As the hours dragged on Thursday, hope that three Branch Davidian cult members would leave the besieged compound seemed as bleak as the weather.
Three men whom authorities believe want to leave the compound had not come out by 7 p.m. It marked yet another dashed hope and broken promise in authorities’ dealings with the cult.
Vernon Howell, also known as David Koresh, has often reneged on his promises to authorities since the Feb. 28 raid and subsequent standoff with authorities that is in its 13th day. Four agents and at least two cult members died.
Among his unkept promises, Howell said March 2 he and his followers would give up after the broadcast of almost an hour-long sermon on his views.
FBI spokesman Dick Swensen said at a Thursday press conference that authorities last spoke with Steve Schneider, Howell’s right-hand man, at 1 a.m. Thursday. During their talks, Schneider said three men wanted to leave the compound and that Howell had approved the plan.
Swensen said that negotiators dealing with Howell are optimistic, but he added, “I think it will be a backward step if they do not come out.”
Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms spokesman Dan Conroy indicated Thursday morning that a release was iffy.
The reason the three men want to come out is not known, authorities said.
“They haven’t said to us,” as to why the three want to leave, said Swensen.
Two women and 21 children left last week. The last was a young girl last Friday. Forty-three men, 47 women and 17 children are still believed to be in the compound, authorities said.
Howell is still suffering from a severe headache, and Schneider is continuing his role as Howell’s negotiator, authorities said, adding that they have not spoken to Howell since 5 p.m. Thursday.
Schneider has not divulged the identities of others who are said to be dead in the compound.
Swensen said the idea of cult members surrendering peacefully “has been discussed every day.”
Authorities said they have now talked to and identified about 50 people in the compound. The weather, which turned cold and rainy Thursday, was not expected to be a factor in negotiations with the cult, authorities said.
However, they added that conditions inside the compound were probably “uncomfortable” because of the weather.
Conroy also said that cult member Paul G. Fatta, 35, is now wanted by the ATF and Texas Rangers. He is charged with conspiracy to manufacture and possess unregistered machine guns. Authorities urged anyone with information to contact the Texas Rangers or ATF.
Meanwhile, Waco area mayors said before the regular press conference that they hope people can separate the ongoing tragedy from the traditional view of the Central Texas area and realize bad things can happen anywhere.