The Dallas Morning News
BYLINE:Jeffrey Weiss

Apocalypse Now?
Not to worry ... just yet

David Koresh was wrong: He was not the Messiah.

The world did not end when he did. And he became one in the long legion of doomsayers notable for calling the wrong doom.

But even a pack of false prophets doesn't mean that every lamentation is loony. Cassandra's insight was true when she warned the Trojans about the soldier-filled Greek horse. And Jeremiah was on target with his predictions of calamity in Jerusalem.

Our age has would-be seers in abundance. If anything is different than earlier days, it has to be their access to the public.

Jeremiah, persecuted for his street-corner predictions some 2,600 years ago, might have been just as badly treated today. But he'd go on Nightline to complain and the whole world would know about it.

The ever-thickening info-net that serves and binds us means that we can tie into myriad dire threats. Secular and religious, they foretell the End of the World. Or maybe just the end of the world as we know it.

Mr. Koresh's failure as a ghastly prophet wannabe doesn't mean the world isn't in bad shape. Remember that even paranoids have enemies.

Or, as author and journalist James Cabell once said; "The optimist proclaims we live in the best of all possible worlds. The pessimist fears this is true.'

The Branch Davidians are among many people delving the Bible for literal clues about the future. Teachers at the Dallas Theological Seminary have been making the same effort for decades.

Charles Dyer, a professor at the seminary, recently had a book published on the topic: "World News and Bible Prophesy.' Like Mr. Koresh, Mr. Dyer has examined the book of Revelations.

"It's the only book in the Bible that gives a blessing for reading it but a curse for misinterpreting it,' he said.

The way he sees it, Mr. Koresh had a kink in his timeline. Mr. Koresh was searching for evidence of the Tribulations; the predicted natural disasters and moral and political upheavals of the final years before the reign of the Messiah.

But a careful reading of the Bible, Mr. Dyer said, shows that the Tribulations follow the Rapture -- the moment when the faithful are swept into the air to be united with the returned Jesus.

That hasn't happened, obviously. And that means the Tribulations can't have started yet, Mr. Dyer said.

John Walvoord, former president of the seminary, is the grand old man of this kind of Biblical exploration. He's the author, among other books, of an 800-page tome that examines every biblical prophesy he could find. He concurs with his younger colleague in his assessment of Mr. Koresh's theology.

"In the case of Koresh, I think he was off his rocker,' he said.

That doesn't mean Mr. Walvoord can't see patterns in the world today that offer clues that the Final Days might be coming. Just as sprinters ease into the starting blocks before a race, God may be getting the world ready.

"The whole world is being lined up exactly as you'd expect if the Rapture is going to take place,' Mr. Walvoord said.

One need not be religious to find reasons to worry.

For instance, the frogs are disappearing.

That sounds like proof that Kermit is right when he sings, "It's Not Easy Being Green.'

But this is no joke. For about 10 years, many scientists who study amphibians have found that places formerly hopping with frogs and toads suddenly aren't.

"We know in some parts of the world that the frogs are not just declining. They're gone,' said Dr. John Wright, curator of herpetology at the Los Angeles Museum of Natural History and a member of the Declining Amphibian Populations Task Force.

Mostly in the mountains, all over the Americas, populations that have been around as long as anyone knows are nowhere to be found. In North America alone, one-third of 86 species of toads and frogs appear to be in trouble.

"Many of them are in highly protected areas like national parks,' Dr. Wright said. "These frogs may actually be an early warning system that is saying something about the quality of our environment.' .

Much of the private money paying for the task force's work was raised in Dallas with the help of Jim Murphy, curator of herpetology at the Dallas Zoo and another member of the task force.

Nobody knows exactly what's killing the frogs. The most popu- lar theory is that an increase in ultraviolet radiation may be part of the cause. Frogs spend lots of time basking in the sun, like sunbathers at a beach. That, and the structure of their skin, may make them particularly vulnerable to UV radiation.

"There's even some suggestion that people might be, too,' Dr. Wright said. "UV has the same effect on frogs as it does on people. It lowers the immune system.'

