Two of six Branch Davidians autopsied so far died of gunshot wounds to the head, Tarrant County chief medical examiner Dr. Nizam Peerwani told reporters Saturday.
Peerwani said the gunshot victims were a woman and a male of unknown age. He refused to say whether those wounds were self-inflicted.
Three others died of smoke inhalation and carbon monoxide poisoning, while the sixth’s cause of death is undetermined, pending results of a toxicology test. Peerwani said no identities have been established for the bodies.
Meanwhile, a snag developed in the possible identification of cult leader Vernon Howell’s body. Dentists had hoped to identify Howell, also known as David Koresh, through models of his teeth made following dental work done when he was 15.
At a Fort Worth news conference, forensic dental investigator Dr. Rodney Crow told reporters that he had been supplied impressions of Howell’s teeth from before the dental work, but that the orthodontist doing the work didn’t pick up the “after” model from the lab where it was made.
Crow said he still hopes to be able to make a positive identification on the body.
“We can still work with what we have,” Crow said. “I would like to have worked with the finished treatment—that would be a more positive thing to work with—but we still have a workable ID tool there.”
Meanwhile, at the site were Mount Carmel burned Monday, taking an estimated 86 Branch Davidians with it, slow but steady work on evidence and ammunition removal continued.
Although Department of Public Safety spokesman Mike Cox said Texas Rangers, along with lab technicians from the DPS and the FBI, have “hit their stride” in processing the crime scene, he warned against expecting a quick, neat wrap-up.
“There’s still a tremendous amount of debris out there,” Cox said. “I’ve heard people compare it to and say it’s worse than trying to piece together a major airline crash.”
McDonald said the Rangers are proceeding as if their findings will be subject to congressional scrutiny. They probably will. Congressional hearings are planned, both on the Feb. 28 raid that left four Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms agents dead and the fiery end of the 51-day standoff April 19.
Cox said the search for evidence is starting to focus on the cement bunker that formed the base of the watchtower. “It’s looking like a real key area in terms of evidence,” he said.
The bunker was strengthened and Cox said work Saturday focused on pulling the ammunition out of the block-like structure. Peerwani said Friday that cartridges heaped hip-deep in places inside the bunker.
Four bodies were visible Friday among the ammunition. They likely won’t be taken out until Sunday, Peerwani said.
Cox said the bodies included a mother evidently striving to protect her child from the flames. He also said there were weapons inside the bunker among the bodies.
Forensic experts took a break this weekend, partly to start work on the 44 bodies already recovered and partly to allow arson investigators freer rein.
“Onyx,” a black Labrador Retriever, was brought in from Pittsburgh to search for accelerants with her trained nose. John Kaus, the Allegheney County fire marshal who handled Onyx, said she specializes in locating where fires have been helped along with petroleum-based fuels.
Kaus said he could not comment on whether Onyx had found anything yet — a scenario likely to be repeated more and more as evidence is gathered at the site. Cox warned reporters that questions about evidence would not be answered, but that more and more of the Texas Rangers’ work will probably concern evidence.
State officials continued to bring reporters to within about 200 yards of the compound. The sight of the ruined building where officials fear 17 children perished had a profound effect on some.
Governor’s spokesman Chuck McDonald, on his last day of helping DPS with press duties, said he thought of watching the complex burn on television with his family and then trying to explain what happened to his 6-year-old son.
“I said . . . you know, Patrick, whatever happened, those children are in a better place and I believe that,” McDonald said, struggling to maintain his composure. “I think this tragedy has touched children all over the world because, you know, adults do crazy things, we all know that. But those children had no control over what happened to them. And it is truly a tragedy and I’m going home.”