David Jewell finally got a chance to say thanks last week.
He didn’t have an opportunity a year ago when Marc Breault and his wife, Elizabeth Baranyai, traveled from Australia to St. Joseph, Mich., at their own expense, to testify that cult leader Vernon Howell had targeted Jewell’s daughter, Kiri, for his harem.
Judge Ronald Taylor ordered Jewell’s ex-wife, Sherri, to keep Kiri away from Howell also known as David Koresh.
“What Marc and Elizabeth did, putting themselves forward like that, helped get my daughter out of that cult,” David Jewell said. “Their visit was my first opportunity for a real face-to-face thank you. They were actually gone before the judge made his ruling.”
Breault and Baranyai returned to Michigan this week to visit Jewell, his wife, Heather, and Kiri, 12.
Sherri Jewell is at Mount Carmel, 10 miles east of Waco.
FBI negotiators report that she is holed up with more than 90 other Branch Davidians inside their compound, where they’ve been since Feb. 28 when four agents with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms were killed serving an arrest warrant for Howell.
David Jewell knows the role that Breault and his wife, Elizabeth, played in Kiri not being at Mount Carmel with her mother.
In late 1991, Breault called Jewell to warn him that Howell was grooming Kiri to become one of his wives. By this time, Howell was teaching that all the women in the world belonged to him – since as the self-proclaimed Lamb of God, he had the only righteous seed.
The bizarre story prompted Jewell to file for custody of Kiri.
Kiri, though, hasn’t yet acknowledged her close call, her father said.
“I don’t think she’s comfortable realizing what might have been,” Jewell said.
Once, Breault had been friends with Kiri and her mother.
“I always sort of looked after Kiri,” Breault said. “Although I liked Sherri, she was doing some things that I knew couldn’t be easy for Kiri. So I befriended her. That’s why I wanted to get her out.”
Sherri Jewell became one of Howell’s so-called “wives,” according to former cult members. They said she was also preparing her daughter to join her in the group of wives.
At the child custody hearing, Kiri avoided Brealt and Baranyai.
She didn’t see them as people trying to help her. They had left the cult. To Kiri, and to her mother, they were unbelievers.
“We were the arch enemies of the son of God,” Breault said. “There was a lot of fear of us on Kiri’s part.”
The first day of the reunion last week was tense. On the second day, Kiri began talking to Breault and his wife if they initiated the conversation. But a few days later David Jewell say something that told him the ice had thawed between former cult members.
“Marc went out in the backyard to have a snowball fight with the kids,” Jewell said.
“Kiri proceeded him. She had to pass directly in front of him to get to the door. When she did, she tweaked his belly. I just caught it out of the corner of my eye. It told me everything was going to be OK. It spoke volumes, without Kiri having to use any words.”
Breault and Baranyai ended their visit Sunday night.
“The last time we were here, everyone was worried about getting Kiri out of the cult,” Breault said. “Now she’s out and doing well. She’s definitely happy living with her father. It’s a good feeling for both Elizabeth and I, knowing that we helped give her a chance at a normal life.”
David Jewell thanked Marc Breault and Elizabeth Baranyai as they left for rescuing his daughter. He thanked them for Kiri being home getting into snowball fights rather than trapped inside a compound surrounded by hundreds of law enforcement officers.
“Marc and Elizabeth, they’re the heroes in all this,” Jewell said. “And they know that. Now.”