The Dallas Morning News
BYLINE:Enrique Rangel

Authorities identify Koresh's remains
He apparently died of gunshot wound in head

WACO -- After two days of speculation, McLennan County authorities announced Sunday night that the body of Branch Davidian leader David Koresh has been identified.

The cult leader apparently died of a gunshot wound in the head, said Justice of the Peace James Collier, in whose district the Branch Davidian compound was located. However, it's too early to tell whether the gunshot wound was self-inflicted, Judge Collier said.

There had been speculation by some that Mr. Koresh somehow may have escaped the fire, possibly by using underground tunnels.

The identification, made possible by dental records and X-rays of the cult leader's mouth and body, was confirmed about 4 p.m. Sunday, Judge Collier said. The autospy also indicated an earlier bullet wound to the hand. Mr. Koresh and others had said that he was wounded in the side and the hand in the Feb. 28 shootout with agents of the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms. The shootout began the siege that ended in the April 19 inferno in which Mr. Koresh and about 70 other cult members died.

His body was found the day after the fire in the room next to the kitchen area of the compound, which served as communication headquarters, Judge Collier said at a hastily called news briefing. Unlike other fire victims who died mingled with one another, Mr. Koresh died alone in a separate area, Judge Collier said.

Justice of the Peace David Pareya, who has been making the daily announcements concerning the cause of death of the fire victims, said Mr. Koresh's exact cause of death is pending.

The reason McLennan County authorities revealed that Mr. Koresh's body had been found was to end the speculation, Judge Pareya said. On Friday, McLennan County Sheriff Jack Harwell told The Dallas Morning News that investigators believed they had found the remains of the cult leader.

Judge Pareya said the Texas Rangers were in the process Sunday night of notifying Mr. Koresh's family that his body had been identified.

Mr. Koresh's mother, Bonnie Haldeman of Chandler, Texas, did not return a phone message.

Dick DeGuerin, Mr. Koresh's attorney, said late Sunday that Mr. Koresh's family was "pretty well reconciled to the fact that he is dead since April 19, so this is no real shock.'

Mr. DeGuerin said he hopes that the identification of Mr. Koresh's body will move the focus of news reports to the government's action that led up to the 51-day standoff and its fiery end.

Officials said that about 30 autopsies have been done. Darrell Thompson, assistant chief medical investigator for Tarrant County, said the Fort Worth office is averaging five or six autopsies daily and expects to finish all the autopsies by Friday or Saturday. However, Judge Pareya said the identifications are likely to take longer than that.

"The chances of all being identified is very small,' said Judge Collier.

15 bodies identified

Judge Pareya said Mr. Koresh is among 15 fire victims who have been identified.

But as of Sunday night, the names of only six fire victims had been released. All had suffered gunshot wounds. Authorities have not yet contacted the families of the other nine, Judge Pareya said.

Judge Pareya said it appears that 27 of the fire victims were British citizens. The number of children who died in the blaze is still unknown, but Judge Collier believes it is about 17.

Mr. Koresh had told authorities just before the fire that 95 people were inside the compound. Nine survived, so authorities initially put the death toll at 86.

Investigators have found only 72 bodies in the rubble, and they have said that they don't believe there were 86 people inside at the time of the fire.

The blaze started April 19 as FBI agents in armored vehicles were punching holes in the compound buildings and pumping in tear gas.

The FBI and arson investigators say evidence shows that the compound was set ablaze by cult members; survivors of the fire say it was set when lanterns were overturned by the shock of the armed vehicles' intrusion into the building.

The siege began Feb. 28 when ATF agents raided the compound to serve search and arrest warrants alleging federal weapons violations. Four ATF agents were killed and 16 were wounded in the gunbattle. An undetermined number of cult members were killed and several, including Mr. Koresh, were wounded.

The only bodies that authorities think are left in the compound are those of five Branch Davidian members who apparently died in the initial Feb. 28 gunbattle with federal agents.

Koresh's background

Mr. Koresh, 33, was born Vernon Wayne Howell in Houston on Aug. 17, 1959. He was raised in the Dallas area. A ninth-grade dropout, he had worked as auto mechanic and rock guitarist, and he legally changed his name in 1990.

He wrested control of the cult from then-leader George Roden in 1987. When Mr. Koresh was 24, he married 14-year-old Rachel Jones, daughter of a high ranking sect member, Perry Jones, who was killed in the Feb. 28 shootout. She was the mother of two of his children, Cyrus and Star. Rachel Jones and her children apparently died in the fire, although their bodies have not been identified.

Mr. Koresh also reportedly fathered other children by several cult members, some of them wives of other cult members. However, he denied allegations that he had had sex with girls as young as 12 or had physically abused children in his group.

Some or all of the 17 children who died in the fire were believed to have been fathered by Mr. Koresh.

At one time Mr. Koresh told cult members that he was Jesus Christ; he sometimes identified himself as the Lamb of God. Later, though, he insisted he was only a prophet.

In the past few years, the cult had stockpiled hundreds of thousands dollars worth of weapons -- some of them illegal, the ATF believed.

Investigation pending

Treasury Secretary Lloyd Bentsen is expected Monday to formally introduce a three-member panel to oversee the Clinton administration's investigation of the Feb. 28 raid.

The ATF falls under the jurisdiction of the Treasury Department.

The three people to be named to the panel are Los Angeles Police Chief Willie L. Williams, former Watergate prosecutor Henry Ruth and University of Southern California journalism professor Edwin O. Guthman.

Reached at their homes, Mr. Guthman and Mr. Ruth declined to discuss what Mr. Bentsen expects of them.

"I really think that should come from Treasury Secretary Bentsen and not from us,' said Mr. Guthman, who was the press officer in the U.S. Justice Department during the Kennedy administration.

Chief Williams could not be reached for comment.