An FBI spokesman said Tuesday that the Branch Davidians’ observance of Passover may not end until April 14.
At the same press conference, a spokesman for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms reacted angrily to a Tribune-Herald story that a Waco businessman accompanied agents flying aboard one of the three helicopters used in the Feb. 28 raid on Mount Carmel, 10 miles east of Waco.
FBI Special Agent Richard Swensen told reporters that Steve Schneider, a confidant of cult leader Vernon Howell, reports that Passover observances for the cult will probably begin at sundown today and last eight days.
“We’re hopeful that it ends on the 14th,” Swensen said. “This is just another date in a long series . . . I’m just nervous that they’ll start bringing up Christmas.”
Swensen was not in a joking mood, though, when pressed by reporters on how the FBI will respond if the Branch Davidians don’t come out after Passover.
Howell and his followers have been surrounded by hundreds of law enforcement officers since four ATF agents were killed trying to serve an arrest warrant to Howell for possession of automatic weapons.
At least two Branch Davidians were also killed in the raid.
“Clearly, we’re not going to go forever,” Swensen said. “We’ve said all along that this will end. It will end here. They are going to come out. Period. Whether or not it’s the day after or the day before Passover . . . I really don’t want to pin themselves down. But the entire thrust of this from the beginning is to get everyone out without any bloodshed.”
ATF Division Chief David Troy was visibly upset by questioning on the Tribune-Herald’s report that Waco businessman Dick Wales, a reserve deputy with the sheriff’s department, was aboard one of the three observation helicopters shot at during the raid.
“Probably the only thing missing from the article that I could suggest to you might have been put in there was that Elvis was flying the helicopter and they might have seen Big Foot as they crossed over the compound,” Troy said.
“That article was a joke. That person on the helicopter was a McLennan County reserve deputy sheriff who is a helicopter pilot, who was on the helicopter as a representative of the McLennan County Sheriff’s Department, on official business.”
Troy said Wales was not on a “joy ride.”
Reporters, however, pressed Troy as to why a local reserve deputy was involved in a top-secret federal raid.
“The fact that he was a reserve deputy doesn’t diminish his trustworthiness or his ability to act as a representative of the sheriff’s department,” Troy said.
He said ATF had problems verifying that Wales flew with its agents because the Tribune-Herald had asked if a civilian was aboard one of the helicopters.
However, the story quoted ATF spokesman Jerry Singer as saying he initially could not find Wales’ name on any of the helicopters’ passenger lists.
Singer later called the newspaper and verified Wales’ presence.
Meanwhile, a 40-year-old California man who recently left the compound remained in the McLennan County Jail Tuesday night. In a telephone interview, Jesse Amen told the Associated Press that Howell “sent me out to spread the word.”
“He’s trying to let people know that the games are over,” said Amen, who is being held on state and federal charges.
In court action, cult members Norman Allison and Bob Kendrick, captured after a second gun battle with ATF agents on Feb. 28, were indicted Tuesday on a charge of attempting to kill a federal agent. The two are at McLennan County Jail.
Also Tuesday, a spokesman for U.S. Rep. Chet Edwards’ Washington office announced that the U.S. Department of Justice had granted the state $625,312 to pay the salaries of officers with the Texas Department of Public Safety who are assisting federal officials during the siege.