The Dallas Morning News
BYLINE:Victoria Loe

Officials recover 5 bodies from Branch Davidian bunker

WACO -- Authorities recovered five bodies Tuesday from the cinder-block bunker at the center of the charred Branch Davidian compound after being hampered by the heat, stench and piles of debris.

"There's more debris than we anticipated,' Justice of the Peace David Pareya said Tuesday. "It's a tedious process.'

An anthropologist from the Smithsonian Institution arrived Tuesday to help Texas Rangers and crime lab workers sift through the grisly wreckage.

Judge Pareya would not speculate on how many bodies may be found in the bunker, except to say that it may be "a few more than (the four or five) we had anticipated.' Getting even a rough count is hard, he said, because "it is such devastation out there.'

Additional bodies may lie in the tunnels beneath the compound, he said, but many of the tunnels are filled with water. Authorities are not yet ready to pump the water out, partly for fear that exposing any submerged bodies to the air would create a health hazard.

Officially, the body count stands at 53, and most have been removed from the ruins. The Tarrant County medical examiner's office has performed autopsies on 20 victims.

A third victim was identified Tuesday. However, officials did not release the identity of the newly identified victim, pending notification of next of kin.

The two known victims are David Jones, 38, and Shari Doyle, 18.

Judge Pareya said relatives have requested their bodies for burial, but the medical examiner has decided to keep the remains for "a few days' in case further tests are necessary.

Mr. Jones and Ms. Doyle died of gunshot wounds to the head. Judge Pareya said it has not been determined whether any other victims were shot. He said pathologists have not determined whether Mr. Jones and Ms. Doyle shot themselves or were shot by others.

Eighty-six sect members, including leader David Koresh and 17 children, are believed to have perished in the April 19 blaze. Ten others -- four agents of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms and six sect members -- died in the Feb. 28 raid that began the 51-day siege.

Also Tuesday, a federal grand jury in Waco returned indictments against six Branch Davidians.

Kathryn Schroeder, Kevin Whitecliff and Brad Branch were charged with conspiracy to murder a federal official and possession of a firearm in commission of a federal offense. Jaime Castillo and Clive Doyle were charged with conspiracy to murder a federal official. Paul Fatta was charged with conspiracy to possess and manufacture machine guns.

Judge Pareya, a veteran justice of the peace, struggled to find words to describe the horror of working in the enclosed bunker, surrounded by rot-ting food and decomposing corpses.

"You go in, you go out. You go in, you go out,' he said, describing how workers must periodically emerge for fresh air.

Some workers wear respirators; others, including Judge Pareya, wear only simple filter masks. How long each person stays in the bunker, he said, depends on "how tough you are.'

The local health department brought a dumpster to the scene Tuesday to remove some of the rotting food that is contributing to the noxious smells overcoming workers.

Also Tuesday, a Department of Public Safety spokesman defended the agency's part in the crime scene investigation.

Defense attorneys for various cult members, living and dead, have questioned the DPS' autonomy from the FBI and the ATF, which the lawyers say are to blame for the Mount Carmel tragedy.

For instance, evidence gathered at the crime scene will be shipped to the FBI crime lab in Washington for analysis. Several Branch Davidians who survived the fire have charged that the FBI accidentally set the blaze by ramming the compound with tanks.

DPS spokesman Mike Cox said the evidence could not be processed at the state's crime lab because that facility must be kept free to work on evidence from other crimes.

"We are doing this thing as professionally as it can be done,' Mr. Cox said.

As of Tuesday, authorities searching the wreckage had found 25 AR-15s and AK-47s, and "75 percent' of the weapons had been converted illegally to full automatic fire, knowledgeable law enforcement officials said.

One of the 25 converted guns was found in a car owned by Steve Schneider, Mr. Koresh's chief lieutenant in the cult, the law enforcement officials said.

The illegally converted assault rifles support allegations by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms that the Branch Davidians had amassed a massive, illegal arsenal of explosives, automatic weapons and other ordnance.

Since April 19, investigators have also found an M-60 machine gun and a number of illegal homemade grenades.

The automatic weapons found so far indicate that the conversion jobs apparently favored by the group did not use the single-part auto-sear often used to illegally convert AR-15s and other assault weapons, the law enforcement officials said. An auto-sear drops into the internal chamber to allow the weapon to fire automatically.

Since 1986, auto-sears have been illegal to possess under federal law.

But the 1986 legislation -- which banned sale of automatic weapons made after 1986 and sale of machine gun components, such as auto-sears -- did not ban the sale of replacement parts for machine guns manufactured before 1986, law enforcement officials said.

That loophole was key to the Branch Davidians' efforts to amass a significant part of its illegal arsenal, the law enforcement officials said. After legally buying replacement parts from suppliers across the country, the officials said, the cult used milling equipment and a trained machinist to install machine gun replacement parts.

Staff writer Lee Hancock contributed to this report.