TULSA, Okla. — Vernon Howell told cult followers to torch his compound, then screamed, “Don’t light it up!” when he realized agents were retreating, the FBI’s spokesman during the standoff said Wednesday.
Special Agent Bob Ricks, speaking to a Tulsa civic group, said that Howell had planned to burn federal agents in the compound fire that killed as many as 80 people.
“What we think was in his mind was that he expected us to come in and mount a frontal tactical assault against the compound.
“Once we were inside, he would light it up and burn us up with his own people,” Ricks said.
He said Howell, also known as David Koresh, believed the tear gas fired into the compound was the start of another raid.
“They thought we were coming in,” Ricks said. “When agents retreated, Howell screamed: “Don’t light it up,” but it was too late, he said.
Ricks did not detail how the FBI knows what went on inside the compound in the final moments, saying only that the information was based on “the intelligence.”
Four agents of the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms were killed in the Feb. 28 raid. The siege, which lasted 51 days, ended April 19 when the FBI used armored vehicles to punch holes in the cult’s wooden headquarters and lob tear gas inside.
Ricks declined to answer questions about the internal Treasury Department probe of the standoff. He said he was limited in what he could say because of the upcoming trial of surviving cult members.