© 1993 Waco Tribune-Herald

The Michigan man who warned Congress a year ago about the Branch Davidian cult now holed up outside Waco released the contents of his letter Sunday.

David Jewell, a disc jockey, mailed the letter after waging a custody battle for his daughter Kiri, now 12.

Kiri was a cult member along with her mother, Sherri.

Judge Ronald Taylor of Berrien County, Mich., awarded the Jewells joint custody of Kiri, but he sternly warned Sherri Jewell to keep her daughter away from cult leader Vernon Howell.

In a March 17, 1992, letter, David Jewell warned of “an extremely grave situation which begs for action.”

He mailed the letter to U.S. Rep. Fred Upton of Michigan.

The letter voiced fears of a mass suicide last Passover, but it also urged authorities to study the allegations against Howell contained in the transcript of the Michigan case.

Attached was an affidavit from Marc Breault, the former cult member who alerted Jewell that Howell had targeted Kiri to become one of his so-called wives.

In Breault’s affidavits, first filed during the custody hearing, many of the non-familiar accusations against Howell are detailed: that Howell had sex with underage girls; that girls younger than 10 years old were groomed to be his wives; that he mistreated children, once banishing his son, Cyrus, to a garage for the night, telling him it was full of rats who liked to gnaw on children; and the he “dissolved” all marriages, saying all women in the cult, and the world, belonged to him.

Upton forwarded the letter and affidavit to U.S. Rep. Chet Edwards, D-Waco, who dispatched them to the FBI on April 15, 1992.

“There was no way we foresaw this siege,” an Edwards spokesman said Sunday. “But it did look like the individual was making legitimate points that seemed to merit further investigation.”

Edwards’ congressional office, however, received no response from the FBI.

So in February of this year, the office resubmitted Jewell’s letter, but this time to a different branch officer of the FBI.

“The fact that we didn’t get any response didn’t mean that we thought they weren’t doing anything,” Edwards told the Tribune-Herald in early March.

“We just thought that since we didn’t get a response, that it might have slipped through the cracks.”

However, a Feb. 23 FBI memo stated, “to date no information has been developed to verify the allegations” contained in the letter, the Dallas Morning News has reported.

Surprisingly, the FBI reached that conclusion without contacting any of the former cult members whom the Tribune-Herald interviewed for its series, “The Sinful Messiah.” The series explored allegations contained in the letter and the affidavit.

Jewell said he never heard back from authorities, other than a cursory letter.

“I was told my letter had been forwarded to the appropriate authorities,” he said. “To be honest it read like a form letter. No one ever told me what they were doing about the issues I raised.”

Edwards steadfastly has refused to release Jewell’s letter, pending the end of the standoff at Mount Carmel, which began Feb. 28 after four agents with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms died trying to execute a warrant against Howell for possession of illegal weapons.

“I don’t want to be a part of criticizing any federal agency,” Edwards said. “Now, once this thing is resolved, hopefully without any further loss of life, I think there are some questions that will want to be asked. The Monday morning quarterbacking right now, I don’t want to be any part of that because I have constituents who are putting their necks on the line.”

Since Jewell’s letter did not mention weapons, and Breault’s affidavit only had a line mentioning an AK-47, Jewell said he was surprised to be contacted by the ATF in January.

The agency flew Jewell and his daughter, Kiri, to Texas about 10 days before the raid on Mount Carmel.

ATF agents talked to Kiri Jewell for more than two hours.

“Basically, they were looking for anything that could allow them to issue an arrest warrant or a search warrant,” David Jewell said.

He said it’s unclear to him what part his letter played in the events unfolding in Waco. All he knows, he said, is that he had to do something after hearing the allegations against Howell made in the Michigan courtroom.

“Even though we were successful getting Kiri out, I felt a moral obligation to act in favor of the other children still in there,” Jewell said. “The very fears I had for my daughter, I had for the other children. For children who parents are cult members, there’s no one looking out for them.”

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.