Federal officials have confirmed the existence of a computer disk taken from the fire that destroyed Mount Carmel.

But they refuse to discuss what’s on it.

Branch Davidian Ruth Ottman had the computer disk with her when she fled the April 19 inferno that killed more than 80 cult members, including their leader, Vernon Howell, also known as David Koresh.

Ottman said the disk contained Howell’s analysis of the first seal of the Seven Seals mentioned in the Bible’s book of Revelation.

An FBI spokesman said the Texas Rangers sent the computer disk to the agency’s office in Washington, D.C. But it now is in the possession of the U.S. attorney’s office in McLennan County, according to a source.

“We received the disk, analyzed it and wrote up a report,” said FBI spokesman Nestor Michnyak.

Michnyak declined to say what was on the computer disk.

“But, yes, something is on the disk,” he said.

The Texas Rangers refused to comment even on the existence of the computer disk. Assistant U.S. Attorney Ray Jahn failed to return phone calls requesting an interview.

FBI skepticism that Howell was writing an analysis of the Seven Seals was one reason that tanks began shredding the walls of Mount Carmel early on April 19. Less than a week earlier, Howell had reported that he and his followers would leave the compound once he wrote down the meaning of the Seven Seals. God had ordered him to do so, Howell told his attorney, Dick DeGuerin of Houston.

A letter from Howell, given the media by DeGuerin, said: “As soon as I can see that people like Jim Tabor and Phil Arnold have a copy, I will come out and then you can do your thing with this beast.”

Tabor is an associate religion professor at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. Arnold runs a religious think tank in Houston.

To enable Howell to write, the Branch Davidians used a car battery to run the computer, according to DeGuerin. A computer expert said a converter — which would be rigged — would have had to change the direct current in order to power the computer.

“It was jerry-rigged,” DeGuerin said. “They had a bunch of computer geniuses in there. I wouldn’t know how to do it. But they evidently did. In fact, I got materials that had obviously been typed on a printer — the sides were justified and it was neatly done — that the FBI delivered to me from them.”

DeGuerin first brought the computer disk to public attention. He said authorities confiscated it from Ottman after she jumped off a second-story window during the fire. Ottman broke her ankle in the fall.

After recovering, she was put in a half-way house as a material witness. In early August, though, a superseding federal indictment charged Ottman with conspiring to kill federal officers. She remains in McLennan County Jail.

DeGuerin said authorities rebuffed his attempt to get a transcription of the computer disk.

“I’ve gotten a stonewall from the U.S. attorney’s office, which is not surprising,” he said. “I’ve been assured by the Rangers that it’s safe, that it has been transcribed.”

DeGuerin — who may file a Freedom of Information request for a copy of the computer disk—said he wasn’t comfortable with the FBI examining the computer disk.

“It puts a lie to what they said,” he said. “They said they had inside information that David wasn’t working on the Seven Seals. It supposedly contains his completed version of the first of the Seven Seals—the most difficult and time-consuming, which indicates that he was pretty well through when . . .“

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.