But UV radiation has been pumped out of the sun for the hundreds of millions of years that frogs have been around. That makes it even more mysterious that so many are, well, croaking, today.

"Unless I've missed it, I've heard of no smoking gun, yet,' Mr. Murphy said.

It's just possible, however, that today's decline in frogs is linked to millions of cans of hair spray that were spritzed into Dallas hair during the 1960s. The link is ozone.

Ozone is a particular kind of oxygen molecule normally found in the upper reaches of the Earth's atmosphere. This molecule keeps UV radiation from getting to the ground. During the past decade or so, scientists have noticed that the ozone shield is being breached, particularly around the South Pole.

The blame goes to chlorofluorocarbons, gases used chiefly as refrigerants, solvents, foam-blowing gas, and once as spray-can propellants. These gases apparently drifted skyward over the years. And these chemicals destroy ozone.

No ozone -- lots of UV. Lots of UV -- lots of cancer. And lots of dead plants. And just maybe, lots of dead frogs. Or so goes the theory.

In 1987, the industrialized nations of the world signed the Montreal Protocol, which called for the halving of chlorofluorocarbons production by the end of the 1990s.

And that, many hoped, would be the end of the threat. But just last week, researchers for NASA released a discomfiting report that world ozone levels were lower last year than had ever been seen before.

This wasn't just a South Pole problem, either. The ozone over much of the Northern Hemisphere was thinner than anyone had predicted -- even taking known chemical destruction into account.

The 1991 eruption of Mt. Pinatubo in the Philippines may have caused the statistical blip, pumping natural ozone-eating chemicals into the air. But maybe not.

"We're not exactly sure what causes these effects,' said Richard Stolarski, a scientist at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration's Goddard Space Flight Center.

If the problem is caused by Mt. Pinotubo, the effects should settle out in one or two years, he said.

Scientists are considering ways to keep us all better informed about how dangerous UV is getting.

"One of the things we are trying to look at this year is putting out a UV index,' said Jim Miller, a meteorologist for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

In the meantime, don't panic, suggested Dr. James Gleason, a scientist from the Universities Space Research Association working at Goddard.

"I'm going to the beach this summer, but I will put lots of sunblock on my children,' he said.

Radiation isn't the only threat from the sky. Worry about the risk of being killed by really big meteors.

Risk is computed using a formula that includes the number of people affected by an event and how often the event happens. And that puts the chance of getting killed in a plane crash at about the same level, of being killed by a big rock from beyond, said Donald Yeomans, a researcher at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif.

But that just shows how statistics can dance. Plane crash victims die a few at a time, a few times a year. A major meteor strike hits the Earth about once every 500,000 years and would wipe out at least a third of the world's population. Not to mention frogs.

"The risk comes from the fact that if the Earth gets hit by an asteroid or comet larger than about a mile, the dust thrown up would block the sunlight,' Mr. Yeomans said.

Many scientists blame such an event for the death of the dinosaurs. So how worried should we be?

"Like anything else, you need to have a little insurance,' Mr. Yeomans said. "You don't want to ignore it completely.'

He doesn't. "It's my job to monitor the near-Earth population' of big rocks, he said.

"Near' to Mr. Yeomans means about 30 million miles.

"If it gets into that distance, it can evolve into an Earth-crossing orbit in time,' he said. "Lots of time.'

We know of about 300 near-Earth objects big enough to worry about. Scientists figure that's about 10 percent of the total out there.

"It's not a type of risk where you need an Earth-orbiting shield,' Mr. Yeomans said. "It's worth thinking about and its worth a modest amount of money. But it's not worth losing sleep over.

Fear of rocks from space may be a welcome distraction from worrying about a plummeting economy.

Not for Ravi Batra. The economics professor at Southern Methodist University has made his predictions of fiscal doom into a cottage industry. He is best known for two books: The Great Depression of 1990 and Surviving the Great Depression of 1990.

He acknowledges that the world's economies didn't quite vanish into the abyss.

