A Houston man eluded hundreds of law enforcement officers surrounding a Waco cult and entered its compound, authorities said Thursday.
They also vigorously denied claims the government fired the first shots in a Feb. 28 shoot-out that killed four agents with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms and at least two members of the Branch Davidians.
FBI Special Agent Bob Ricks said Louis Anthony Alaniz, 24, of Houston sneaked into Mount Carmel, 10 miles east of Waco, about 7 p.m. Wednesday. Alaniz wanted to talk to cult leader Vernon Howell, also known as David Koresh, whom Branch Davidians believe is the Lamb of God, or Christ, and can bring about events that will end mankind.
“He thought it was a center of action that perhaps involved biblical prophecies and he could be a participant in that,” Ricks said at a press briefing Thursday, the 26th day of the standoff.
When authorities spotted Alaniz approaching Mount Carmel, they determined it would place their officers in jeopardy to apprehend him.
“A decision had to be made,” Ricks said. “Was he armed? Did he pose a threat to our people? Would our people be more exposed by taking action to remove him, an unarmed individual? Based on the observations we were able to make, we determined that he was not armed, he did not pose a threat. We erred on the side of protecting our own people.
Ricks refused to say which route Alaniz took to reach the compound.
“We’re talking about vast areas,” he said. “Obviously, it is much easier to control the people coming out of the compound than someone who is zealously trying to get into the compound. We are in a position to neutralize anyone coming in taking armaments, trying to re-supply those people. In this case, the individual was determined to get in there and did not care how much peril he put his own life into.”
After he reached the compound, Alaniz frantically went from window to window trying to get inside. His presence shocked the Branch Davidians, Ricks said.
They thought he might be a federal agent.
“Finally, he was allowed admittance to the front door, once they did their own search,” Ricks said. “It was quite a shock, more so for them than us. He is described as a member of the Assembly of God Church, but it was indicated that he doesn’t necessarily follow the same teachings as they do. The indications are that he may be released shortly once he gets certain indoctrinations from Mr. Koresh.”
A spokesman for the South Texas District of Assemblies of God, however, said he doesn’t think Alaniz belongs to the church.
“He may have attended one of our churches at one time, but as far as we know he is not a member of an Assembly of God church anywhere,” said Executive Assistant David Kent.
Alaniz remained inside the cult with Howell and his 94 followers last night.
“We have requested that they release him,” Ricks said. “It’s not his fight.”
David Troy, ATF chief of intelligence, made his first appearance at the daily press briefings. He strongly denounced reports by Branch Davidians leaving the compound that ATF agents fired the first shots on Feb. 28
“When we attempted to execute the warrants, we found out that the cause we had developed was exactly true,” Troy said. “They were armed with a large number of fully automatic firearms, which they fired indiscriminately. . . . We exited our vehicles to serve an arrest and search warrant and before we had two or three feet on the ground, we took rounds from the compound.”
Troy said ATF agents got about 20 feet from an open door. But when they identified themselves, the door was shut and agents took fire from 40 to 50 positions.
Authorities said they still can confirm only that two Branch Davidians died on Feb. 28 – Peter Gent and Michael Schroeder.
However, the British vice consul in Houston, David Hook, announced that Winston Blake of Nottingham, England was identified by cult members leaving the compound as a shoot-out victim. Victorine Hollingsworth, a British woman who left the cult Sunday, reported the death to Hook.
Blake was 28 years old, according to Paul Horslen, his brother-in-law.
Horslen told Raymonds Press Agency in England that Blake left for Mount Carmel last March with his girlfriend, Beverly Elliott, 27.
Livingston Fagan, released from the compound Sunday, recruited Blake.
“Winston was a peaceful, gentle giant,” Horslen said. “No way was he involved in the fighting. He was an innocent victim of Koresh’s madness. If he had not been killed, “I’m convinced he would have stood up and said, ‘This isn’t the love of God, I want out.’”
Fourteen adults and 21 children have left the compound since the start of the standoff. The adults have been detained as material witnesses to the shootout, with most being kept in jail. Four were ordered to a halfway house Thursday. Two others are also under restrictive custody.
FBI officials continued Thursday to put the heat on Howell.
Ricks, as he did previously, portrayed the cult leader as a liar and a coward. He took the offensive when a reporter asked, if Howell was playing the FBI “for a fool.”
“He knows he holds a lot of the cards” Ricks said. “He has surrounded himself with children. He knows we’re not going to come up and start firing into the building because we don’t want to jeopardize the lives of the children. In many respects, what happens is under his control.
“We have to try to follow up on what he lays out on the table. If he is dishonest with us, it just takes away more layers of his credibility.” Ricks said. “It doesn’t seem like he’s putting out the message that he wants to put out, that of being a prophet or a messiah that is going to lead the world toward this turnaround, whatever he wants it to be. Is he playing us for a fool? It sounds like he’s making a fool out of himself.”
Ricks also questioned Howell’s concern for the 17 children remaining in the compound, most of whom are believed to be children born to Howell’s many so-called wives.
“We believe the conditions in there are greatly deteriorating,” Ricks said. “I can’t believe a father would want his children to go through that. If he really cared about them, why doesn’t he release them? They obviously can’t be participants in a gunfight. Most are only 2 to 3 years of age. Our conclusion is that they’re only there for his own protection.”
A former cult member, Marc Breault, said the FBI’s comments will likely anger Howell. But he said Howell and his followers believe it is all right to lie to outsiders.
“He teaches members that it’s OK to lie because we’re all Babylonians or unbelievers,” Breault said. “He teaches that the Third Seal, a man on a black horse with balances, shows that it’s OK.
“Vernon says the balances of deceit are in his hand, that he loves to deceive. Vernon says it refers to God. If God ever told the straight truth, the world couldn’t handle it, so he has to lie. Still, he doesn’t like to be seen as a liar. So it will probably make him angry to be called one.”