Autopsy reports released Tuesday show that three of the five Branch Davidians who died in the raid on Mount Carmel were shot at point-blank range.
The findings are disputed by surviving Branch Davidians.
But autopsies performed by the Tarrant County Medical Examiner’s Office show that Perry Jones, 64, died by a bullet from a gun inserted into his mouth; Peter Hipsman, 27, in addition to other bullet wounds, suffered wounds from a gun placed at the back and side of his head; and Winston Blake, 28, died from a shot fired at close range behind his right ear.
One observer said, “Those are not the kind of wounds you see in a firefight.”
What the autopsy findings mean, though, isn’t clear.
“This is all going to be a puzzle for years, I’m sure,” said Justice of the Peace James Collier of Mart, who released the autopsy reports, including reports also for Peter Gent, 24, and Jaydean Wendel, 34.
All five Branch Davidians died from gunshot wounds sustained in a Feb. 28 raid on Mount Carmel by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms. The government agents were seeking to arrest cult leader Vernon Howell, also known as David Koresh, for possession of automatic weapons.
Four ATF agents also died in the shootout.
A trace analysis on the palate of Jones — who was the father of Howell’s legal wife, Rachel — showed the presence of gunpowder.
“A gun was stuck in his mouth, according to the autopsy,” Collier said. “Whether or not he did it or someone else did, I don’t know. This happened on the first day of the shootout. I don’t know why he would shoot himself.
“Mary Jones told me the Davidians said Perry had been shot in the stomach,” Collier said, referring to Perry’s wife. “I had the medical examiner’s office re-examine him. They came up with the same information as before.”
Branch Davidian Rita Riddle, who left the compound after the shootout and before the April 19 fire that destroyed Mount Carmel, derided the autopsy.
“That’s a bunch of bull,” she said. “Perry was shot through the stomach in the initial raid.”
Riddle said she did not see Jones shot.
She was upstairs at the compound, and Jones was in a hallway downstairs, Riddle said. He was killed by bullets piercing the walls, she said.
“If he had been shot in the head, he would have died immediately,” Riddle said. “I could hear Perry screaming from upstairs. Something is not right. I don’t have any idea what they’re trying to do.”
Hipsman, according to the autopsy, died of multiple gunshot wounds to the head. He was also shot in the chest.
One of his head wounds was a contact wound to the back of the head, though, according to the autopsy report, which cited “dark sooty material . . . deposited within the proximal part of the wound track.” A bullet wound to the side of the head also showed traces of gunpowder.
Blake, a native of Great Britain, was shot at close range behind the right ear, according to the autopsy. Traces of gunpowder were found in his skin.
Riddle, though saying she was skeptical of the autopsy reports, noted that ATF agents entered the compound during the raid and might have shot the Branch Davidians at close range.
ATF officials were unavailable for comment. Collier, however, doesn’t believe ATF agents shot the cult members at such close range.
“An ATF officer putting his gun against someone’s head and pulling the trigger, I have a problem thinking that,” he said.
The autopsies say three Branch Davidians — Gent, whom ATF officials said was shot by a sniper while on a water tower, Hipsman and Wendel — were killed with hollow-point bullets, which expand on impact, causing extensive tissue damage. Such bullets are banned from warfare by the Geneva Conventions, said Dr. Lyle Brown of Baylor University.
“A hollow-point fragments easily,” said Leo Bradshaw, a Waco gun dealer. “It’s a killing bullet, pure and simple. A big-time killing bullet.”