"I am off about the severity of the problem but not the timing of the problem,' he said.

Big countries have kept the recession -- that did start in 1990 -- from becoming a depression, he said.

"All we are doing is postponing it through government borrowing,' he said.

But that's old news. Dr. Batra has a book out this month with a new warning: The Myth of Free Trade. A Plan for America's Economic Revival.

Dr. Batra figures that the United States killed most barriers to free trade about 1973.

"What I found was most shocking,' he said. "Inflation-adjusted wages have been dropping for 80 percent of the work force. This has been happening even though productivity has gone up every year.'

In the old pre-tariff days, international competitors were kept out. Internal competition fueled the fires of progress and kept wages rising, Dr. Batra said.

His solution: "competitive protectionism.'

That means bringing back tariffs. It also means breaking up big domestic companies, in the way that AT&T was divested into a flock of Baby Bells.

"Replace foreign competition with domestic competition,' he said.

Without that kind of massive restructuring, Dr. Batra stands by his decade-old prediction of economic Armageddon.

"President Clinton has one more year at the most,' he said.

Other seers found immortality with far less specificity. Nostradamus, who lived about 400 years ago, left a series of still-famous predictions that are murky as psychologist's rorschach ink blot. One purports to offer a clue for our near future:

"The year 1999, seven months, from the sky will come a great King of Terror: To bring back to life the great King of the Mongols, before and after Mars to reign by good luck.'

Good luck, indeed.

Ready or not, here we come.

The Dallas Morning News
BYLINE:David McLemore

53 bodies found so far at cult site; official says 2 have gun wounds
Identities still unknown; dental records received for 15 people

WACO -- From a distance of 200 yards, it's hard to see that people are working amid a tomb.

Saturday, Texas Rangers and state and federal technicians continued efforts to glean evidence from the ruins of the Branch Davidian compound east of Waco.

Investigators from the Tarrant County medical examiner's office have accounted for 53 bodies in the compound's ashes, many of them burned away to dust and bone.

The examiner, Dr. Nizam Peerwani, said autopsies indicated that two people, a man and woman, found side by side died of a single gunshot wound each to the head. He declined to speculate on when they died or whether they were suicide or homicide victims.

Three others died of smoke inhalation and carbon monoxide poisoning, and the cause of death of a fourth person was undetermined pending a toxicology report, he said Saturday at a news conference.

No identifications have been made, but that is expected soon. Dental records have been received on 15 people, including those of cult leader David Koresh from age 15. Mr. Koresh was 33 years old at the time of the fire.

Eighty-six people -- as many as 17 of them children -- apparently died in the blaze that swept the compound Monday afternoon. The FBI injected tear gas that morning trying to break their standoff with the sect.

Forty-four bodies, including the charred remains of a woman who still clutched her small child to her body, have been taken to Fort Worth to begin the laborious task of identification.

Previously, Dr. Peerwani said he had seen no evidence of any shootings. His disclosure of the two gunshot-wound victims comes days after the FBI said some Branch Davidians may have shot and killed other followers, possibly to prevent them from escaping.

Agents said they also could have been suicide victims or hit by ammunition exploding in the heat. Agents said they did not fire any weapons Monday before the compound fire.

In other developments Saturday:

Bunker searched

In Waco, reporters were taken to within 200 yards of the compound. Work crews, some wearing gas masks, cleared a 150-foot arc around the scorched concrete bunker that served as an ammunition dump at the base of the compound's watchtower. They then shored up the damaged building to continue the risky job of removing ammunition piled "thigh-deep' inside.

Besides those that have been recovered, five other bodies remain in the shallow graves where they were placed after the Feb. 28 raid in which four agents of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms were gunned down.

But the immensity of the violence and sudden death that claimed so many lives after the 51-day siege still hangs over the sect home.

At a Saturday briefing, Chuck McDonald, a spokesman for Gov. Ann Richards who is helping the Texas Department of Public Safety, began giving out sparse information.

