The Dallas Morning News
Agents tell of weary job at cult site
Heat, stench made sifting ruins difficult
Insects swarmed around rotten cans of food. The stench of decaying bodies wafted through the stagnant, 80-degree air. But in the piles of ashes and soot were possible clues to the Branch Davidian disaster.
Last week, a team of 12 FBI agents from Dallas combed the charred remains of the Mount Carmel compound outside Waco. They were searching for evidence that could help determine what happened during the 51 days that David Koresh and his followers barricaded themselves inside.
The agents' mission: to sift inch by inch through the rubble under a hot sun and in squalid conditions. It was not a choice assignment.
"We were the manual labor,' said Special Agent Bill Eubanks, who heads the Dallas FBI's Evidence Response Team, trained to search crime scenes and collect physical evidence for use in investigations and prosecutions.
At the direction of Texas Rangers, the Dallas FBI team and evidence teams from other Texas FBI offices worked four 12-hour days on the grounds of the compound, now more like an archaeological site. The debris is marked with grids and multicolored flags to signify locations where bodies and bullets had been found. The agents, along with Texas Department of Public Safety officers, heaved shovelful after shovelful of ashes through large sieves, meticulously searching.
The monotonous work was complicated by filth, broiling sun and foul smells. The agents were outfitted in rubber gloves, goggles, boot covers and other protective clothing.
"You had the problem of a fire scene; a fire scene stinks anyway,' Agent Eubanks said. "There was a lot of canned food and stuff that was rotten and burned, and it stank.'
The decaying bodies only made matters more onerous. "It's not a pleasant smell,' he said.
Each day the agents plucked heaps of cooked-off ammunition, weapons parts and explosives out of the rubble. They loaded them into boxes and buckets, labeling and documenting them. Then they carted off the leftover refuse. The evidence was shipped to the FBI laboratory in Washington, which has the most advanced forensic equipment in the nation.
By the end of each day, which began about 7:30 a.m. and ended at the same hour p.m., the agents "were covered with dirt and soot, completely exhausted,' Agent Eubanks recalled. "And very desiresome of beer.'
During their stay in Waco, members of the team also examined about a dozen vehicles that had been parked outside the compound, including Mr. Koresh's prized Chevrolet Camaro. The other vehicles -- including vans, a red Chevrolet El Camino, a Chevrolet Blazer and several Japanese-made cars -- had been riddled with bullet holes from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms' raid Feb. 28.
"Some of the rounds went all the way through the vehicles, through seats and steel doors,' Agent Eubanks said. "We're talking some high-powered rounds.'
Investigators pulled bullets out of the cars, measured and tracked their paths and processed fingerprints, all to be sent to the FBI laboratory. Agent Eubanks said that based on the examinations of bullet trajectories, most of the shots in the cars appeared to have been fired from inside the compound.
The evidence team's exhaustive and exhausting work could pay off in the long run, to be used in trials or to to reconstruct and historically record what happened, Agent Eubanks noted.
In the meantime, the team is gearing up for its next assignment -- wherever it may be. Members are on call around the clock and are expected to respond at a moment's notice.
"It's likely we'll never encounter a crime scene quite like this,' said Agent Eubanks.
The Dallas Morning News
BYLINE:Lee Hancock, Bruce Nichols
4 bodies found in tunnels
Officials think they were killed in raid
From tunnels filled with water and mud, investigators Tuesday recovered the bodies of four Branch Davidian followers believed killed in the initial shootout with federal agents Feb. 28.
The bodies of 73 cult members, including 17 children, have been recovered from the burned wreckage. As many as a dozen cultists, and possibly more, had gunshot wounds, authorities said, although it has not been determined whether they were self-inflicted.
Also Tuesday, a child psychiatrist in Houston said the 21 children he treated who were released from the Branch Davidian compound during the siege were not sexually abused and have a good chance of overcoming any mental and emotional scars from the ordeal.
Meanwhile, the federal agents involved in the raid on the sect compound will return Saturday to Waco to the site of the cult's destroyed headquarters, federal officials said Tuesday. The visit is designed to help them deal with the emotional aftermath of the raid and firefight.
