Reporters from around the world are in Waco to cover the standoff between authorities and religious cult leader Vernon Howell, simply because of the circumstances surrounding it.
“It has violence, religion, accusations of sexual assaults … and it’s happening in a place that’s usually absolutely quiet,” explained Emmanuela Roig, a U.S. correspondent for El Pais, a newspaper in Madrid, Spain.
John Lyons, a correspondent from The Australian in Sydney, Australia, said his newspaper is enthralled because of Howell’s ties to the land down under.
“He’s visited Australia at least once, possibility three times,” Lyons said. “He’s also recruited some Australians into the cult. Plus, it was former cult members in Australia who hired the private detective to complain to authorities about this man.”
Lyons added, “To me, there are words that can explain the worldwide attention: cult and Texas. For some reason, Texas always intrigues people.”
Pierre Cayrol, a reporter for a weekly magazine in Paris, France, described the turn of events at the Branch Davidian compound near Elk as incredible.
“It seems we have a lot stories within the same story,” he said. “We have the attack from the compound, the role of the press, the story of this Vernon Howell guy who thinks he’s Christ, the children involved and the weapons. It’s a good story any way you look at it.
“The fact that it’s in Texas makes it ever better,” said Cayrol, who is also a correspondent for France Public Radio.
For instance, a few of the hotels locally have had to bump people who made reservations months in advance to make way for authorities, hotel clerks said Thursday.
“We don’t have any rooms, and I don’t know anyone who does,” said a La Quinta Inn spokesperson who declined to be identified.
The woman estimated that some 75 people who initially made reservations at the inn have had to look elsewhere for rooms.
“The people are mostly school groups,” she said. “There are basketball and cheerleading functions going on this weekend.”
Dee Burch, a Waco Chamber of Commerce employee, said she believes all the people involved in this weekend’s basketball tournament still have rooms at area hotels and motels.
Camp Fire worker Sharon Perry, however, said her organization received a call Thursday from members of an out-of-town church group who said they were bumped from their hotel reservation.
She said Camp Fire will open Camp Val Verde, its resident camp a few miles out of Waco, for the church group and others like them.
The charge is $5 a person per night. To make reservations, call Perry at 752-5515.
The city of Waco also is providing sleeping accommodations for the press this weekend. The dormitory-style Irving quarters are at the Sul Ross Tennis Center, 1301 Barnard St. Cost is $10 for the weekend, not including bedding. Interested persons may call 750-5980.
Hotel rooms are not the only thing in demand locally. Nancy’s restaurant on Austin Avenue was forced to close at noon Thursday after it ran out of food.
Wyliene Domangue, manager of the restaurant and the Brittany Hotel, said the restaurant closed an hour after it opened at 11 a.m.
“We didn’t want to do it, but we had no choice. There was literally nothing left.”