A Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms spokesman Friday denounced criticism of the ATF’s failed raid, saying agents were ambushed after cultists were tipped off.
David Troy, ATF chief of intelligence, said the investigation of the incident somewhat restricts information about the raid, but he feels confident lingering questions about ATF actions will be resolved when the standoff, now in its 28th day, ends.
On Feb. 28, ATF agents attempted to serve cult leader Vernon Howell, also known as David Koresh, with arrest warrants for illegal weapons, but they were repelled by heavy fire from the compound. Four ATF agents and at least two cult members died.
Cult members who have left the compound maintain that ATF fired first. But ATF spokesmen deny the charge, saying cultists fired first.
“I feel confident that we have laid that issue to rest,” Troy said Friday. “I think we covered that quite thoroughly yesterday, so I’m not going to beat a dead horse on that issue.”
Troy knocked the idea that ATF didn’t handle the situation properly.
“You know the critics might say well why didn’t we just send a registered letter in there . . . Dear Vern, you’ve been a bad boy. Why don’t you come out?” Troy said. “That’s obviously a foolish way to approach that, and it’s about as foolish as some of the second-guess work and Monday morning quarterbacks that I’ve heard who do not have access to the facts.”
Troy said the entire process, including intelligence and execution, will be evaluated by an “impartial” review board after the incident is over.
He said the bureau had a plan to isolate the women and children “because we considered them the innocents in this situation,” and a plan to isolate the men and Howell, and then the weapons. But the element of surprise was gone.
Troy said the plan would have worked and ATF would have been in control of the compound in 60 seconds or less had there not a prior tip-off to the compound.
“This raid was practiced for months in advance,” he said.
Feds seek floor plan
But federal authorities have asked cult members released from the compound to draw what the inside of the heavily fortified compound looks like.
Gary Coker, attorney for cultist Margaret Lawson, said she refused to draw the picture because it might somehow harm the people inside.
Coker questioned why federal agents would know so much about alleged firearms and explosives supposedly inside the compound but not know the floor plan.
Also, the raid was not a well-kept secret. Other agencies, such as local ambulance service, law enforcement and others had knowledge of the actual operation—or that some type of law enforcement activity was in the works. Scanner talk also occurred just before the raid.
Meanwhile, on Friday, cultists tried to communicate once again with the outside world by hanging yet another banner that read: “Rodney King we know what you feel like.”
FBI spokesman Dick Swensen reported Friday that negotiations were stalled. Howell suffered yet another headache while waiting on a message from God, he said.
Swensen said negotiators last talked with Howell at 11:42 p.m. Wednesday.
Other Branch Davidians said Howell was sick, he said, adding that Howell reportedly has a “headache, stomach ache and may be bedridden.”
Swensen also reported that Louis Anthony Alaniz, 24, of Houston, who sneaked into Mount Carmel about 7 p.m. Wednesday, was still inside. Alaniz reportedly is a member of the Assembly of God Church who wanted to join Howell.
“As far as we know, he intends to stay. Whether he does or not, I can’t honestly tell you,” Swensen said.
Swensen said Howell’s right-hand-man, Steve Schneider, is still referring to Howell as the Lamb.
Authorities have recently called Howell a liar and coward.
“There has been an effect within the compound about the various things. . . I think it has been a helpful change in terms of the effect that it’s having,” Swensen said.
No one has been released since Tuesday, when Livingston Fagan left. Fagan was the 35th person to walk out of the complex.
Howell says 17 children, 40 women and 38 men remain inside the compound.
Talks still slow
Swensen said negotiations are slow.
“We still continue to talk to Steve Schneider,” Swensen said. “I couldn’t characterize them as picking up.”
Schneider is “losing some of his convincing power within the compound,” Swensen said. “He’s periodically saying that it’s up to David’s vision, his word from God, until they can come out and that there’s not much he can do to change that.”
In related matters, U.S. District Judge Walter Smith ruled late in the day that cultist Kathryn Schroeder, who left the group March 12, could be released from jail.
Her release will not take place until at least Monday, however, because Smith’s order hinges on conditions to be set with another court officer.
In addition, Smith ruled that Oliver Gyarfas, who left the cult on the same day as Schroeder, must stay in jail. The judge cited the risk that Gyarfas, an Australian, would leave the area if freed.