When Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms agents stormed the Branch Davidian compound Feb. 28, the gunfight and ensuing siege sent ripples through the Tri-Cities area.
The compound is less than 10 miles from Bellmead, and the siege set off discussions among area residents about the cult and the effect of the massive amounts of law enforcement officers and journalists in the area.
Curtis Winn of Express Pawn in Bellmead is probably the nearest firearms dealer to the Davidian compound.
So, of course, he has been swamped.
Two to three dozen people — law enforcement officers and journalists — have come to the store since the shootout.
One man came into the shop, asked to look at a gun and picked out a .357-caliber Magnum revolver.
“I asked for his Texas driver’s license and (asked him) if he was a resident of Texas,” Winn said.
When the visitor said he was from Washington, D.C., Winn told him he couldn’t sell him a gun, Winn said.
Eventually, the man admitted being a journalist curious to see how easy it is to buy a gun in Texas.
If the reporter was trying to disguise his vocation, it was done poorly, said Winn. The reporter held the revolver so badly it was laughable.
Other reporters have traipsed through the store asking questions about firearms.
“Yesterday, I had a carload in from a TV station in Washington, D.C.,” he said.
Law enforcement officers have also visited the store, said Winn.
He has sold them two pairs of high-power binoculars and several boxes of 9mm ammunition.
“I have had several looking at holsters,” he said.
They have also looked at a 9mm Glock handgun that he has in stock.
It is a plastic and metal semi-automatic pistol believed part of the stockpile of arms in the Branch Davidian compound.
As people start to get on with their regular routines, their opinions surface about the Feb. 28 raid on the compound.
Derek Henager, a cashier who works at the Target Texaco convenience store on Bellmead Drive, said “Everybody in the store talks about it.”
Mike Wellman, also a cashier at the store, said he was not one of those who sympathized with the Branch Davidians in the Mt. Carmel compound.
“I believe in freedom of religion,” Henager said. “But when you kill law enforcement officers doing their duty, your freedom of religion ends.”
He said most people who come in the business just want the federal agents to get the people out of the compound, whether children are in there or not.
Wellman said it is ironic the United States is willing to kill the children in other countries, like those that died during the bombing of Iraqi cities during the Persian Gulf War, but not children in our country.
“We have no problems obliterating other peoples’ kids, but when it’s our own, it’s different.”
Also, people are not completely convinced of allegations by former cult members that children have been physically and sexually abused at the compound.
“They’re not willing to accept the ex-members’ testimony,” Wellman said.
Ruby Hinds, a waitress at the Chicken Shack, said Sunday night the talk among customers about the standoff has slowed.
People accused federal agents of botching the attack on the compound.
“They think it was handled very wrong, which I think it was too,” she said.
But she said Vernon Howell shouldn’t have reneged on his statement to end the siege after a taped message was read over several radio stations March 2.
“I think he should have kept his promise,” she said.
She said the standoff at the compound has been the hot topic at the restaurant, but now it is less intense.
“I think it’s starting to fade a little bit,” Hinds said.
But Hinds is afraid of saying too much about the cult.
“They say he has all kinds of hit men outside,” she said.
Customer Ramona Clements was critical of the way the ATF agents handled the encounter with Howell and his followers.
“It was a big blunder,” she said. “He could have been caught in other ways.”
Clements also does not have faith that the U.S. justice system will properly deal with Howell.
“My personal opinion from Fort Worth is that he will be acquitted, and all of them will be acquitted,” she said.
A number of area residents found a new way to spend their Sunday afternoons — compound watching.
Jennifer Porter of Waco was out on the Old Mexia road with a surveyor’s transit. The telescope-like device allowed people to see a surprisingly clear view of the compound — down to the bullet holes in the walls.
“It belonged to my grandfather,” Porter said. “I used to look at the moon with it.”
Her direct line-of-site with the compound did not seem to bother her.
“If they shoot me, they shoot me,” she said. The compound was between one and two miles away.
Alice Jones of Corsicana came out to the road with her husband, James, and her daughter, Kamesha, to see the compound in the distance.
She thought ATF agents should not have stormed the compound.
William Baldwin said a family reunion in Fort Worth became an opportunity to come down to Waco to see what all the excitement was about.
“We had a family get-together in Fort Worth, and we decided to come down here,” Baldwin said.
He came with his wife, Ovella, and his father-in-law, Cloy Mobley, from Sills-Bend, near the Texas-Oklahoma border.