At least a dozen Branch Davidians pulled from the burned out rubble of their compound had been shot, 10 of them in the head, the lead medical examiner says.
The mounting number of bullet wounds further muddles the already murky question of what happened April 19 when the cult’s wooden home quickly burned down.
Authorities said Thursday they won’t make any final rulings until all medical reports and other investigations are finished.
Tarrant County Medical Examiner Dr. Nizam Peerwani, who’s examined 41 of the 72 bodies, said he has found gunshot wounds to the heads of 10 people — including cult leader Vernon Howell — and discovered two others shot in the torso.
Although many of the head wounds would appear to have been fatal — especially Howell’s between the eyes — authorities insist all findings are preliminary until the investigations are complete.
“It’s going to be very, very difficult for us to find the manner of death — suicide, homicide, accidental, natural or even the biggie, unknown,” said David Pareya, a McLennan County justice of the peace who will rule on cause of death.
“There’s a lot of questions that we have to look at before we can say, in fact, that (bullets) was one of the contributing factors — i.e. the trajectory of the bullet, the entrance and exit wounds, retrieval of the bullet, if possible,” he said.
“There’s a lot involved.”
Peerwani’s examinations will determine the location of the bullet wounds and whether the victims were shot before the fire.
However, his work cannot show who pulled the trigger.
That task is up to investigators, who now face the additional responsibility of trying to decide whether the victims were murdered or committed suicide.
In other developments:
On Thursday, U.S. District Judge Walter Smith established the first trial date for a cult member, planning a July 6 jury trial for Paul Fatta.
Fatta, 35, is charged with conspiracy to manufacture and possess unregistered machine guns. He was at an Austin gun show on Feb. 28 and turned himself in to authorities late last month.