Negotiators spoke with former cult members Monday trying to get information that would keep Vernon Howell from carrying out his version of a holy war.
As negotiations continued between authorities and Howell late Monday, 25 vehicles containing armed authorities moved slowly toward Mount Carmel, the Branch Davidians’ base 10 miles east of Waco.
Road blockades were also moved back a mile.
Four Bradley fighting vehicles — tracked armored personnel carriers — began moving from Elk toward the compound at 9:15 p.m., said an area resident. The 25mm chain guns had been removed from the turrets, said a National Guard spokesman.
Howell and his Branch Davidian followers remained holed up in their compound more than 36 hours after a deadly shootout with agents from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms.
By late Monday, 10 of the reported 30 children inside the compound had been released.
ATF agents hidden in cattle cars stormed Mount Carmel early Sunday.
They were cut down by murderous automatic-weapon fire and forced to take cover. In a 45-minute shootout, four ATF agents were killed.
An ATF spokesman said the agents were “outgunned.”
Agents were there to serve an arrest warrant on Howell for possessing illegal weapons.
The dead ATF agents are Steve Willis, 32, Houston field division, assigned to Houston, 3 years as an ATF agent; Robert J. Williams, 26, New Orleans field division, assigned to Little Rock, Ark., 4 years as an ATF agent; Conway LeBleu, 30, New Orleans field division, assigned to New Orleans, 5 years as an ATF agent; and Todd McKeehan, 28, New Orleans field division, assigned to New Orleans, 3 years as an agent.
As of Monday, eight of the 15 wounded ATF agents had been released from Waco hospitals.
Howell reported that three cult members were wounded, including himself. He also said a 2-year-old girl died in the shooting.
A male cult member was killed Sunday evening in a skirmish.
The former right-hand man of Howell, Marc Beault, said he spoke Monday with a member of the FBI’s Hostage Rescue Team that is trying to entice Howell and followers to surrender.
FBI negotiators are working alongside ATF negotiators.
Breault said the FBI negotiator was looking for insight into the cult and Howell, 33, who believes himself to be Christ.
The Branch Davidians, a strange spinoff of the Seventh-day Adventists, have deep roots in Waco, as well as a long history of odd behavior. Cult members had a shootout in 1987, for example, following the attempted resurrection of a dead cult member.
Howell, who became the cult’s leader in the mid-‘80s, changed his name to David Koresh about two years ago to reflect his belief that he is to create the House of David, fathering children with women in the cult who would one day rule earth with him.
“The negotiators were putting together profiles of people,” Breault said. “They want to see if there’s anyone who will go against Vernon, if anyone has the know-how to go against Vernon. I told them not really. It would have to be a group of them. The best thing would be if Vernon loses consciousness, then others could negotiate, like Steve Schneider or Wayne Martin. Either of those tw0 men is capable of bringing this to a rational conclusion. Maybe they would want to get an ambulance to take their glorious, fallen leader to the hospital.”
Howell has not been heard from publicly since 2 a.m. Monday, when he talked to radio station KRLD in Dallas. He told the station he was wounded and bleeding badly. Howell claimed he was shot in the stomach.
However, Breault, who left the cult in 1989, said he believes Howell is exaggerating his injuries.
“I think he may be wounded, but I’m not sure to what extent,” he said. “I don’t think he is that seriously wounded. I watched him on CNN, and I thought he was going into a bit of theatrics. Vernon was always saying he was sick and near death. And he’s real big on stomach sickness. He always complained about his stomach, saying he was in pain because of the people’s sins.”
Breault said FBI negotiators wanted to know how the standoff might end. He told them that he fears the worst.
“I have a hard time seeing him giving up,” Breault said. “I don’t see that. I think either Vernon will grow so weak that he knows that he doesn’t have much time left or he’ll believe they’re going to storm the place. Then I think he’ll go out in a blaze of glory.”
FBI negotiators assured him that authorities will not initiate aggressive action against the Branch Davidians, Breault said.
Although rumors circulated that Howell would release all the children at the compound — many of whom he now admits fathering — only four children were turned over to authorities Monday. Ten children have been released so far.
About 4 p.m. Monday, a red van driven by an ATF agent slowly drove through a horde of media. As the van slowed, a girl about 4 years old could be seen inside. She was drinking a Coke.
Although the van’s back window was tinted, it appeared someone was holding an infant wrapped in a blanket.
The children were released after KRLD twice played a taped message from Howell.
“My father, my God who sits on the throne in Heaven has given me a book of Seven Seals,” Howell says in the tape. “In Revelation 10, verse 7, of this sealed book, the mystery of God is to be finished as God has declared to his servants, the prophets. In Revelation 22, I come, my reward which is the books, is with me to give unto every man the knowledge of the Seven Seals.”
As the Tribune-Herald reported in a series that began Saturday, Howell’s followers believe he can open the Seven Seals spoken of in Revelation, supposedly unloosing the catastrophic events that will end mankind.
State District Judge Bill Logue of Waco signed emergency removal orders Monday afternoon involving six children taken from the compound. The children, including three sets of siblings, ranged in age from 3 to 6, said McLennan County Assistant District Attorney Beth Toben.
Toben said the children have been placed in “emergency foster care.”
Logue has scheduled a hearing for March 9 in which the Department of Human Services Childrens’ Protective Services division will seek to be named temporary managing conservators for the children, Toben said. That proceeding could lead to a subsequent hearing at which the parents’ right could be terminated and the children made eligible for adoption.
Also Monday, federal officials began exploring why the raid Sunday went wrong. The New York Times reported that some federal officials believe the decision by ATF director Stephen E. Higgins to raid the Mount Carmel compound was apparently blown by an informant inside the cult.
The informant had told federal investigators that the cult was stockpiling illegal weapons.
According to federal officials, the informant had told ATF investigators that Howell had begun drilling church members in paramilitary maneuvers with automatic weapons.
Howell predicted several years ago he and his followers would die in a shootout with authorities, former cult members said. They will supposedly die as martyrs, stay in heaven for a time, then return to slay the unbelievers.
FBI negotiators also asked if Howell and his followers might commit suicide, Breault said.
“I think more likely that they’ll decide to end it all by storming the agents,” he said. “That way they’d be martyrs. It would be more glorious than just killing themselves. I think negotiators felt that way. But it hasn’t come to that yet.”
The families of cult members continued to hold out hope that a peaceful settlement could be reached between the cult and authorities, however.
“The thing that worries me is knowing what they believe,” said a relative of a cult member. “But there are so many people praying for this to end peacefully, hoping God has control over this no matter what Vernon has planned.”