McLennan County commissioners Monday were told to put to rest some of the dozens of Branch Davidians killed in the fire that felled the Mount Carmel compound on April 19.
Darrell Thompson, chief medical investigator for the Tarrant County Medical Examiner’s office, told commissioners at their meeting that something must be done with the remains of an estimated 67 cult members still in storage at his facility. They were taken there for autopsies and identification after the fire.
More than a dozen bodies, including that of cult leader Vernon Howell, have been released to next of kin for private burial.
Thompson said the county is going to have to start making arrangements for final disposition of the bodies because the medical examiner’s office needs its space back.
“If we had another disaster occur, we still would be full of bodies from Mount Carmel,” Thompson said. “We’re just asking that whenever possible those bodies be removed from our facility.”
McLennan County Judge Jim Lewis said he understand the medical examiner’s plight.
But he also said the county needs written notification from the medical examiner’s office that it has done all it can to identify the bodies before unidentified Davidians can be buried.
“Basically, what they were telling us was that they need their facility back,” Lewis said. “What we’ve done is ask them to put it in a letter, put it in writing, that they’ve done everything they can with the bodies. Then we will take it from there.”
Thompson said 40 of the estimated 82 bodies taken to the facility have been identified and that work on identifying the rest is an “ongoing process.”
That process will include DNA testing, where genetic material from the more badly charred and burned remains will be matched with living relatives.
It could take some time.
County Attorney Herb Bristow said unidentified Davidians, those whose families sign a pauper’s oath and those with no next of kin will be buried in the county’s cemetery in South Waco.
Mike Dixon, Bristow’s assistant, said unidentified cult members will be buried with reference to their medical examiner’s number, in case their remains are ever identified.
There will probably be plenty of unknown Branch Davidians buried, he said.
“It’s doubtful we would be able to wait the two or three or four months it would take to identify them through DNA testing,” Dixon said.
Reasons vary for why the bodies remain in Fort Worth.
Some families who lost more than one member are waiting for all of them to be identified, Dixon said. Other families are still completing arrangements with the county for pauper burials.
But some families simply have failed to claim the remains of their kin.
“The ones we’ve identified are ones we’re going to have to take a stand on pretty soon,” Dixon said. “It’s been more than two months since the fire, and Tarrant County’s been more than gracious with their facility. It’s getting to a time when they might decide not to be so gracious.”