The death of cult leader Vernon Howell and the fiery end of the Branch Davidians seem to have been eerily prophesied in the margins of a former cult member’s Bible.
Robyn Bunds, a cult member until 1990, had taken special note of Amos 8:9.
And it shall come to pass in that day, saith the Lord God, that I will cause the sun to go down at noon, and I will darken the earth in the clear day.
Next to the words at noon, Bunds wrote three words: Death of Cyrus.
Howell, though he considered himself the Sinful Messiah, also at times called himself Cyrus, the destroyer of the Babylonians or the unbelievers. Along with more than 70 other Branch Davidians, Howell apparently did shortly after noon on April 19, when a fire swept through Mount Carmel.
An employee of the Christian Research Institute, an anti-cult organization, found Bunds’ prescient note while studying her Bible on April 19. He borrowed it through a friendship with her brother, David.
Richard Abanes read it after watching the Branch Davidians burn up inside Mount Carmel, their compound 10 miles east of Waco.
“I watched it that day,” he said, in a phone interview from Irvine, Calif. “I had to find a reason why.”
Abanes found numerous references to fire in Bunds’ Bible. Many were in Old Testament verses that parallel those found in Revelation, which many Christians believe predicts events that will occur when the world ends.
“They all point to fire, their being consumed by fire,” Abanes said.
The first chapter of Amos, for example, refers to fire. The setting of the reference intrigued Abanes.
It comes after a passage that says, “. . . and the top of Carmel shall wither,” and a passage that Abanes believes Howell may have interpreted to mean tanks, “. . . because they have threshed Gilead with threshing instruments of iron.”
Early on April 19, tanks pierced the walls of Mount Carmel and set off tear gas canisters.
Like former cult member Marc Breault, Abanes believes Howell was waiting for the Sixth Seal spoken of in Revelation to occur, when “. . . there was a great earthquake; and the sun became black as sackcloth of hair, and the moon became as blood.
When the Sixth Seal failed to open, Howell may have become desperate, using the government’s action on April 19 to key his version of Apocalypse, Abanes believes. Robyn Bunds noted another reference to fire in her Bible, Nahum 1:6: His fury is poured out like fire, and the rocks are thrown down by him.
Next to the verse, Bunds wrote, “The Sixth Seal.”
Instead of, the Sixth Seal, though, Howell apparently unloosed a blood-red fire that sent angry black smoke running over the compound.
Only nine Branch Davidians escaped.
“It may be some of the inner-circle that set the fire, but not for the purpose of suicide or anything like that,” Abanes said. “But, for lack of a better expression, to help it out a little.”
Abanes said he found verses marked throughout Bunds’ Bible that perhaps explain the events of April 19. They will be detailed in a book, Prophets of the Apocalypse: The story of David Koresh and other American Messiahs, that he is writing with three other men.
It should hit bookstores in June, Abanes said.
Could authorities have benefited from a peek inside Robyn Bunds’ Bible? FBI Special Agent Richard Schwein of El Paso, who was in Waco during the 51-day standoff with the Branch Davidians, doesn’t think so.
“I think that goes beyond the pale quite candidly,” Schwein said. “He was 33, Christ was 33. People said that early on. I think that’s about the only biblical parallel you’ll find.”
Breault, though, thinks former cult members knowledgeable of Howell’s teachings would have given authorities an insight that theologians, despite their learning, could not.
But almost no one listened.
“We told them that they would kill themselves,” Breault said.
“They ended up thinking he would not go through with it.”
It was Howell and not Scripture, though, that led Breault to speculate about suicide.
“I knew he didn’t want to go to prison,” Breault said. “That’s the last thing he wanted to do. If you’re a child molester, prison isn’t too much fun. That’s what he was afraid of.”
But Breault did clue authorities into a Biblical reference suggesting that Howell did not intend to send any more people out of Mount Carmel.
“We told them that fire was a possibility,” he said. “The only reason I didn’t think he would do it was that I didn’t think Vernon would want to burn to death.”
Schwein said the nature of the Bible prevented authorities from relying too heavily on it in predicting Howell’s actions.
“My grandmother taught me a long time ago that you can find anything you want to find in the Bible,” he said.
For Abanes, the notes in Robyn Bunds’ Bible offer insight into Howell’s thinking during his last few hours.
But it was Howell, bit God, who intervened to mesh events and Scripture, Abanes said.
“You cannot know that something is going to happen at noon, but you can certainly orchestrate events,” he said.