The grim toll of deaths in the fiery demise of the Branch Davidian compound here rose to 77 Thursday, and state officials said they believed that no more bodies are likely to be found in the ruins.
Investigators have sent 72 bodies to Ft. Worth, where the medical examiner’s office said that, of 28 autopsied, at least seven died of gunshot wounds, some fired at close range in the forehead.
No decision has yet been reached as to whether the gunshot victims died in homicides or suicides or were killed by exploded munitions.
The bodies of the other five victims, all thought to have died as a result of the initial federal assault Feb. 28, remained at the compound.
Meanwhile, a spokesman for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms said the agency head may step down after a review of the ATF’s failed raid is completed.
Stephen E. Higgins, 54, will consider whether to retire in four or five months, the spokesman said.
At least seven bodies, including those of five children, were recovered Thursday from a cement bunker once filled with weapons, according to David Pareya, a McLennan County justice of the peace. He cautioned that, because the remains were “commingled” and damaged by fire, their number could prove greater.
While more bodies, especially those of children, could lie hidden or be damaged beyond recovery, the total of 77 dead is nine fewer than the number that cult leader David Koresh suggested were inside when the FBI assaulted the compound April 19 and the fire started.
The discrepancy has fueled rumors, traded over cups of coffee and in grocery checkout lines here, that Koresh or some of his followers could have escaped through the tunnels. Koresh’s is not among six bodies identified.
“People here want the body found because they want the matter put to rest,” Waco Mayor Bob Sheehy said.
Attorneys for surviving cult members have said their clients last saw Koresh about 10 a.m. April 19. The compound was engulfed by flames about noon.