HOUSTON — Tape-recorded conversations between Vernon Howell and federal agents, published Tuesday, reinforce the portrait of a moody man who teetered between manic awareness to dogmatic tirades.
He informed officials in the first tense hours after the Feb. 28 gunbattle with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms that the raid was unnecessary to deliver a search warrant.
“It would’ve been better if you just called me up or talked to me,” Howell told ATF negotiator Jim Cavanaugh in a telephone conversation.
“Then you all could have come in and done your work,” Howell said.
The Houston Chronicle, in a copyright story Tuesday, published transcripts of tape recordings of dozens of cellular telephone conversations and police radio transmissions between the Branch Davidian leader and authorities.
At times Howell showed he was keenly aware of the situation developing around him.
“If the president wants to give me a call, man, this a worldwide event,” Howell said. “You know, I just tried saving people.”
Other times, Howell, who claimed to be the son of God, talked repeatedly about the importance of the seven seals mentioned in the Bible’s book of Revelations.
He became moody and dogmatic at times, choosing to ignore the pressing issue of survival and lecturing Cavanaugh on the Bible.
“I came down to your level. I came down to live your life and I’m . . . I don’t blame anybody for anything,” Howell said. “But you cannot believe me, because you do not know God’s word. You do not understand the seals.”
Four ATF agents and several members of Howell’s cult were killed and many others, including 15 ATF agents, were wounded in the shootout that erupted when the agents attempted to serve a search warrant on the Branch Davidian compound outside Waco.
Howell chided federal authorities for using force and indicated that he would not have resisted had ATF agents given him a chance, according to recordings of negotiations obtained by the Chronicle.
Most of Howell’s comments are contained in one eight-minute segment of the recordings.
In addition to negotiations between Howell and federal authorities, the recordings contain nearly 90 minutes of conversations involving federal, state and local law enforcement officers, various telephone news interviews with Howell and numerous private conversations.
Many of the conversations involved officers and individuals not connected with the ATF action.
Cavanaugh, in a conciliatory tone, offers on several occasions to send a medical supplies to Howell and his followers.
“I’ll have them drop a medical kid out of the helicopter for you if you need it,” Cavanaugh said at one point.
Howell refused the offers and said there were “lots of medical supplies” and “three registered nurses” inside the compound.