McLennan County’s justices of the peace will ask commissioners Monday to build a refrigerated storage facility to house the bodies of unidentified Branch Davidians.
Justice of the Peace David Pareya said Saturday that the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology in Washington, D.C., has agreed to do DNA testing on the victims of an April 19 fire that destroyed Mount Carmel, the rambling compound that housed the cult.
Samples of DNA — deoxyribonucleic acid, or the genetic makeup of each individual — will be taken from the remaining 42 unidentified Branch Davidians and shipped to the AFIP.
Those samples will be matched against those taken from suspected relatives to determine the victim’s identity, Pareya said.
“They’re very positive about this,” he said. “They’re talking about a 100 percent success rate, provided we can get DNA samples from family members.”
So far, 40 cult members have been identified.
DNA testing could begin on remaining bodies this week. Pareya said the AFIP officials, though, want the bodies of unidentified Branch Davidians preserved, in case additional DNA samples are needed.
“They would prefer we not bury any of these individuals not identified,” he said. “If additional samples are needed, it’s better to have the bodies in storage. We have to be able to preserve the bodies for up to six to eight months, which is how long the testing is expected to take. Most of that time will be needed to find family members.”
Unfortunately, a space shortage at the Tarrant County Medical Examiner’s office makes it difficult for them to hold the bodies that long.
On Monday, the local justices of the peace will ask the McLennan County Commissioners Court to build a refrigerated storage facility adjacent to the medical examiner’s office in Fort Worth. The cost should be less than $10,000.
Federal authorities may pay some of the cost, Pareya said.
“The folks in Tarrant County have been very gracious,” he said. “But they’ve had bodies there decomposing. It’s a very difficult situation. We thought of interring the bodies, but the physicians have said if they have a problem with DNA samples, they’d like to have the bodies available where they could get additional samples. That means we have to do something to keep the bodies from deteriorating further.”
The FBI will handle shipping DNA samples from Fort Worth to Washington, D.C.
McLennan County’s local justices of the peace will be responsible for securing DNA samples from suspected relatives of the unidentified Branch Davidians — preferably a parent or sibling — and for dealing with the media.
Pareya knows he and the other justices of the peace have plenty of work ahead of them.
“Right when you think you see some daylight, there’s something more that has to be done,” he said.