For Dan Mosley, it was the melted and mangled bicycles that belonged to the innocent children of the cult.
Beth Toben focused on the yellow school bus and couldn’t help but think that it potentially could have sheltered those children April 19 from FBI tear gas and the subsequent fire that ravaged their Mount Carmel home.
The McLennan County prosecutors, along with District Attorney John Segrest, other county officials and attorneys representing surviving cult members, went earlier this week on a guided tour of the compound where messianic leader Vernon Howell led his followers to their deaths.
Federal agents, who have controlled the 77-acre site since the deadly shootout with cult members Feb. 28, allowed the visitors to the site before bulldozers, beginning on Wednesday, finished the destruction of the area.
Segrest and 15 members of hi prosecutorial staff visited the site for about three hours Tuesday afternoon. He said his staff wanted to visit, partly because there is an outside chance that they might be involved in prosecuting the survivors and partly out of curiosity. Some picked up shell casings as souvenirs.
Segrest remembers the flags, particularly the closely grouped ones that marked where bodies were found on top of and inside a cement bunker, which apparently served as a last refuge for many of the members.
“There were so many flags in that one area,” Segrest said. “There were 32 people inside and, I believe, nine found on top. It’s kind of sobering to say 41 people died right there.”
Toben and Mosley prosecute most of the child abuse cases in the office. The children were foremost in their thoughts.
“I was kind of excited about going down there and seeing it, but then the first thing that I saw was two kids’ bicycles all mangled up in a big pile of junk,” Mosley said. “That brought back to me real quickly who the real victims were in all of this and my whole mood changed. I wanted to leave right then because after that, all I could see were those kids.”
Everywhere he turned, it seemed, Mosley saw reminders of the kids. An underground bunker used as an impromptu burial site and waste dump contained disposable diapers, Mosley said.
Toben had a hard time dealing with the fact that so little remained of the once sprawling compound.
“You know it happened in your head, but you are standing there looking at so much of nothing and it is hard to realize now that the place existed there, that all that happened so close to home and now there is nothing,” she said.
The wreath placed on the property by Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms agents who revisited the compound Saturday also was a vivid reminder of the tragedy, Toben said.
Waco attorney Scott Peterson, who represents indicted cult member Kathryn Schroeder, said he tried to leave all his emotions behind and view the scene from an objective point of view.
“I was pleased I was able to verify everything my client had told me as far as where everything was,” Peterson said. “She had given me a complete diagram of the place, and it matched and it matched up with what out there. But it helped just to be able to see it, just to see what she was talking about when she talked about them watching Robert Gonzales leave the compound that morning and walk to his house across the street. I was standing where the front door was and I could tell how they watched him leave.”
Gonzales, as he has been identified in court documents, was an ATF undercover agent whom the Davidians have said they suspected all along to be a federal officer.
Houston attorney Mike DeGuerin, who represents cult member Pau Fatta, climbed the water tower and took pictures on his visit.
“It was pretty eerie and said,” he said. “I climbed the water tower because I was told that there was one of the young men shot a couple of times in the back, and I was just trying to get a feel of what it would have been like to have been up there and the perspective you could see from up there.”