On Wednesday, FBI Director William Sessions will arrive in Waco to thank city and county officials for assisting the agency during its management of the 51-day standoff.
FBI officials said Tuesday that the agency's director, a former Waco City Council member, will present a plaque to local officials Wednesday afternoon and will visit the ashes of the compound, which was consumed April 19 in a massive fire that started after FBI agents began pumping in tear gas in a failed effort to force the cult's surrender.
All five bodies of cult members who apparently died in the initial raid have been found, four of them pulled from water- and debris-filled tunnels at the compound, said McLennan County Justice of the Peace James Collier.
One body was believed to be that of cult member Peter Ghent, said Texas Department of Public Safety spokesman Mike Cox.
Nine cult members escaped the fire, and 35 left the compound during the siege, including the children. Three cultists remained at Parkland Memorial Hospital in Dallas: Misty Ferguson, listed in fair condition; Marjorie Thomas, in critical condition; and Clive Doyle, in fair condition.
The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms agents who stormed the compound will be allowed to examine its remnants Saturday and will be briefed by federal prosecutors investigating the killing of four ATF agents during the raid, several federal officials said.
A number of agents from ATF's special operations teams, which planned and executed the raid, have said they want to view the compound to help deal with the emotional strain of the event.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Ray Jahn, who is overseeing the Branch Davidian prosecutions, declined to comment Tuesday.
Next week, Assistant Treasury Secretary Ronald K. Noble, who oversees the ATF and the department's other law enforcement branches, will travel to Texas to visit with agents who participated in the raid, a department official said. The official would not say whether Mr. Noble will meet in Waco with the agents.
"He's going down, really, to listen to the agents in those offices,' the official said.
In Houston, Dr. Bruce Perry, a Baylor College of Medicine psychiatrist specializing in post-traumatic stress syndrome, called a news conference to respond to inquiries resulting from the disclosure of previously confidential information in The New York Times.
"We had no evidence that the children released from the compound were sexually abused,' Dr. Perry said. "I think there was a sense and some evidence to suggest that there was inappropriate exposure to sexually explicit materials . . . in the context of Bible studies.'
But he stopped short of calling cult leader David Koresh or anyone else in the compound a child molester.
"That's a tough one to call. I really can't comment,' Dr. Perry said.
What the children told about sexual discussions and the fact that Mr. Koresh considered girls as young as 12 candidates for sexual relationships were suggestive of abuse, he said.
"I would have a tendency to say that corroborates previous reports,' Dr. Perry said.
He also would not say that what experts understand about conditions in the compound met the legal definition of abuse.
"I feel there were many destructive and abusive elements to that (Branch Davidian) environment, but having an abusive environment to grow up in is not necessarily the same thing as saying that you meet the state standard for having been physically abused and have to be taken out of the home,' Dr. Perry said.
Immediately after the compound fire, U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno said she decided to approve FBI plans to tear gas the compound after FBI officials gave her graphic accounts of children being brutally beaten at the compound during the siege.
FBI officials, in Waco to manage the siege, later said they had no proof that child abuse was going on during the standoff but had historical accounts of alleged abuse.
Dr. Perry called for increased understanding of the role of Children's Protective Services, the state welfare agency. He said clinicians can say they sense abuse has occurred but that the agency has legal standards to meet.
One new disclosure in documents released Tuesday was a reference to children talking about dead babies being kept in a freezer until they could be buried or burned, a ceremony with a male baby underwater and "other incomplete and unformed stories. . . . The relationship of these issues to potential physical abuse is unclear at this point,' Dr. Perry said.
Dr. Perry said his understanding of the children's world might change as they become more cooperative about disclosing details.
The doctor expressed some concern that releasing details of the children's mental and emotional state might cause them further harm.
Baylor officials said that neither Baylor nor the state released the details and did not know how they had been released.
The Times reported Tuesday that the doctor gave the newspaper the report.
In another development, the McLennan County district attorney's office has dropped two misdemeanor trespassing cases involving news photographers trying to take pictures of the burned-out Branch Davidian compound.
Rick Bowmer, 37, of The Associated Press' Houston office, and Kerwin Plevka, 42, of the Houston Chronicle, were arrested April 21 by the DPS.
Staff writer Enrique Rangel in Waco contributed to this report.