Air Force Sgt. William Mabb learned about the Mount Carmel affair by reading a newspaper in Guam. He immediately thought of his three children, who had been living with their mother, Kathryn Schroeder, at the Branch Davidian compound here for two years.
With military backing, Mabb said Tuesday that Air Force officials sent him to Waco on a “mission” to take his kids back to South Dakota and try to restore their emotionally scarred lives.
“The children have been through a lot right now, and I just want to bring them back to a family that will love and need them,” Mabb said, choking back his emotions.
At a temporary custody hearing for the 21 children released from the compound, Mabb Tuesday accomplished what the other children’s relatives, some who traveled here from around the world, now must wait weeks or months for.
Armed with an emergency temporary custody order from the judge who granted his divorce eight years ago in Nebraska, Mabb was able to convince 19th State District Judge Bill Logue to give him and his second wife, Anne, temporary custody of his two sons and daughter.
Staff Sgt. Dennis Nolf, one of two sergeants who drove from South Dakota with Mabb, described Mabb as the “epitome of a father.”
“The reason that we have become such close friends is because we hold the same ideals and beliefs about marriage and family,” Nolf said.
Logue, a longtime family court judge, obviously was touched by Tuesday’s emotional four-hour hearing and appeared tempted on several other occasions to release the children to the grandparents, aunts, uncles and sisters who came Tuesday seeking custody of the children. The other children will remain in a group home until other orders.
“I was hurting up there. I guess you could tell that,” Logue said afterward.
Instead, he directed Children’s Protective Services workers to conduct “home studies” to determine if the relatives, or in some cases which relatives, should gain custody.
“Look, we don’t want to take the youngsters out of the frying pan and into the fire,” he said.
The judge ordered the agency to hurry.
“These folks I’ve been seeing today are good people,” the judge said. “Let’s not have any delay here,”
Winston Nobrega, whose estranged wife is still in the religious sect’s compound, was one of two people who came from London for the hearing. He said his daughter had lived in England until last April, when his wife spirited her away while he was on vacation.
“This is a young lady who had never seen a gun in her life. I just want to take her out of here.” Nobrega said of his 11-year-old daughter. He said he wanted to “take her back to the family and friends that she knows and not leave her in an environment where she has to think about the trauma she has been through.”
The 21 children, who range in age from 5 months to 12 years, were released in stages by the Branch Davidians in the first five days after the Feb. 28 shootout between cultists and the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms. Seventeen children are believed to remain in the compound, along with 90 adults.
In seeking temporary custody, the state has maintained that adults at the compound failed to make any effort to protect the children from gunfire.
“The children talk about bullets coming through the windows and people being injured,” said Joyce Sparks, a supervisor with Children’s Protective Services.
Gladys Williams, the aunt of two young children released from the compound, described how her sister, Evette Fagan, had behaved strangely the last time she had come home to London and had sold or given away her belongings. Both Fagan and her husband, Livingstone Fagan, are believed to be in the cult’s compound.
“Her husband’s got a lot to do with this, but I also know that Evette’s an adult, and she has her own beliefs,” Williams said. “The children are at stake now. They’re in a strange country with strange people. And I believe they should be with their family.
In the case of the Fagan children, as well as Nobrega’s daughter, the state is relying on the British government to conduct an evaluation of the most suitable custodian.
In other cases, involving relatives from Florida and Hawaii, agencies in those states will conduct the evaluations.
Three of the children involved in Tuesday’s hearing belonged to Waco attorney Wayne Martin, who sent notes out with his children designating his parents or an aunt as temporary managing conservators.
Logue, who said Martin is a competent attorney who has practiced in his court, expressed regrets about Martins’ involvement with the cult and the prolonged standoff.