40 Bodies Found at Waco; 3 May Have Been Shot


In a day of gruesome discovery, Texas Rangers sifting through the burned out Branch Davidian compound Wednesday found about 40 charred bodies and federal authorities said three of them appeared to have been shot.

A spokesman for the Texas governor’s office said that Wednesday was a crucial day in the investigation seeking to discover how the cult compound burned to the ground last Monday afternoon, killing as many as 86 people.

“We are building a foundation today for the rest of the investigation,” said Chuck McDonald of the governor’s office.


Carl Stern, a spokesman for the Justice Department in Washington, said Wednesday that of the bodies already found, 10 of them were women and children. He said the three people who appeared to have been shot died recently, ruling out the possibility that they had been killed in the Feb. 28 raid by agents of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms.

Presumed dead in the charred rubble is David Koresh, the cult leader who kept federal authorities at bay for 51 days before tanks began knocking holes in the compound walls on Monday morning. At noon, the compound became an inferno in a matter of minutes, apparently after Koresh’s aides set the frame structures ablaze. Only nine of the cultists survived the fire. All of the 17 children under age 10 died.

Cult members making court appearances have said there was no suicide pact among the Branch Davidians, but the FBI said it has strong evidence that the fires were set throughout the compound and that lantern fuel was used to accelerate the blaze.

In Washington, meanwhile, a spokesman for President Clinton said there were “mountains of evidence” of prolonged child abuse inside the compound.

“Protecting the kids was the ultimate rationale for going in,” said George Stephanopoulos, the White House communications director.

Koresh was “marrying children” and “sexually abusing children” and children were “being taught how to commit suicide, how to put guns in their mouths, how to clamp down on cyanide,” Stephanopoulos said.


“It was continuing, it was going on,” Stephanopoulos said.

Mike Cox, a spokesman for the Texas Department of Public Safety, said Wednesday that 32 Texas Rangers and as many as 30 DPS lab technicians were working on the crime scene. The burned out compound has been divided into a grid system, creating a number of smaller sections that individual Rangers will be responsible for, he said.

“As you can imagine, it’s a very gruesome scene,” he said.

Cox said the removal of the bodies was to begin either late Wednesday or this morning. One body that was found a short distance from the compound was removed Monday. Authorities have been reluctant to move any of the corpses in the compound for fear there might be explosives and booby traps that might detonate.

The intensity of the fire virtually incinerated the occupants. Bobby Boudraux of the Waco Mortuary Assn. said he had seen eight bodies lying near the cinder block building that federal agents speculated might have protected cult members for a time from the tear gas injected into the compound on Monday. FBI agent Jeff Jamar said in a Monday press conference that it might have been sealed to keep the gases out. Boudraux said the bodies were burned so badly it was difficult to tell if they were human.

Stern said two of the three people believed to have been shot were found late Tuesday, or perhaps early Wednesday, on the edge of the compound. He also said it was difficult to say whether they were the victims of suicide or homicide and that the head of one was almost blown away.

At the Tuesday press conference, Jamar said shots were heard just as the fire began, leading to some speculation on the part of federal authorities that people might have been killed because they were trying to leave the compound.

Stern did not rule out the possibility that all three were shot by ammunition exploding throughout the compound. According to affidavits previously sealed but released Tuesday, Koresh and his followers amassed a huge arsenal in the compound, spending $200,000 on weaponry in a period of a year and a half. According to the affidavits, submitted by an ATF agent investigating the cult, ammunition was stacked to the ceiling.


The affidavits contained the most detailed look at the ATF investigation. One affidavit discussed the premiere fighting group in the compound, known as “Mighty Men,” a group of 20 “warriors” trained to use AK-47s and M-16s who kept rifles at their bedside and taught other cult members, even children, to shoot to kill. The designation appears rooted in the Old Testament which describes a group by that name whose warriors fought for King David.

It said also that all but the very elderly and the very young underwent what the ATF called “paramilitary training” and that they are schooled in the use of multiple weapons, including assault rifles. It said one cult member had detailed instructions on how to shoot someone wearing a bulletproof vest when she was taken into custody.

Meanwhile, cult member Rita Riddle, 34, told reporters as she left the Waco federal courthouse Wednesday there “was no suicide pact.” She was one of the cult members who had left the compound weeks ago and had been staying at a Salvation Army halfway house. But on Wednesday she was charged with conspiracy to murder federal agents. A recently filed affidavit claims she was one of five women to aim rifles at agents during the Feb. 28 raid.

In California, a former member of the Koresh cult said Wednesday that Koresh had told the many mothers of his children from the outset that their children would die.

Robyn Bunds of Pomona, who has a 4-year-old son Shaun by Koresh, said the cult leader had repeatedly said that his enemies would kill his children just as Jesus Christ had been killed.

“He believed that this world would not accept these children because they were God’s seed,” said Bunds, 23, who left the cult 2 1/2 years ago.


To back up his belief, she said, Koresh quoted from Psalms: “Happy shall he be, that taketh and dasheth thy little ones against the stones.”

Times special correspondent Diana S. Kim in Pomona contributed to this story.