Michael Schroeder was shot and killed Feb. 28 by authorities surrounding the Mount Carmel compound.

He had a gun in his hand.

But Ken Schroeder doesn’t view his son’s death as justifiable. He has a harsher word for it.

“They said he was in the woods,” said Schroeder, a truck driver from Warrenville, Ill. “They said he was carrying a gun. But they already had four dead, and they were mad as hell and they were going to shoot anything that moved. When the odds are 250 to 3, that’s murder. The ATF should probably be disbanded because of this.”

Michael Schroeder, along with Delroy Nash and Bob Kendrick, was trying to sneak into the compound 10 miles east of Waco, trying to get back to the man, Vernon Howell, whom branch Davidians consider Christ, according to Ken Schroeder.

Nash was arrested at the scene. Kendrick escaped but was later arrested.

It was just hours after a shootout that left four agents with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms dead. All three men were apparently away from the compound at the time of the shootout.

ATF officials declined to comment on Michael Schroeder’s death, except to say his body was found about 350 yards from the compound.

Autopsy results have not been issued on Schroeder, 29.

Justice of the Peace David Pareya said preliminary autopsy results show that Shroeder died of multiple gunshot wounds, possibly seven or more.

Changed by Howell

Michael Schroeder’s mother, Sandy Connizzo of Zephyrhills, Fla., wonders if Howell did something to change her son.

“I feel his death is such a waste,” she said. “He left here such a gentle person. Now he’s gone. He never used to be an aggressive person. But he’s been under the mind control of Vernon Howell for 3 ½ years. There’s no way of knowing what happened to him.”

Schroeder sold his belongings and left with his wife, Kathy, and family to follow Howell about three years ago, according to his mother.

Ken Schroeder said his son met Kathy Schroeder, 30, when both were students living in Zephyrhills. She married another man and had three children. After a divorce, she tracked down Michael, her high school sweetheart, and married him, Ken Schroeder said.

Michael and Kathy had a son, Brian, 3.

Kathy Schroeder left the Davidian compound March 12. She is being held in McLennan county Jail as a material witness in the case. On Thursday, a U.S. magistrate ordered her free, but a government appeal of her release stayed the order.

Father not told

After Schroeder was shot, his body wasn’t picked up for four days.

And it wasn’t until March 10 that authorities publicly announced Schroeder’s death. The delay angers family members.

“I’m mad as hell,” Ken Schroeder said. “I had to dig to find out he was dead. You would think they would have called the police, have someone come to my door to tell me my son is dead.”

Michael Schroeder was happy as a Branch Davidian, his father said, although his wife, Kathy, became one of Howell’s so-called wives.

“He was obsessed with the group,” Ken Schroeder said. “He was doing his thing. He was as happy as a lark. I know Mike. If he didn’t like what he was doing he would be out of there.”

Only time for coffee

Yet even Ken Schroeder noticed a change in his son.

Last March, he telephoned his son at Mount Carmel. The two had not seen each other in years. Schroeder tried to arrange a meeting,

“I was in Florida,” Schroeder said. “I had another week to go on vacation. I called him up. I said, ‘Hey, why don’t I stop by Waco and take you all out to dinner, have a good old time?’ He said he couldn’t do that, but he could come have coffee with me. He basically told me that he got to go out, but not his whole family. I didn’t push it. I just let it go. You know, 1,200 miles is a long way to go for a cup of coffee, even for a truck driver.”

Michael Schroeder was baptized a Lutheran as a boy. In Florida, he became a Seventh-day Adventist, his father said.

Then he met Howell.

Ken Schroeder said he once asked his son what Howell was like.

“He said he was just a minister,” Schroeder said.

Awaiting autopsy results, he still clings to his belief that his son would never try to harm anyone.

Gun out of character

“It really makes me mad,” Ken Schroeder said. “He was the only one of my kids who never gave me grief, never got out of line. That’s why I find it hard to believe he was carrying a gun.

“And if he was carrying a gun, it’s hard to believe he drew it on someone. . . Several times he came home beat to a pulp because he wouldn’t fight back. I don’t know what to say. I really feel sorry for the dead ATF guys. I did a show with one of the guys’ girlfriend. He was a nice guy, just doing what he was told.

“The guy who told these guys to storm the compound, he’s responsible for every one of those deaths. The whole thing could have been handled by local cops.”

Sandy Connizzo, however, blames circumstances for her son’s death.

“I heard the area was practically a war zone,” she said. “I hate to put it so bluntly, but if an officer of the law comes across someone with a gun in his hand, what’s the officer to do?”

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.