FBI negotiators are unimpressed by the news that cult leader Vernon Howell may have finally heard his message from God and may be getting ready to lead his Branch Davidian followers out of the Mount Carmel compound.

“The only time we were fairly optimistic was March 2,” FBI spokesman Dick Swensen told reporters Thursday. “Once we saw what happened then I don’t think we have been overly optimistic. The best we’ve been since then is hopeful, and we’re not much more hopeful about this.”

Swensen was referring to the first time Howell, also known as David Koresh, promised to lead his followers out of the compound — three days after the failed Feb. 28 raid that left four agents dead. Six cult members also were reported killed.

The surrender was supposed to happen after a radio station aired a 58-minute sermon of Howell’s on the meaning of the Seven Seals in the Book of Revelation.

After the tape was played, Howell suddenly told negotiators that he had been told by God to wait.

“We thought all along that something would come up toward the end of negotiations with the attorneys, that they would put a carrot out there or a time limit,” Swensen said.

Swensen also released the warning Howell made about Lake Waco in his April 9 letter — the prediction that unless Waco heeded his message, terrible things would happen.

“Learn from David my seals, or, as you have said, bear the consequences,” Howell said in that letter. I forewarn you that the Lake Waco area of Old Mount Carmel will be terribly shaken. The waters of the lake will be emptied through the broken damm (sic). The heavens are calling you to judgement (sic).”

The Waco area is laced with faults from the Balcones Fault system. However, experts say the Balcones area has long lain dormant, with the most recent likely activity millions of years ago.

Helicopter activity was reported near Lake Waco Wednesday night, but it was not in response to any problems with the dam.

Two fishermen became trapped on the lake and had to pull into a cove across the lake from Speegleville Park, Assistant Fire Chief David Walsleben said.

The Waco Fire Department used a rescue boat to look for the men, he said, and at least one helicopter was also involved in the search, which began around 11:30 p.m.

Attorneys for Howell and Steve Schneider, Howell’s top lieutenant, remained optimistic Thursday that their clients will indeed come out upon completion of Howell’s study of the seals.

Houston attorney Jack Zimmermann said he understands the FBI’s frustration at what they see as another delay in the cult’s exit from Mount Carmel.

“But he’s never told us anything that he’s backed off of,” said Zimmermann.

Zimmerman maintains that he and attorney Dick DeGuerin, who represents Howell, never promised that the Branch Davidians would turn themselves over to authorities after Passover.

They merely stressed the importance of Passover to the Branch Davidians, Zimmerman said. Nothing was likely to happen then.

“I don’t know how the prediction they were coming out after Passover got glommed onto it,” he said.

The attorneys were given no idea when Howell will finish his manuscript supposedly unlocking the Seven Seals, Zimmermann said.

“Before we left, we asked one last time, ‘When are you coming out?’” Zimmermann said. “He said they were coming out when the decoding of the Seven Seals was complete.”

Meanwhile, tax time — April 15 — waits for no man or woman, including agents and reporters who have laid siege to the compound.

“Those of us who have been out here — I’ve been here since the 28th — most of us have been working rapidly and feverishly trying to fill out those extension forms,” Swensen said.

He also said he didn’t know the tax-filing history of Koresh or his followers, but said that “I’m sure that’s something the U.S. attorney will be looking at when all of this is over.”

Also Thursday, the U.S. Department of Justice approved $625,312 to help pay overtime for Texas Department of Public Safety troopers and McLennan County Sheriff’s Department deputies involved in the standoff.

Tribune-Herald reporters Mark England and Douglas Doe contributed to this story.

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.