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Koresh’s Body Found With Bullet Wound : Cult: Whether religious leader was shot or killed himself before fire remains a mystery. His burned body is identified by X-rays and dental records.

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<i> From Associated Press</i>

David Koresh is believed to have died of a gunshot wound to the head before a fire destroyed his cult’s compound, authorities said after identifying the Branch Davidian leader’s badly burned body Sunday.

Koresh’s body was found in the ashes of the compound, Justice of the Peace David Pareya said. His skull had been broken into pieces.

Authorities would not say if Koresh, 33, had been killed or if he committed suicide. The bullet wound was in the center of his forehead and appeared to be the cause of death, authorities said.

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His body was found alone, near the kitchen and communication area of the structure, Pareya said.

His body was pulled from the compound on April 22, but it took several days to piece his skull together, Pareya said.

“The condition of the body was about the condition of the rest of the bodies that were there: extensive burning,” he said. His body was identified through X-rays and dental molds, Pareya said.

“It was obviously a relief to everyone,” said Byron Sage, the FBI’s lead negotiator during the siege. “There was no doubt that he was there. It just helps put an end to the story.”

A deadly fire destroyed the Branch Davidian compound on April 19, after a 51-day siege by federal agents. The fire began several hours after agents sent tanks into the compound to dispense tear gas.

Independent investigators said cult members lighted the fire, although some of the nine survivors contended that a tank knocked over a lantern.

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Koresh’s body was the sixth to be publicly identified. All showed evidence of being shot. Nine others have been tentatively identified, although those identities were not released, Pareya said.

Koresh was among those wounded in the Feb. 28 gun battle that started the standoff when federal agents tried to arrest Koresh and search the compound for illegal firearms. The battle left four Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms agents and an unknown number of Branch Davidians dead.

Koresh had said 95 people were inside, and nine escaped, making the death toll 86. Investigators have pulled only 72 bodies from the rubble, however. Officials said it is possible that some bodies were totally incinerated.

The bodies of 17 children have been recovered, said James Collier, a McLennan County justice of the peace. Koresh had said 17 children under the age of 10 were inside the compound.

President Clinton has ordered an inquiry into the February raid attempt as well as the FBI’s attempt to end the standoff.

Koresh, also known as Vernon Howell, often identified himself as the Lamb of God, and many of his followers considered him to be Jesus Christ. But Koresh insisted at one point that he was offended by such media references.

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