There was as much uncertainty Monday about what investigators will find in the burned-out Mount Carmel compound as there was about who will pay for autopsies and identification of those who perished there.
County Judge Jim Lewis said that until he talked with representatives with the FBI and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, he was not certain who would eventually pay for the process.
“But at this time the county is responsible,” he said.
An autopsy for one person costs between $600 and $700, but there is an additional cost if an identification process is necessary.
Several of the local justices of the peace expressed concern about the total cost the county could face if it has to pay the bill.
However, what role the cost of autopsies will play will be determined by what is found in the remnants of the compound.
McLennan County Justice of the Peace James Collier was uncertain what investigators would find and when they actually would get to search the charred ruins of the building for bodies.
Collier, who spent about six hours at Mount Carmel on Monday, said the burned remains of the building were so hot that the earliest a search could begin would be sometime today. How long the recovery process will take will depend on what officials find in the remains.
“I don’t know how many are in there and I don’t know how many we’ll find,” Collier said.
He said he saw several severely burned bodies at the site Monday.
When the grisly process of identifying the remains of those who perished inside the burning Branch Davidian compound begins, officials will follow a plan laid out by the McLennan County Sheriff’s Department, according to a Waco mortician.
Mortician Bobby Boudreaux said Collier called him Monday about the plan to use hearses from Cole Funeral Home, Kotch Funeral Home, Waco Mortuary Services, Wade Funeral Home and Wilkerson-Hatch Funeral Home Inc.
However, the plan was put on hold because the fire was so hot that it was setting off live ammunition within the debris, he said.
Justice of the Peace David Pareya on Monday asked for assistance from the Tarrant County Medical Examiner’s Office.
A spokesman with the Tarrant County Medical Examiner’s Office in Fort Worth confirmed that the office was put on alert and is awaiting a call for a team to begin the recovery and tagging of bodies for identification.
The Tarrant County team would include two pathologists, a medical investigator, a chief investigator, a criminologist and a number of investigative and support staff, the spokesman said.
The team also has at its disposal a refrigerated 18-wheeler tractor-trailer that can store up to 100 bodies.
Once the work at the site begins, investigators reportedly will have a hard time searching the debris for bodies.
“When you have charred remains and you are trying to look through burned portions of a building…it’s very difficult,” Pareya said.
Justice of the Peace John Cabaniss said the identification of the remains will be very difficult because of the extreme heat of the fire.
“They’re going to be burned well beyond recognition,” said Pareya.
Collier said that at best, investigators might recover torsos of some adults. More likely, he said, searchers will find only skulls and perhaps bone fragments.
He said investigators are unlikely to find any remains left of the children who died in the fire.