As more than 100 federal agents stormed Mount Carmel Sunday morning, the children lay cowering under their beds.
Karen Eells, regional director of the state Children’s Protective Services division, said 18 children had been removed from the bullet-riddled structure by midday Tuesday. Case workers, who have been standing by around the clock at the rural site 10 miles east of Waco, have been told there could be as many as 20 other children inside the compound.
Despite the terrifying experience of the raid, with its hundreds of rounds of high-powered automatic and semi-automatic gunfire, case workers and therapists report that the children are doing surprisingly well, Eells said.
“We had therapists with them trying to determine their emotional stability,” Eells said. “They have reported to us that, under the circumstances, these kids are in pretty good shape emotionally.”
After ongoing negotiations between authorities and Howell, which included radio broadcasts of some of Howell’s religious messages, the children gradually have been freed.
However, the children told CPS workers that they did not see a 2-year-old child die in the compound, as Howell has reported.
Eells said case workers did not ask the children, who ranged in ages from an infant to 11, about other casualties.
“These kids have experienced enough trauma in the past 48 hours. We are not going to be invasive right now. We are just trying to find safe places right now for them and assure them that they are going to be safe. We are not asking a lot of questions right now. That will come with time.”
Tuesday was one girl’s 11th birthday.
“Some birthday present, huh?” an official said Tuesday.
McLennan County prosecutors filed 10 more emergency petitions on Tuesday seeking temporary managing conservatorship of the children. The petitions, coupled with three filed Monday, cover 16 of the children. Judge Bill Logue has scheduled a hearing Tuesday to consider placement and conservatorship, Eells said.
Court hearings will be held for each group of siblings. Some of the children carried notes identifying them and giving names of grandparents and other relatives, she said.
She said court proceedings eventually would determine whether parental rights are terminated, whether the children are placed with relatives or made available for adoption. Those orders can be reviewed every six months.
She said none of the children has asked to be reunited with parents still inside the compound.
“They know where their parents are, they know they are still inside,” she said. “They are being appropriate about their concern, but there is not a whole lot we can say about that because we don’t know what is going to happen.”
Eells said the children first were being taken to an undisclosed central receiving station. Counselors talked with the children and they received medical examinations. There was no evidence of physical injuries, she said. “Physically they’re in good shape,” she said.
Six of the children already have been placed in foster care, she said, either with foster parents or in Waco-based group homes.
The raid and standoff has forced child protection workers to seek volunteers from the 30-county CPS region to come to Waco and work the regular caseload of local DPS workers assigned to Mount Carmel, Eells said.
“We are used to seeing abuse and neglect, but we are not used to being involved with this level of violence and with this many children being taken in at one time,” she said.
“It is taking its toll on everyone, and us as well.”