Officers from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, the FBI and the McLennan County sheriff’s department tried Sunday to quell the fears of about 100 Elk residents who live near the armed Mount Carmel compound.
At the hour-long meeting Sunday at St. Joseph’s Catholic Church in Elk, residents heard that agents don’t believe the Branch Davidians have explosives powerful enough to damage surrounding property. Agents further assured the residents that they would make the process of resolving the conflict as “painless as possible” for everyone.
“We just wanted to have a one-on-one with them,” said Elk resident Deloris Beralek. “We wanted to hear it from their lips.”
Beralek said the people in Elk had received information only from the media before the meeting.
“All we wanted to do is find out if there was anything we could do to protect ourselves and our property,” she said. “They were very helpful.”
Four ATF agents and at least two cult members were killed Feb. 28 in a raid on the compound of the Branch Davidian cult led by Vernon Howell, also known as David Koresh.
Since that time, agents have been locked in a standoff with cult members and have been using the roads in Elk as main arteries to the compound.
Beralek said the meeting was not intended for the media, and organizers depended on word of mouth to relay information about the meeting to residents.
Agents made an effort Sunday to dispel any false rumors that had grown out of the standoff.
“We had heard that he (Vernon Howell) could pick you off from two and a half miles with one of his guns,” said Elk resident JoAnn Reinke. “Well, you don’t want to be out mowing the lawn at a mile and a half away if that’s the case.”
Agents told residents that although some of the bullets can travel that far, aiming the guns to hit someone would be almost impossible, she said.
In addition to fears of violence, Elk residents also have had their share of problems with spectators and wanted some help in dealing with unwanted guests.
“There was one person at the meeting who has a pretty good view of the compound,” Beralek said. “One day she looked out at her backyard and saw that people had come into her yard, pulled out her lawn chairs and were sitting in them to watch the activities.”
A spokesman for the sheriff’s department said at the meeting that they will take care of any such problems, Beralek said.
McLennan County Commissioner Lester Gibson asked the McLennan County Sheriff’s Department to set up the meeting after he received phone calls from Elk residents wanting answers to questions.
“They began asking questions that I didn’t have answers to,” he said. “How would the aftermath of this affect them? Are they indeed out of harm’s way? If a situation happens, what should they do?”
In the meantime
Gibson said people in the area wanted to know what to do while the siege continued.
“Basically, the people who live around those areas go in and out of those road blocks and have children in the area,” Gibson said.
“This was a positive meeting. They have legitimate concerns. It’s as if you have a tornado in that area. You need to have an emergency plan.”
Although the standoff has caused inconvenience for Elk residents, Reinke said, the community stands behind the agents and their efforts.
“We want them to know that we support what they’re doing,” she said. “This disturbs your sleep a little bit, but it really hasn’t upset our lives that much, except for the uncertainty. This meeting helped that out.”