The question of how many children Vernon Howell fathered may be partially answered by DNA testing that could begin this week.
Justice of the Peace David Pareya said that genetic material from the 42 unidentified Branch Davidians who died in the Mount Carmel fire was sent Monday to Washington, D.C. The Armed Forces Institute for Pathology there has tentatively agreed to cross-match the DNA with that taken from suspected family members.
Three families in California, Illinois and Hawaii may be the first to donate DNA samples as early as next week, Pareya said.
“We have some folks lined up,” Pareya said. “It’s just a matter of getting the information to the FBI agents in the field.”
DNA from cult leader Vernon Howell, also known as David Koresh, will be cross-matched against some of the unidentified children, Pareya said. Former cult members estimate Howell had more than 10 children and more than 15 “wives.”
Legally, Howell had one wife, Rachel Jones, and three children: Cyrus, 8; Star, 6; and Bobbie Lane, 2. All died in the fire with about 80 others who lived in the Mount Carmel compound.
“We’re going to do a lot of cross-matching with Koresh,” Pareya said. “He claimed to have a lot of children, and we’ve had families tell us that they believed he was the father of their daughter’s child.”
The FBI will procure the DNA samples from suspected family members of unidentified Branch Davidians.
“Their field agents will accompany the family member to a physician or hospital,” Pareya said. “There a blood sample will be taken, from a finger prick. The agent will then be responsible for shipping the sample to Washington.”
County officials expect the process of trying to identify the Branch Davidians to take almost a year. Not only will suspected family members be cross-matched against the unidentified cult members, but cross-matching also will be done with DNA taken from several identified cult members.
“You can see where a year comes into play,” Pareya said.
The families that have contacted authorities have been overwhelmingly cooperative, he said. Many offered to pay for taking the DNA sample. Several people also helped put authorities in touch with other families.
“They’ve all been very helpful,” Pareya said. “We’re hopeful this process will go smoothly, and families can put all this behind them. Before you can grieve, you need to know there’s something to grieve about.”