Wednesday’s developments

  • Federal agents warn media, specifically a Dallas radio station, not to make appeals to Vernon Howell and his followers. The agents say the outside influence is muddling negotiations.
  • Agents say Howell has refused to release any more children from the compound because it is “contrary to our God-given views.”
  • ATF agents have arrested a 62-year-old cult member in connection with an evening shootout on Feb. 28 near the compound. Another man, Delroy Nash, was indicted in connection with that gunbattle.

A few kind words

The board of the Greater Waco Chamber of Commerce on Wednesday voted to issue a proclamation honoring CBS anchorman Dan Rather for the kind words he wrote in a column that appeared in Wednesday’s Tribune-Herald.

Rather, a native Texan, began his column this way: “There’s nothing like a weeklong armed standoff between the law and a religious sect to damage a town’s good name. Waco is finding that out in the continuing confrontation between law enforcement officials and David Koresh.”

Rather, who has visited Waco and enjoys fishing at a spot nearby, called it “a town of good schools and sturdy homes and interesting museums.”

“Mostly, folks there just try to do right — about like folks in any town,” he said.

Tom Salome, board chairman, said Rather’s column was a refreshing break from the potshots some outside media have taken at Waco.

“The Washington Post called us WACKO,” said Salome, adding, “I think Rather’s last paragraph pretty well sums up how we feel. We don’t exactly deserve what we’re getting.”

Forgotten money

While hundreds of federal Treasury agents remained locked in a standoff with the Branch Davidians outside Waco, the Texas State Treasury is waiting to finalize a little business of its own with the cult.

The state treasury wants to give the sect $244.36 from its unclaimed money fund if the group’s “president” – leader Vernon Howell – would call up and claim it.

The money was reported to the state treasury as unclaimed in October 1992 in an account somehow forgotten at Waco’s Community Bank. The account was opened under the name of one of the Davidians’ businesses: the Branch Organic Agricultural Association.

Magazine coverage

The dark side of faith is explored as magazines cover the siege of the Branch Davidian cult and other conflicts.

The March 15 Time packages the Mount Carmel siege, World Trade Center bombing and conflicts in the Balkans under the headline “In the Name of God.”

On the cover are photos of Branch Davidian leader Vernon Howell and Sheik Omar Abdel-Rahman, whose alleged follower, Mohammed A. Salameh, was arrested in the Trade Center bombing.

An essay by Lance Morrow notes the bombing, cult siege and other religious hatreds may be part of a frightening new world order.

The March 15 Newsweek devotes its cover to “Secrets of the Cult.” Coverage of the Branch Davidian cult includes stories about Howell’s multiple wives, alleged sex with children and alleged child abuse. Other stories examine cults and tell who joins them.

The March 15 People also profiles Howell, calling him “The Evil Messiah.” It reports Howell often spent the night playing guitar, watching MTV and fantasizing about Madonna.

Palestine connection

PALESTINE, Texas — The doomsday prophet locked in the 11-day standoff with law officers also owns land in East Texas, but its residents were in seclusion as the siege continued, a newspaper reported.

Only two people remained on the 20-acre tract in Anderson County that was once home to Branch Davidian leader Vernon Howell and followers.

Reporters from the Palestine Herald-Press and San Antonio Express-News who knocked at the door of a house at the property were told to leave by an unidentified woman who said she could not answer questions.

Neighbors of Howell’s East Texas land said that only two so-called “caretakers” remained on the property, which includes a group of buildings.

A padlocked chain gate barred the entrance of the pipeline road that leads to the property north of Palestine.

Read the Tribune-Herald's 7-part investigative series on the inner workings of the Branch Davidians. Hours after Part 2 appeared in print, the ATF raided the group's compound.

Read the Tribune-Herald’s account of the ATF raid on the Branch Davidian compound on Feb. 28, 1993. Four ATF agents and six in the compound were killed in the gunfight.

Read the daily news accounts of the 51-day siege at the Branch Davidian compound near Elk, which began Feb. 28 and lasted until April.

April 19 and beyond: FBI agents began inserting canisters of tear gas into the Branch Davidian compound in the early morning hours. By noon, it was on fire.

Federal officials left the compound site in late May 1993. As identifications of bodies continued, questions about the survivors, the compound and the cult itself began to emerge.

As the world began to take a critical look back at the events and legal proceedings continue, the ATF's bombshell report forces a shakeup at the top after the raid gone "tragically wrong."

In 1994, the surviving Davidians went on trial in San Antonio. Over six weeks, more than 140 witnesses testified, with the verdict coming just two days prior to the anniversary of the ATF raid.

The Rodenville shootout and the 1988 trial, the end of the world in 1959 and more stories from deep in the Trib archives.