Tourists continue to flock to the burned-out remains of the Branch Davidian compound on Double EE Ranch Road, some defying the law to take home souvenirs.
Eric Alcorn, a T-shirt vendor from Axtell, has witnessed the larceny.
“One day we were setting out here and this guy came up in an orange convertible and went inside,” he said. “He came out with bicycles, hubcaps and tire rims in his car. I couldn’t do anything.”
Alcorn, whose tent sits in front of the gate to Mount Carmel, said he has seen about a hundred people trespass.
“A guy strolled in and others followed him like lemmings,” Alcorn said. “That’s how it’s been.”
The Mount Carmel site was quarantined as a health hazard May 14. Authorities later limited the quarantine to the area around the compound, but the property still has signs warning against trespassing.
Violation of the quarantined area is a third-degree felony and punishable by two to 10 years in prison and a fine up to $10,000.
Many people, though, are willing to risk arrest for artifacts from the compound, which burned to the ground April 19. During the fire, cult leader Vernon Howell and more than 80 others, 17 of them children, died. Authorities have not determined the exact number.
The fire ended a 51-day standoff that began after a failed Feb. 28 raid by Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms agents in which four agents and six Branch Davidians died.
Monday afternoon, flowers dotted the Mount Carmel gate as tourists stopped for a look beyond. Eleanor Johnson of Lake Elsinore, Calif., and her husband came to see where it all happened.
“We’re visiting relatives in Taylor and thought we’d better come and see it,” she said.
A man approached Alcorn and asked, “Are you sure we can’t go in?”
Alcorn told him it would be trespassing and the man got into a van, continuing to eye the property.
“People are just going in and taking stuff out,” Alcorn said. “They even stole the quarantine signs. They’ll take anything out here. They say, ‘Hey, here’s a souvenir’ and they take off with it.”
The Texas Department of Public Safety looked after the property until state and federal investigations were complete. DPS spokesman Mike Cox said it is now the responsibility of the McLennan County Sheriff’s Department to look after the land.
Sgt. Ronnie Turnbough, a spokesman for the sheriff’s office, said deputies patrol Mount Carmel but don’t guard the premises.
A sign next to the gate was recently erected by John Ellis, an Alabama man who has been advising jailed Branch Davidian Renos Avraam, offering a $1000 reward for the arrest and conviction of anyone caught trespassing and taking items off Mount Carmel land.
Ellis, who is not a lawyer, calls himself “resident custodian” of the property.
However, Gary Coker, a Waco attorney for eight Branch Davidians, said Ellis has no legal standing to take such action.
“He has got one little guy, Renos Avraam, who was not a member of the group very long and is a citizen of England,” Coker said. “He has got his power of attorney and he has filed this deal. He has no court order. He’s got nothing. He has no authority to act on behalf of these people at all.”
Coker filed a court order about six weeks ago on behalf of eight longtime Branch Davidians to protect the Mount Carmel property.
He hired a wrecker and took cars and other items off the property. Coker said he took out the smaller items, like tools, and the DPS inventoried everything he took.
What was left behind doesn’t interest Coker.
“It’s amazing how people will, if they think it’s a souvenir, steal other people’s garbage,” he said.