Vernon Howell was waiting for a message from God.

Instead, he got a message from a 40-year-old drifter named Jesse Amen.

On March 26, Amen sneaked past authorities into the Mount Carmel compound, which was destroyed by flames April 19.

Louis Anthony Alaniz of Houston also slipped into the compound March 24 and left April 17.

Released last week from jail, Amen is now living in a Waco apartment complex. He believes Howell is Christ and is still alive.

Amen, who describes himself as a Christian and Seventh-day Adventist, declined to tell how he slipped past authorities to deliver a message to the Davidians, saying only it was “by the hand of God.”

Amen said he approached a door of the compound, which was opened by Steve Schneider, Howell’s chief lieutenant. “I said, ‘I’m here in the name of Jesus Christ,’” Amen said. “I was pretty excited. I was there in support of the cause in truth and in spirit.” After relaying that message to Schneider, Amen said, he was allowed entrance.

Howell, also known as David Koresh, greeted him several minutes later, he said.

Amen said Howell held prayer meetings about twice a day and meals were served in the compound’s cafeteria. He said the adults took turns as sentinels as the 51-day siege dragged on.

He remembered the children as sitting on the floor drawing pictures with crayons and denied ever saying there were guns lying around the children.

After coming out April 4, Amen was arrested and charged with interfering with the duty of a police officer. He was released from McLennan County Jail April 20 on a $2,000 bond.

Reportedly from California, Amen said he was living in Arizona before he began hitching rides and riding buses to get to Waco. He said he wants to help surviving Branch Davidians.

“My emphasis is to do everything I can for the survivors.”

Thursday, Amen and a friend visited the Tribune-Herald office to place an ad in Sunday’s newspaper. Amen said the $1,200 ad was paid for by contributions from various Seventh-day Adventists, including John Ellis, pastor of a one-man Seventh-day Adventist Church in Plantersville, Ala.

Ellis, who has placed two or three other ads in the paper already, said he paid for most of them. A check made out to the paper is in his name.

The lengthy ad defends Howell’s constitutional right to bear arms and describes a branch of the Seventh-day Adventists.

Now staying with a friend in Waco, Amen said, he believes Howell is still alive and escaped the compound. Asked how he thought Howell go out, Amen had a quick response.

“How did I get in?” he reasoned, shrugging his shoulders.

Read the Tribune-Herald's 7-part investigative series on the inner workings of the Branch Davidians. Hours after Part 2 appeared in print, the ATF raided the group's compound.

Read the Tribune-Herald’s account of the ATF raid on the Branch Davidian compound on Feb. 28, 1993. Four ATF agents and six in the compound were killed in the gunfight.

Read the daily news accounts of the 51-day siege at the Branch Davidian compound near Elk, which began Feb. 28 and lasted until April.

April 19 and beyond: FBI agents began inserting canisters of tear gas into the Branch Davidian compound in the early morning hours. By noon, it was on fire.

Federal officials left the compound site in late May 1993. As identifications of bodies continued, questions about the survivors, the compound and the cult itself began to emerge.

As the world began to take a critical look back at the events and legal proceedings continue, the ATF's bombshell report forces a shakeup at the top after the raid gone "tragically wrong."

In 1994, the surviving Davidians went on trial in San Antonio. Over six weeks, more than 140 witnesses testified, with the verdict coming just two days prior to the anniversary of the ATF raid.

The Rodenville shootout and the 1988 trial, the end of the world in 1959 and more stories from deep in the Trib archives.