State officials have unofficially reduced the number of acres quarantined at Mount Carmel, a move which should allow Branch Davidians to bury their dead there.
A spokeswoman for the Texas Water Commission said Monday that the quarantine has been pulled back to the area immediately around the compound’s ruins.
“The Texas Health Department asked us if we had any trouble allowing entry onto the site,” said TWC District Manager Larry Fergusson. “We went out and inspected, then withdrew the perimeter of the quarantine to the compound proper. I would say an area of 5 acres is still quarantined, but I’m just guessing. We won’t know until the survey is completed.”
Surveyors worked Monday at Mount Carmel, 10 miles east of Waco. When they finish, the area quarantined will be officially marked.
All 77 acres at Mount Carmel, home to the Branch Davidians until an April 19 fire destroyed the compound, had been quarantined — including a cemetery on the property. Health officials feared that standing water and untreated sewage posed a public health threat. Preliminary testing, however, indicates the threat isn’t as great as was feared.
The cemetery now will fall outside the quarantined area.
“Frankly, there’s not a health threat to the whole property,” said Susan Tennyson, an attorney for the health department. “We wanted to concentrate and narrow our area of concern.”
State officials re-examined the quarantine after Branch Davidians such as Mary Jones began asking to bury their dead at Mount Carmel. Jones told county officials that she would like to bury several family members at Mount Carmel.
Her husband, Perry, died in the Feb. 28 shootout between the Branch Davidians and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms; their children, Rachel, cult leader Vernon Howell’s legal wife, Michele and David died in the Mount Carmel fire.
County officials had agreed to pay for the funerals, but Jones balked when told the burials would have to be at Restland Cemetery in South Waco.
“It is our understanding that she’s changed her mind and wants to have the interment at the site,” said Lynne Salyards, of the county judge’s office.
Salyards said Jones would not need the county’s permission to bury her relatives at Mount Carmel — provided the quarantine is lifted.
“We do not police that,” Salyards said. “We have no jurisdiction over that. What she does need, though, is to get a release form the Texas Department of Health.”
Once the quarantine is officially lifted, however, the state will have no objections to burials at the Mount Carmel cemetery, Tennyson said.
The cemetery at Mount Carmel is unregistered. But Branch Davidians have buried their dead there for years.
The cemetery received public notice in 1987 when George Roden, son of former Branch Davidian leaders Ben and Lois Roden, dug up a woman’s body and challenged Howell to a contest. The man who could resurrect the woman’s body would be the Branch Davidians’ true prophet, Roden said. The flap eventually led to a shootout and an attempted murder trial against Howell and seven followers. The followers were found not guilty. But jurors couldn’t decide if Howell meant to kill Roden. Eventually, though, the charges against Howell were dropped.
Even with the quarantine lifted, Mount Carmel will be off-limits. Judge Bill Logue of Waco issued a temporary injunction barring trespassing on the site, on behalf of the Branch Davidians.