Steve Schneider, top lieutenant to doomsday cult leader Vernon Howell, died from smoke inhalation and possibly a gunshot wound to the head, officials announced Tuesday.

Justice of the Peace John Cabaniss said Schneider’s body was found in the communications room near the kitchen of the Mount Carmel compound. Authorities recovered Howell’s body in the same room. The preliminary cause of death for Schneider includes the possible trauma to the head that Cabaniss said could have been caused by a bullet. Dental records were used to identify Schneider, who was 48.

Justices of the peace from McLennan County identified a total of 10 cult members, including Waco attorney Wayne Martin, also one of Howell’s inner circle of devotees. Justice of the Peace Cindy Evans said the body of the 42-year-old Martin was located in the stage area, near the communications room. The cause of his death has not been determined.

Medical examiners say Howell, also known as David Koresh, was shot in the head, as were followers David Jones, 38, and Shari Doyle, 18.

Bodies retrieved from the rubble are terribly charred, forcing medical examiners to rely on dental records in many cases. Many died of smoke inhalation April 19 as a roaring fire burned the compound to the ground, ending a 51-day standoff between cultists and authorities.

The FBI attributed the blaze to arson, saying cultists preferred suicide over surrender. Survivors of the fire say a mass suicide was never planned.

Twenty-two bodies pulled from the rubble died of gunshot wounds, including some that were self-inflicted, the Tarrant County Medical Examiner told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram on Tuesday.

However, Dr. Nizam Peerwani said he was not ready to say whether Howell’s fatal gunshot wound was suicide.

“I don’t know yet,” Peerwani said. “We’re doing really a lot of high-tech testing.

“Some of them we can say quite precisely they are self-inflicted,” Peerwani said after a brief appearance before Tarrant County commissioners.

He did not say how many were suicides.

Two people whose bodies were identified Tuesday were possibly shot.

Mary Jean E. Borst, 49, died in the front of the concrete ammunition bunker from lacerations to the heart and lungs form a gunshot wound, said Justice of the Peace David Pareya.

She also suffered smoke inhalation and charring.

Doris Adina Fagan, 60, of Great Britain died in the hallway near the men’s quarters from smoke inhalation.

Her body was charred and Pareya said he could not rule out a gunshot wound to her head.

Officials also identified two bodies buried in underground bunkers from the initial raid on Feb.28.

Winston Blake, 28, of Great Britain died from a high-velocity gunshot wound to the head, said Justice of the Peace James Collier. Another 28-year-old, Peter James Hipsman, died from multiple gunshot wounds to the head and stomach.

In all, officials have identified 32 bodies and named 16 who died during the standoff that began with a bloody raid by federal agents.

According to Howell’s figures, as many as 86 people including the cult leader may have died in the fire. But officials say they are not sure if that figure was accurate.

Officials have said the remains of 72 people have been found, but Pareya said the number keeps shifting. Medical examiners have performed 80 autopsies. At least four body bags from the scene contain body parts belonging to eight people. The meshing of bodies and layers of rubble in the compound caused some remains to mix, he said. It is possible that all the bodies may not be identified, he said.

Some children have been identified, but their names will not be released until the next of kin is notified, he said. Medical examiners must use personal effects and photos to try to identify the children because of a lack of birth and dental records for many of them.

Others identified Tuesday were:

  • Alrick George Bennett, 35, of Great Britain died from smoke inhalation, with extreme charring.
  • Juliet Santoyo Martinez, 30. Cause of death pending.
  • Floyd Leon Houtmann, 61. Cause of death pending.
  • Susan Marjorie Benta, 41, of Great Britain. Cause of death pending.

Those identified earlier include:

  • James Loyle Riddle, 32.
  • Stephen Henry, 26.
  • Livingston Mike Malcolm, 26.

A survivor of the fire, Clive Doyle, 52, was being held without bond Tuesday night in McLennan County Jail. He was charged Monday with conspiracy to murder a federal agent.

Doyle, who was burned before escaping the compound on April 19, had been at Parkland Memorial Hospital.

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.

Load comments