The small cement bunker which now is the last standing remnant of the sprawling Mount Carmel compound more and more appears to be where Vernon Howell’s Branch Davidians made their horrific last stand.
The bunker, which a health inspector said measures about 20 feet by 20 feet, has yielded 32 terribly burned bodies along with hundreds of thousands of rounds of ammunition. Another nine were found on top.
More than half the bodies found in the ruins after the April 19 blaze that roared through the complex were found on top or inside that small concrete building.
“The number of the bodies removed from the bunker could change somewhat because of the severe co-mingling of those bodies,” Justice of the Peace David Pareya told reporters at an afternoon press briefing. “The bodies were so meshed together that we were unable to separate them at the scene. So we felt as though the best route to go was to go ahead and ship those to the medical examiner’s office, to allow professionals to do that.”
Of the remaining bodies, Pareya said, five were found in the compound’s chapel area and 26 others were found in the front portion of the building.
The small bunker sat in the base of the tall watchtower in the central part of the compound. That watchtower collapsed within 10 minutes of the first sighting of smoke at the south end of the complex. Federal agents believe the tower area is one of the places cult members set fires that led to the compound’s destruction.
Department of Public Safety spokesman Mike Cox said seven more bodies were pulled from the wreckage Thursday, including two adults and five children. That makes a total of 72 bodies sent to the Tarrant County medical examiner’s office. McLennan County Justice of the Peace James Collier said 17 of the bodies removed are those of children.
Pareya said that 28 autopsies have been completed as of Thursday, on nine males, 16 females and three of unknown gender. He said three more bodies have been identified, but that their next of kin have been notified.
“We feel as though we’ve removed all the bodies that are going to be found in the ruins,” Cox told reporters at an afternoon briefing.
That would mean 82 were actually inside the compound, including the nine Branch Davidians that escaped the inferno. Cox said the 95 figure quoted earlier by authorities was a figure given by Howell, also known as David Koresh.
Earlier Thursday, Dr. Nizam Peerwani, the case’s lead medical examiner, said he’s found seven bodies that were shot. Pareya would not comment on that figure.
He did say that the latest Davidian identified, James Riddle Jr., 32, died of a “near contact gunshot wound to the forehead.”
He declined to say whether Riddle’s death was ruled a suicide or a homicide.
All three of the fire victims identified so far suffered gunshot wounds.
Officials say the only bodies probably left at the site are those of five cult members killed in the Feb. 28 shootout with federal agents. Four of them are in underground tunnels. Cox said these tunnels have become flooded with recent rains, and recovery of the bodies will await drier weather.
Meanwhile, Branch Davidian Derek Lloyd Lovelock, who escaped the flames April 19, was ordered held at McLennan County Jail without bond by U.S. Magistrate Dennis Green.
Defense attorney Don Ervin told Green that his client should be sent to a halfway house because of crowded conditions at the McLennan County Jail, because Lovelock must have his burned right arm dressed once a day and because the jail food doesn’t meet his religious dietary requirements.
Ervin also told Green that because of an auto accident, the right-handed Lovelock has a severe dislocated shoulder and so would be unable to shoulder a rifle.
“He’s simply being held right now at the government’s convenience,” Ervin said.
Meanwhile, another cult member charged with conspiracy to kill federal agents and federal firearms charges found himself in more hot water Thursday.
Brad Eugene Branch, 34, was served with four traffic warrants Wednesday at the McLennan County Jail.
Branch had warrants for no motorcycle operator’s license, carrying a motorcycle passenger without a helmet and two failure to appear citations.