"Last Monday, like so many people, my family and I watched the fire burning on TV,' Mr. McDonald said. "Afterwards, we sat and talked about what happened. My son, Patrick, my 8-year-old, began crying. He wanted to know why the children had to die.'

Mr. McDonald's voice choked as he fought for composure. "There wasn't a lot I could tell him. I said, "Patrick, whatever happened, those children are in a better place.' '

`Crazy things'

Again, in a silent room, Mr. McDonald's voice broke: "Adults do crazy things. But children have no control over what happens in their lives.

"When I first walked up to that crime scene, I thought about my kids. I think now I have a better appreciation for my family, for my kids.'

There were no questions.

Three dozen Texas Rangers have been assigned to six sections of the compound, an area roughly the size of a city block, to gather evidence, catalog it via computer store it for possible legal action.

The Justice Department has also called on the services of the Allegheny County, Pa., fire marshal and Onyx, his 4-year-old black Labrador retriever, one of only 25 such dogs in the country trained to sniff out fuels used as accelerants in arson fires.

Onyx sat patiently while her boss, Fire Marshal John Kaus, said, "Onyx will prove to be invaluable in this case in that she can cut the investigation time three to four hours a day just in the amount of ground she can cover.'

In Dallas, Mr. Doyle, 52, one of nine Branch Davidians who escaped the fire, was in good condition with burns on hands and arms. Other sect members at Parkland, Misty Ferguson, 16, and, Marjorie Thomas, 30, were in critical condition Saturday.

Four others are being held in the McLennan County Jail and one remained hospitalized in Waco.

According to his attorney, Mr. Doyle said people inside the compound couldn't understand FBI instructions to flee, amplified from speakers surrounding the complex, the FBI has said.

The message was unintelligible because the speakers were out of sync, Mr. Doyle told his attorney. The instructions coming from one bank of speakers was delayed by one or two seconds from the message coming from another set, Mr. Cogdell said.

Staff writers Larry Bleiberg and Karen Lincoln Michel contributed to this report.

The Dallas Morning News
BYLINE:Lee Hancock

Negotiations with Koresh called one-sided, laborious

WACO -- It was a deadly mental chess game.

And the 51 days of talks with Branch Davidian leader David Koresh amounted to a contest in which negotiations were doomed to fail, say federal authorities and outside psychological experts who assisted them.

"There were no negotiations, ever. These were one-sided delusional tirades from a psychopathic paranoiac,' said Dr. Murray Miron, a Syracuse University psychology professor who helped the FBI analyze the cult leader's writings and his personality.

"He was not prepared to surrender. It was as simple as that.'

Monday's fiery tragedy came as authorities tried for the first time since the start of the 51-day siege to use aggressive tactics -- the introduction of tear gas into the fortified compound -- to force Mr. Koresh to surrender.

Instead, the structure erupted in a blaze that apparently consumed him and an estimated 85 followers, including 17 children.

Mr. Koresh's attorney, Dick De-Guerin of Houston, contends that the cult leader would have surrendered peacefully if given the chance.

It began Feb. 28 as federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms agents battled the cult in a 45-minute firefight that started when the federal agents tried to arrest Mr. Koresh and search the compound east of Waco. Four agents were killed and 16 were wounded before the cult called 911, and the call was transferred to a trained ATF hostage negotiator who talked Mr. Koresh into a cease-fire.

During the next few days, Mr. Koresh and his chief lieutenant, Steve Schneider, stayed on the telephone almost continuously with negotiators from the ATF and the FBI.

Negotiators worked in shifts, with a primary agent assigned to talk with the Branch Davidians while three agents listened on headphones. Those listening would coach, log contents of the talks and manage the negotiation strategy, federal officials said.

More than 20 agents talked to cult members for hundreds of hours of phone calls during the 51-day siege, said one federal official involved in the talks.

The conversations were a bizarre mix of biblical rantings, threats and childhood reminiscences from the 33-year-old cult leader, a high school dropout afflicted with a stutter and learning disabilities.

