Although a cult deprogrammer said Friday’s exit from the Mount Carmel compound by two of Vernon Howell’s followers is encouraging, federal authorities on Saturday were trying to determine its significance.
FBI spokesman Bob Ricks said both Kathy Schroeder, 34, and Australian Oliver Gyarfas, 19, who left at different times on Friday, had played key roles within the compound.
“We are still trying to determine the meaning of why the two individuals who did come out yesterday. Ms. Schroeder and Mr. Gyarfas, came out,” Ricks said.
“From our understanding, these are not people who are considered to be weak links inside but are very active participants in the on-goings of that compound. So we are trying to figure out if this is intended as a signal of some sort.”
Former cult member Marc Beault, in a telephone interview from Australia, said Saturday that Oliver Gyarfas might be on a “mission.”
“If Oliver contacts his father, he could pass on a message in Hungarian, since both are fluent in Hungarian. The FBI won’t have a clue for a while. Another possibility is that Vernon might see what charges are filed against the adults.
“I don’t think Vernon just let him out because he wanted out,” Breault said.
Cult deprogrammer Rick Ross of Phoenix, Ariz., was pleased that the two came out and said he thinks a peaceful resolution can be reached.
“I see a crack in the wall and hope that the people will be coming out peacefully,” he said.
Howell, who changed his name to David Koresh three years ago, has told FBI negotiators that any cult member is free to leave at any time. Three members – Kevin Whitecliff, 32; Brad Branch, 34; and Rita Riddle, 35 – have indicated for several days that they wanted to leave but had not as of late Saturday.
“He said it has always been their decision,” Ricks said. “They believe that they are part of a matter that is much greater than just simple life and death, that their decision will affect their eternal soul.
“Some believe if they leave at this time, they are, in fact, giving up their beliefs and that they will be damned forever. So they are playing against very strong emotions. Life on this planet may not be as important to them as eternal life,” he said.
Federal officials said Saturday that 17 children, 46 women and 42 men are believed to still be inside the heavily fortified compound 10 miles east of Waco. Four adults and 21 children have come out since the raid.
Schroeder told authorities she wanted to see her four children. She was allowed to visit with her 3-year-old son Friday, Ricks said.
Schroeder is the widow of cult member Michael Schroeder, 29, who was killed in a second gun battle with federal agents at the compound on Feb. 28.
Four Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms agents were killed and 16 wounded in a morning raid on the cult compound that day. The second gun battle occurred later that evening, officials have said.
At least two cult members died and four were wounded in the shootouts.
On Saturday, ATF Deputy Associated director Dan Conroy said Schroeder and Gyarfas had been interviewed by federal agents and were being held as material witnesses and were not being allowed to post bond. A federal magistrate read them their rights in separate appearances in the jail.
Conroy refused to disclose what the two told agents.
However, Schroeder’s attorney, Scott Peterson, commented about his client after talking with her four hours Saturday.
“She was very open and confident … She was obviously very concerned about the other people in the compound,” he said. “She wants to do everything she can to help the people in there.”
Peterson said he will fight Schroeder’s detention as a material witness though he suspects that if he is successful, federal officials will then file criminal charges against her.
“She’s a confident individual. She’s confident in herself and what she believes in,” he said. A detention hearing has been scheduled for Tuesday.
Ricks said negotiators continue to remain patient and authorities hope for a peaceful settlement of the 14-day standoff.
However, he said, “a slow dribble of individuals out” isn’t sufficient when so many remain inside the compound.
“Our belief is that a dribble, and that may be under-characterizing that because we consider every individual in there important, but a slow dribble of individuals out, one or two per day when we still have now 105 individuals in there, will not lead to a speedy resolution,” Ricks said.
“We have people injured. We have doctors telling us that their lives may be jeopardized, gangrene may be setting in. We need to get those people out, all of them,” he said.
Doctors have talked to cult members inside, tried to determine the severity of their wounds and suggested treatments, Ricks said. Several of the injured Branch Davidians, particularly Judy Schneider, should be hospitalized, he said.
“I hate to be graphic, but when she was presented with the fact that this injury was getting worse, that she needed to be hospitalized, that her finger appeared to be getting infection that could spread to her blood, her suggestion to the doctors was perhaps she should just cut off her finger,” Ricks said. “The doctor described that as barbaric and not something that we should do.”
“So we are dealing with people who are very committed to what they are doing, and are still, even though their own lives are still in jeopardy, refusing to come out.”
Ricks said Howell told them late Friday that he continues to experience “considerable discomfort” from gunshot wounds he reportedly suffered in his side and wrist.
Howell told them that he “historically” has complied peacefully when local authorities have asked calmly to approach him and suggested that this is the course the federal agents should have taken.
“What we are saying is that ‘Mr. Koresh, we are here. We are knocking on your door,’ ” Ricks said. “’We are offering you a peaceful solution. This has been going on for two weeks. We have not used any firepower against you, we have not aggravated the situation, we have not elevated it. We have tried to maintain the status quo. We are offering you a peaceful solution. Please respond,’ ” Ricks said.