Kiri Jewell didn’t hide behind her age Thursday.
The 12-year-old former cult member appeared on the “Donahue” TV show to tell the story that has almost been overlooked in the aftermath of the shootout between authorities and the Branch Davidians.
It’s the story of the cult’s children.
Jewell lives in Niles, Mich., with her father, David, a disc jockey. If not for a custody hearing a year ago, she would be at Mount Carmel, the cult’s base 10 miles east of Waco, with her mother, Sherri.
And cult leader Vernon Howell.
David Jewell has spent a lot of time helping his daughter forget the cult.
After the Feb. 28 shootout between the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms and the Branch Davidians, though, Kiri Jewell decided she didn’t want what happened to younger cult members to be forgotten among stories about guns and negotiations to end the standoff.
“She decided that, maybe, she had a few things to say,” David Jewell said, in a telephone interview from Niles.
Host Phil Donahue asked Kiri if Howell took girls at age 13 as “wives.”
“No, it was any age,” Kiri said. “It didn’t matter.”
Kiri confirmed that her mother was grooming her to become one of Howell’s “wives,” and said Howell had sex with girls as young as 12.
Targeted girls were given a Star of David medallion, Kiri said.
She also said Howell had taught cult members – even the youngest – how to commit suicide.
“He said to put the gun in your mouth,” Kiri said. “If you put it to the side of your head, he said there was a chance you could survive.”
Life under Howell wasn’t pleasant, Kiri said.
David Jewell said his daughter told him about being paddled because she didn’t learn a Bible verse fast enough. Kiri also told him of other instances of abuse “we just aren’t ready to talk about,” he said.
Kiri’s manner on the show belied her young age.
She wasn’t upset by the questioning from Donahue. But former cult member Lisa Gent said Kiri’s maturity could have unfortunate roots.
“A lot of the little kids in the cult have an old head on their shoulders,” Gent said. “If you sit for hours in sexually detailed Bible studies, you do tend to grow up in a hurry.”