After a day of ‘hopeful’ negotiations, two more people left the Mount Carmel compound late Friday.

The two men, accompanied by law officers, left about 8:30 p.m. in a red Jeep Cherokee escorted by a Department of Public Safety car.

About 10 p.m., a red Jeep Cherokee was parked at the McLennan County Jail, but jail employees would not say if two individuals from Mount Carmel were there.

The release was the first in a week and ended days of stalled negotiations.

Earlier Friday, federal agents laying siege to the compound hailed a brief conversation with Branch Davidian leader Vernon Howell as a possible turnaround.

FBI spokesman Bob Ricks told reporters that conversation with Koresh was the most positive since the third day of the standoff.

“The tone changed. He indicated that it was his desire to get his matter resolved,” Ricks said.

At the same time, Ricks was careful to note that “we do not consider this a breakthrough.”

He recalled specifically March 2, the day Howell promised to give up after a 58-minute tape of his was played on the radio. Howell did not surrender because he said he had been told to wait for a sign from God.

“We view this very favorably. We’re not trying to over-hype it. We’ve been disappointed before”, Ricks said. “But we believe the that a tone has been set for which we can get this issue resolved . . . and we are hopeful at this time.”

In previous briefings, Ricks has said that those in the compound would do almost anything to get talks away from the main issue of resolving the standoff, now in its 21st day.

On Thursday, Ricks said agents actually drove buses near the compound as a challenge to Howell, also known as David Koresh, into leading his people to safety.

Ricks said Howell told negotiators he was waiting for certain astrological signs to come to pass, and “if these things came to pass we are talking in terms of days, not weeks.”

“My understanding is, he is relaying to us that certain events have occurred which he takes to be at least a sign or signs have taken place, and he believes that other things are in motion that would fulfill his desire to have a sign,” Ricks said.

A former top lieutenant to Howell said he thinks the cult leader is stalling.

Marc Breault, who left the cult and returned to Australia, said he thinks Howell is trying to smooth things over with exasperated FBI agents.

Breault said Tuesday , when a new moon is scheduled to appear, marks the beginning of the religious new year for Branch Davidians, he said, “I can’t think of any reason he would want to come out on that day.”

Breault suggested that Passover, which Jews worldwide will observe April 6, is a more likely day for Howell too act.

“Watch Passover. If they do anything, it’ll be at Passover,” he said. “Passover has the significance of being the time when big things happen.”

Breault said Branch Davidians view Passover as a feast of “separation,” in which the wicked are separated from the good and swept from the presence of God. Their stress on the angel that struck down the firstborn of Egypt rather than the Israelites’ liberation, he said.

Package delivered

After the conversation with the cult, authorities delivered a package containing letters from attorneys representing those inside; copies of Time, Newsweek and People magazines; and a religious audio cassette.

The package also contained copies of the search warrant and arrest warrant Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms agents were trying to serve Feb. 28 when a firefight broke out, killing four agents and wounding more than a dozen. Those warrants have not been made public.

Ricks said negotiators thought long and hard before they agreed to deliver the magazines, all of which featured Howell on their covers in the issue after the raid. He acknowledged that agents feared it might reinforce Howell’s desire for media attention.

At the same time, Ricks theorized that appetite for publicity might be fueling the change of tone.

“I think we’ve stressed over and over again that his message will not get out (if he stays inside),” Ricks said. “He’s been arguing for access to the press . . . We’ve told him he is not going to get that access until he comes out. I think he finally realizes that.”

Since the FBI cut off telephone access to the outside world in the first week of the siege, cult members have resorted to signs on bedsheets, including one that read “God Help Us We Want The Press.”

Ricks said the FBI set up speakers and played taped conversations for cult members still inside the compound, so members would know what was being offered by authorities. He said that was done to ensure that every member knew they were being offered legal counsel and fair legal process if they surrendered.

In related matters Friday, DPS officers arrested three armed men at the first checkpoint leading onto FM 2491. Two of the men were charged with public intoxication, and the third was charged with unlawfully carrying a weapon, a spokesman with the DPS said.

The men were taken to the McLennan County Jail, she said.

Custody update

Meanwhile, court records show that four of the children released from the compound during the early part of the siege have been released to the custody of relatives.

One child was allowed to return to London with her father, while a pair of sisters went with their grandparents to Hawaii and another child was allowed to go with his grandparents to Florida.

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.