd defended his agency in the article. He said his organization deals only in civil matters and cannot remove children based on past reports of abuse. Before acting, the agency must find evidence that a child’s physical health or safety is in immediate danger.
Boyd said Thursday that the agency is dealing with immediate concerns about the children, including finding them a proper home and getting them counselling.
Any other issues, such as possible child abuse, will be dealt with after the children’s initial needs are met, he said.
“As time goes on, we’ll certainly be exploring any possibility of abuse or neglect,” he said.
Boyd does not believe any of the 21 children released so far from the compound are above 12 years old. The oldest boy is believed to be 12 and the oldest girl is believed to be 11, he said.
Boyd said he could not comment on any individual case or possible investigation.
He said the children are together in a group home setting in the Central Texas area. Three children have been placed with their father so far. Others are waiting on court action, he said.
“Well, it just depends on what happens in just a couple of weeks,” he said. “With court approval, a lot of these kids will probably be going to relatives.”
Those who don’t go with relatives will be placed in foster homes, he said, adding it could quickly fill the agency’s foster parent list, and more volunteers are needed.
“I feel confident that we can place each one of the children in a foster home if it came to that – but, yes, it will probably fill up every home that we have.”
Boyd said the children’s general condition and mood are good. “I think we’re seeing the same thing from these kids as any child that’s taken away from their own home. These kids are the same. They have the same fears and worries about their parents. They’re coping very well.”
But in a telephone interview on Thursday from Miles, Mich., Jewell questioned how well they are coping, calling their behavior a “performance.”
“Kiri was able to switch gears when she went back and forth between my ex-wife and myself,” said Jewell. “She would be totally comfortable here, but about 48 hours before she was to return to her mother, Kiri would slip back into the Vernonite mindset – become withdrawn, dress differently, not wearing shorts or anything sleeveless.
“I don’t know if it sounds right, but she was inappropriately modest for a child. Children that age are asexual. They’re just kids. That was not the case with Kiri.”