The Cult Awareness Network announced Tuesday that it is setting up a hot line to help cult members coming out of Mount Carmel.

“We have an obligation to do whatever we can to help those who have been affected by this cult in Waco,” said Cult Awareness Executive Director Cynthia Kisser.

Cult Awareness will provide cult members and their families access to lawyers and mental health professionals at no cost, Kisser said.

“We talked to professionals who have an ongoing relationship with this organization, and they’ve agreed, if needed, to talk to these people,” she said.

“They don’t want them as clients because they’re not trying to make money off this. But if the victims of this cult need advice or want to talk to someone to see if they need counseling, they can offer guidance.”

The hot line number is (708) 382-9128.

Literature on cults also is available at no charge.

Families biggest help

“Frankly, families and friends can have the most impact on cult members,” Kisser said. “If they can get educated on mind control, they have the most influence as far as getting cult members to do the things that are good for them.”

Branch Davidians have been holed up at Mount Carmel, 10 miles east of Waco, since Feb. 28, when a shoot-out resulted in the death of at least two cult members and four agents with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms.

Kisser said Cult Awareness has a file on the Branch Davidians and does view the group as a cult.

Branch Davidians consider their leader, Vernon Howell, also known as David Koresh, to be Christ.

Cult Awareness was formed in 1978 – the same year more than 900 people belonging to a cult led by the Rev. Jim Jones died in Guyana. The victims that Nov. 18 took cyanide or were murdered.

Patricia Ryan’s father, U.S. Rep. Leo Ryan, was among the victims. He was assassinated by a follower of Jones shortly after he left Jonestown.

Ryan is now president of Cult Awareness.

“After Jonestown, neither my family nor the hundreds of others whose lives were forever marked by that violent turn of events knew where to find information and support,” Ryan said. “I know firsthand how alone and confused many of Koresh’s victims must feel right now, both the followers and their families.”

Although time itself can be a healer, many people coming out of a cult need counseling, Kisser said.

Falling back on cult

“If they don’t get help, they will often seek each other out and try to rebuild the group, or they’ll latch onto a group equally as manipulative,” she said.

“Without counseling, they don’t understand their needs, their attraction to such groups,” she continued. “They don’t know they’re operating on programming the cult leader left behind or operating based on what they think he would want them to do. Not because they want. It’s because they think they have to stay in God’s grace. They’re still prisoners of a manipulative lifestyle.”

Kisser said Cult Awareness is particularly concerned about the children coming out of the Branch Davidian compound. Some social workers have reported that they seem to be doing well, although cult members complained when they saw a video of the children eating candy bars bouncing on furniture.

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.