The Branch Davidian Sabbath may have played a part in stalled negotiations over the weekend.
“Yesterday was a very quiet day,” FBI spokesman Bob Ricks said Sunday, adding that very little information came out of the compound on Saturday, the cult’s Sabbath. Negotiators did not speak with cult leader Vernon Howell, also known as David Koresh.
“We had minimal contacts with those inside the compound. It probably was, in fact, because of the Sabbath,” he said.
Sunday night, federal agents turned bright lights on the compound in what a government spokeswoman described as a tactical maneuver, the Associated Press reported.
The lights appeared on the compound shortly after dusk. From the news media encampment 2½ miles away, they appeared to be on raised standards and similar to the type of lights used in sports stadiums.
Sharon Wheeler, a spokeswoman for the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, referred callers to the FBI, which wasn’t answering its telephone. “I can’t comment on it. That’s considered a tactical part of our operation,” Wheeler told the AP.
The latest communication from inside the cult compound came in the form of a banner hung out of a window on Sunday that read, “FBI Broke Negotiations. We Want Press.”
The standoff between the cult and authorities is now in its 16th day. On Feb. 28, ATF agents attempted to raid the cult compound at Mount Carmel, leaving four agents and at least two cult members dead.
Negotiations on Saturday with Howell’s right-hand man, Steve Schneider, mainly focused on “additional personnel exiting the compound,” Ricks said.
The last to leave were Kathy Schroeder, 34, and Australian Oliver Gyarfas, 19, who left at different times Friday.
Schroeder has said, “Branch Davidians” is not the correct name for the group. She said followers should be called “Koreshians” because cult members follow Koresh in the same way Christians follow Christ.
Three members — Kevin Whitecliff, 32; Brad Branch, 34; and Rita Riddle, 35 —have indicated for days that they want to leave, but Ricks said there is no new information on them.
Federal officials say that 17 children, 46 women and 42 men are believed to remain inside the heavily fortified compound 10 miles east of Waco. Four adults and 21 children have left since the raid.
Ricks said Judy Schneider, who is believed to be one of Howell’s wives, may need medical attention.
“There are indications that the gunshot wound of Judy Schneider-Koresh has worsened,” Ricks said.
“She continues to refuse to come out of the compound and has expressed that she does not want to risk not being there when any final action is taken.”
Judy Schneider has suggested cutting off her finger instead of leaving the compound to get it treated.
Ricks said more cult members have shown an interest in what charges they might face if they come out and have asked how the legal process works. Howell also knows that his mother has retained an attorney for him.
“With regard to Mr. Koresh, he has given little response with regard to the attorney situation,” Ricks said. “He has expressed, however, great concern with regard to the exploitation surrounding this particular event. He expresses much concern about people, he hears even relatives, making money off the situation.”
Ricks said a relative of Howell’s has accepted $75,000 for movie rights. The movie contract was reportedly signed by Howell’s mother, Bonnie Haldeman.
“He takes great offense about what is going on and the making of money off this tragedy,” Ricks said of Howell, who the Tribune-Herald reported has been in control of as much as $1 million he obtained from his followers.
Ricks said it is apparent that Howell is using children as shields so federal authorities won’t move in.
“I think that’s absolutely correct,” Ricks said. “His teachings are that if he, in fact, is martyred during a siege situation, his seed, his own children, should continue his work — that they should be here to spread his word throughout the world.”
Ricks said authorities still want to settle the situation peacefully, though Howell refuses to engage in normal negotiations.
“It always has to be on his own terms,” Ricks said. “So we’re dealing with an abnormal negotiation process.”