Negotiations have rebounded after the profound disappointment of almost ending the standoff at the Mount Carmel compound Tuesday, the FBI’s Jeffrey Jamar told reporters Thursday.

Jamar said communications with Vernon Howell and his top lieutenants peaked when agents thought they had hammered out a deal for Howell to surrender after a 58-minute message was broadcast by a national religious radio network. He said they reached their low point after Howell, also known as David Koresh, broke that promise, citing a message from God to stay put for now.

Jamar said conversations are once again reaching the peak level.

“Negotiations are pretty constant now. I’d say – an absolute guess – (we’re talking) about three-quarters of the time,” Jamar said.

Members of the Branch Davidian sect were contacted first on Sunday morning, a short time after close to 100 machine-gun toting agents from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms failed in their attempt to serve a federal search and arrest warrants.

ATF agents won a cease-fire from the heavily armed inhabitants to they could evacuate their dead and wounded from the battlefield-like scene outside the Mount Carmel compound. Federal agents, assisted by hostage negotiated teams from other agencies, have been on and off the phone with the Davidians ever since.

“When we’re not in communication, when the phone rings we answer it. When we need to reach them, we call them. Sometimes they answer, sometimes it rings. It’s that simple,” Jamar said. While there has been some contact with women inside the compound, he said the three teams of negotiators talk mostly with Howell and three or four other men.

The teams have succeeded in winning the release of 20 children and two elderly women since the standoff began. But Jamar disputed the notion that the releases are the result of horse-trading or bartering.

“There’s negotiation and discussions – it’s not a bargaining and not a bartering at all,” he said. “It’s a matter of, they’ve agreed together that the children should come out … It’s a very tedious process. Obviously we’re encouraging it very much and the negotiators are working very, very hard to do that.”

Jamar said that through the hours of communication, topics of conversation vary.

“It’s pretty constant. There are long discussions about religion and long readings of the Scriptures.

“There’s also reaction to this – to our interaction here,” Jamar said, referring to the press conferences, which have been carried live by Dallas and local radio stations. “The idea is to communicate.”

Among the supporting case negotiators have are people from the Austin Police Department, the Department of Public Safety, McLennan County law enforcement agencies and some experts who can help make sense of Scripture studies coming from the Mount Carmel compound.

Jamar said negotiators have growing confidence in the relationships they have forged with Davidians on the other end of the line, as evidenced by the releases.

“As far as the children getting out, it’s a result of the building relationship between the people in the compound, Koresh and the negotiators. There’s no question about that,” Jamar said.

Read the Tribune-Herald's 7-part investigative series on the inner workings of the Branch Davidians. Hours after Part 2 appeared in print, the ATF raided the group's compound.

Read the Tribune-Herald’s account of the ATF raid on the Branch Davidian compound on Feb. 28, 1993. Four ATF agents and six in the compound were killed in the gunfight.

Read the daily news accounts of the 51-day siege at the Branch Davidian compound near Elk, which began Feb. 28 and lasted until April.

April 19 and beyond: FBI agents began inserting canisters of tear gas into the Branch Davidian compound in the early morning hours. By noon, it was on fire.

Federal officials left the compound site in late May 1993. As identifications of bodies continued, questions about the survivors, the compound and the cult itself began to emerge.

As the world began to take a critical look back at the events and legal proceedings continue, the ATF's bombshell report forces a shakeup at the top after the raid gone "tragically wrong."

In 1994, the surviving Davidians went on trial in San Antonio. Over six weeks, more than 140 witnesses testified, with the verdict coming just two days prior to the anniversary of the ATF raid.

The Rodenville shootout and the 1988 trial, the end of the world in 1959 and more stories from deep in the Trib archives.