The story of the children of Mount Carmel is really the story of children who never had a chance.
Children bound by their parents’ choices.
Kiri Jewell, 12, knows that better than anyone. She very easily could have been one of the young victims that authorities are digging through charred rubble 10 miles east of Waco to find.
Her mother, Sherri, is believed to be one of the Branch Davidians who died April 19 when a horrendous fire swept through the cult’s compound.
But it is the children of Mount Carmel that Kiri most wants to remember.
“I want to do something so the kids don’t get forgotten,” Kiri said in a telephone interview from Niles, Mich. “Because they were people. It wasn’t their fault. I hope they have a lasting memory somewhere.”
Kiri would like to see a memorial honoring the children of Mount Carmel.
Authorities believe at least 17 children died in the fire.
“I think she has a very pragmatic view the adults could make their own choices,” said Lois Jewell, Kiri’s aunt. “She feels her mother made her own choice. She believes she was mentally ill, but she made her own choice. The kids did not make their own choices.”
Kiri also would like to see a fund established to help the 21 children cult leader Vernon Howell allowed to leave Mount Carmel.
“They need counseling,” Kiri said. “They probably need deprogramming, most of them. I hope they can finish school, go to college. Just like a normal kid.”
Lois Jewell — along with Kiri’s father, David, and stepmother, Heather—are trying to help Kiri remember the children of Mount Carmel.
“They have always been a great concern of hers,” Jewell said. “She said to us before all this, ‘I had a family who could get me out. What’s going to happen to all those other children?’”
Kiri was in the cult until 1992. Her father, a disc jockey, sued for custody of Kiri after getting a phone call from a former cult member, Marc Breault, who told Jewell that Howell had targeted his daughter, then 10, as a so-called “wife.”
Judge Ronald Taylor ordered Kiri kept away from Howell, and Sherri Jewell returned to Mount Carmel, never to see her daughter again.
Preparing to die
Sherri Jewell had prepared Kiri to die for years, her aunt said.
“Her mother prepared her for years for this event,” Lois Jewell said. “What was taught to her was that this was going to happen. You’ve heard reports of the small children talking to the FBI on the phone. They asked, ‘Are you going to come kill me?’ Kiri was taught this from early on.”
But Kiri survived. Her dream is that the children who didn’t are not forgotten
Dreams are precious to Kiri and her family. That’s because for so many years, Kiri wasn’t allowed to dream, having one of the most endearing parts of childhood stolen by the cult’s unrelenting focus on the coming apocalypse.
Children were taught there was no need for dreaming, Kiri said.
“Why dream?” she asked. “They were going to heaven. They really couldn’t be anything there.”
A dream come true
To help Kiri’s dream come true, her family is asking the public to submit their ideas for a memorial to the children of Mount Carmel.
If you wish to contribute, write the law firm of McFadden and McFadden, 220 S. Taylor St., South Bend, Ind. 46691.
Lois Jewell would like to see a “living” memorial created.
“There’s no point in having a monument to the dead,” she said. “If people can’t learn something from it or be reminded of something they have learned, then I don’t think it has a point.
“I would like to remind people to think for themselves, to not let someone else take over their thought processes. The problem is that parents who make wrong choices for themselves also make wrong choices for their children. You have to make choices that give your children options. When you take away all their options, they have nothing. That’s what we want to say.”
Kiri just wants to remember her friends who didn’t have to die.
“They deserve something of their own,” she said.