At least a dozen Branch Davidians pulled from the burned out rubble of their compound had been shot, 10 of them in the head, the lead medical examiner says.

The mounting number of bullet wounds further muddles the already murky question of what happened April 19 when the cult’s wooden home quickly burned down.

Authorities said Thursday they won’t make any final rulings until all medical reports and other investigations are finished.

Tarrant County Medical Examiner Dr. Nizam Peerwani, who’s examined 41 of the 72 bodies, said he has found gunshot wounds to the heads of 10 people — including cult leader Vernon Howell — and discovered two others shot in the torso.

Although many of the head wounds would appear to have been fatal — especially Howell’s between the eyes — authorities insist all findings are preliminary until the investigations are complete.

“It’s going to be very, very difficult for us to find the manner of death — suicide, homicide, accidental, natural or even the biggie, unknown,” said David Pareya, a McLennan County justice of the peace who will rule on cause of death.

“There’s a lot of questions that we have to look at before we can say, in fact, that (bullets) was one of the contributing factors — i.e. the trajectory of the bullet, the entrance and exit wounds, retrieval of the bullet, if possible,” he said.

“There’s a lot involved.”

Peerwani’s examinations will determine the location of the bullet wounds and whether the victims were shot before the fire.

However, his work cannot show who pulled the trigger.

That task is up to investigators, who now face the additional responsibility of trying to decide whether the victims were murdered or committed suicide.

In other developments:

On Thursday, U.S. District Judge Walter Smith established the first trial date for a cult member, planning a July 6 jury trial for Paul Fatta.

Fatta, 35, is charged with conspiracy to manufacture and possess unregistered machine guns. He was at an Austin gun show on Feb. 28 and turned himself in to authorities late last month.

Read the Tribune-Herald's 7-part investigative series on the inner workings of the Branch Davidians. Hours after Part 2 appeared in print, the ATF raided the group's compound.

Read the Tribune-Herald’s account of the ATF raid on the Branch Davidian compound on Feb. 28, 1993. Four ATF agents and six in the compound were killed in the gunfight.

Read the daily news accounts of the 51-day siege at the Branch Davidian compound near Elk, which began Feb. 28 and lasted until April.

April 19 and beyond: FBI agents began inserting canisters of tear gas into the Branch Davidian compound in the early morning hours. By noon, it was on fire.

Federal officials left the compound site in late May 1993. As identifications of bodies continued, questions about the survivors, the compound and the cult itself began to emerge.

As the world began to take a critical look back at the events and legal proceedings continue, the ATF's bombshell report forces a shakeup at the top after the raid gone "tragically wrong."

In 1994, the surviving Davidians went on trial in San Antonio. Over six weeks, more than 140 witnesses testified, with the verdict coming just two days prior to the anniversary of the ATF raid.

The Rodenville shootout and the 1988 trial, the end of the world in 1959 and more stories from deep in the Trib archives.