Bonnie Haldeman is very much a woman on the run.
Hounded by the media, Haldeman, the mother of cult leader Vernon Howell, fled her home and is now somewhere in Waco, she told the Tribune-Herald Monday.
But she is running to something, just as surely as she is running away.
Haldeman said she wants to see her grandchildren who have been released from the Mount Carmel compound.
She wants to be near their mothers – the ones who bore Howell’s children for the House of David.
On Sunday, federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms agents stormed the Branch Davidians’ compound to arrest Howell and search for illegal weapons. The move resulted in a bloody struggle between the cult and authorities that left six dead.
On Monday, all was quiet on the front. Authorities continued to consolidate their forces around the compound.
Haldeman said Howell considers all of the children of the compound his, though not all are his biologically. She said about 30 children are there.
“Some of those kids are my grandkids,” she said. “I love my grandkids.”
Haldeman said she has not spoken directly to Howell, who claims to be wounded.
“He did call me,” she said. “My answering machine was on.”
“I just wondered why fate would have it that I walked out,” she said, explaining that her puppy got out so she was not there to take her son’s call.
Haldeman said he left a message that he was dying.
She had tried to call the compound, but no one answers the phone, she said. She resorted to calling a radio station to get a message to her son.
“I just called last night on the radio and said I loved him. He’s doing what he feels like he has to do,” she said. “There’s nothing I can do to change his mind.
“Of course, I’d love to be with him,” she said. “I’m his mother … I wish I could talk to him.”
Haldeman said she hasn’t been around Howell much in the past two years, but she believes he is inspired by God.
“I believe he has a message from God,” she said. She was less certain about son’s status as the next Messiah. “I don’t know. It’s hard to say.”
She talked some about Howell’s childhood.
According to former cult members, Howell often talked during his Bible studies about an unhappy childhood, saying he suffered abuse, including sexual abuse from male youths that he knew.
Haldeman said her son told her youths would beat up on him.
“He didn’t tell me until he was bigger,” she said. “He didn’t like to fight.”
Haldeman said Howell told her male youths had attempted to “try things with him, but he wouldn’t let them.”
Haldeman said she did the best she could raising him.
“I guess it’s the way you look at things,” she said about claims that his childhood was a troubled one.
“I probably hollered at him a lot,” she said. “I spanked him, sure. I didn’t leave bruises on him.”
Haldeman said Howell was born in Houston, but she never married his father. “I haven’t seen him in 30 years,” she said. “He was never a father to him.”
They lived in the Houston area until 1963 and then moved to the Dallas area until 1978. From there, they moved to Chandler, where she now lives.
She married Roy Haldeman in 1964, she said. Howell has a 27-year-old half brother, she said, but would not name him or say where he lived.
Howell has been interested in religion since he was a child, she said. He was raised as a Seventh-day Adventist, she added.
“My mother took him to church the first time,” she said, adding that Howell was about 6 years old at the time.
“He felt such a peace when he went to church,” she said.
Haldeman said Howell is highly intelligent but didn’t do that well in school. She said he attended special classes in the fifth and sixth grades because of a learning disability.
Howell did not experience emotional or discipline problems as a child, she said.
“Vernon was always a good boy.”