"He told many stories about his life,' said FBI Agent Bob Ricks, one of four FBI officials who helped manage the siege. "He was placed in special education classes, and he described the saddest day of his life as the day when kids on the playground yelled, "Here come the retards' at him. He was a young kid that just did not fit in.'

Initially, experts thought that they had established a rapport with Mr. Koresh, and they hoped negotiations might succeed because the cult leader steadily released children during the first week.

Signs of hope

McLennan County Sheriff Jack Harwell, who monitored negotiations, members. "He was not an idiot. . . . It was difficult for our negotiators, skilled negotiators to work with him. On the second or third day, he told negotiators, "Y'all are using psychology on us. We know as much about psychology as you do.' '

Twenty-one children were released by the end of the standoff's first week, but after March 5, the releases abruptly stopped. Most of the 16 adults who came out later were elderly, sick or had caused discipline problems inside, authorities said.

After the releases of children stopped, the FBI experts used a cold snap to rachet up the pressure: They cut off electricity to the compound March 12.

Three days later, the cult agreed to a face-to-face meeting with the McLennan County sheriff, the only law enforcement authority whom the cult leader recognized.

"We thought maybe we could suggest, "Let's go out and stand in the open, stand between the lines. Let's look each other in the eye and talk.' '

He met for an hour in a chilly rainstorm with two of Mr. Koresh's closest advisers, but that also led nowhere, the sheriff said.

Authorities again raised the stakes March 21 by broadcasting music at the compound from huge loudspeakers ringing its perimeter. The broadcasts were aimed at disorienting members of the group by disturbing their sleep patterns.

Even those tactics ultimately had limited value, Agent Ricks said, because Mr. Koresh and his followers appeared well-prepared for much of what was thrown at them.

"It was almost like they had read the FBI hostage negotiations manual,' Agent Ricks said. "When we started broadcasting sounds and music, they had earplugs. When we started with gas, they had gas masks.'

On March 29, 10 days after negotiations broke down, authorities decided to try letting Mr. Koresh speak to a Houston lawyer hired by his mother. That was followed by a series of direct meetings between the lawyer, Dick De-Guerin, and Mr. Koresh. A lawyer hired to represent Mr. Schneider, Jack Zimmermann of Houston, also was allowed into the compound.

But Agent Jamar and others said the lawyers only made things worse. That became most apparent after Mr. Koresh promised Mr. De-Guerin that he would come out after the cult's Passover and then reneged.

Mr. DeGuerin and Mr. Zimmermann say their clients intended to come out peacefully after Mr. Koresh completed a manuscript detailing his biblical prophecies. Federal officials called it another stalling tactic.

Tactical action

Authorities concluded that only an aggressive tactical action might force Mr. Koresh's surrender, Agent Jamar said. They decided to use tanks to knock holes in the buildings and inject tear gas until the cult members were forced to flee.

"What else could we have done to force them out?' he said. "You don't go in and kill people to try to keep them from killing themselves.'

Dr. Miron, the FBI consultant, said he and other behavioral analysts who were asked to examine Mr. Koresh's personality concluded independently that further negotiations were fruitless.

They concluded that the cult leader was not likely to kill himself because he was a psychopath, a personality type that does not typically commit suicide.

In an April 16 report he prepared at the FBI's request to brief U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno, Dr. Miron said he wrote that further attempts to negotiate would only be met with more stalling tactics.

"It was my recommendation that any longer delay only worsened the situation,' he said.

After the cult's observance of Passover, FBI managers in Waco asked for and received approval to use the gas, Agent Jamar said.

"Our best estimate was that he was not going to commit suicide and mass suicide was a possibility but not a probability,' he said. "The only way to stop that was to gas them with enough speed to break communications so people might think for themselves.'

Instead of driving the cult members out, the compound was consumed by fire -- an outcome that authorities insist they could not have predicted.

"In these hostage situations, you reduce people to basic needs: food, water, medical care,' the federal negotiator said. "When you introduce (tear gas), you're introducing the need for air. I think it's hard for anyone to comprehend that anyone would willingly sit there and burn up.'