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Cult Frees Two More Children; Standoff Continues

By J. Michael Kennedy
and Richard A. Serrano

Los Angeles Times

WACO, Texas

As the siege of Mount Carmel entered its fifth day Thursday, two more children were released to authorities in what has become a pattern that officials hope could eventually leave only adults inside the surrounded compound.

And more questions arose about the Sunday morning assault on the religious complex. One eyewitness said federal agents suddenly launched their raid after being told that David Koresh and his Branch Davidian followers had been tipped off to their plans.

That account conflicts with earlier statements from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms that agents seeking illegal weapons in the cult compound only learned of the tip-off after the raid. The ATF has said the tip, made in a telephone call to the cult, eliminated the element of surprise in a gun battle that killed four agents and wounded 15 others.

Since the battle, Koresh has refused to leave his fortified encampment, dubbed Mount Carmel. He has told federal negotiators that he is awaiting instructions from God.

Federal agents said Thursday that Koresh had released two more children from the compound, Anthony Jones, 14, and his 11-year-old brother, Kevin Jones, bringing to 20 the number of children from the cult that Waco officials are now placing in foster homes.

Jeffrey Jamar, the FBI agent in charge of the siege, also said officials found and removed the body of a white male lying about 350 yards to the rear of the peach-colored compound. The unidentified male had been shot, presumably during a brief firefight that followed the larger Sunday morning gun battle. Jamar said the dead man had a "semiautomatic pistol clutched in his hand."

The new developments mean that the sealed-off complex now contains 18 children, 47 women and 43 men. Koresh appears to be releasing about one child a day, a situation that clearly is pleasing federal officials. None of the youngsters who have been released are Koresh's own.

Jamar noted that while the adults are refusing to surrender, the children still inside the compound are in a dangerous situation tantamount to being held against their will.

"This is not a classic kidnapping," Jamar said. "But I would say these are hostage-like circumstances."

He said life on the 77-acre fortress appears to be returning to some normalcy, despite the lengthy stalemate. He said agents can see women drawing water from wells, people going to outside showers, and women and children being segregated from the male members of the cult.

He said the holed-up members also have a "substantial number" of military-like meals that are "ready to eat."

"It's quite a complex," he said. "They have stores of all kinds of food. They are very, very self-sufficient."

Telephone negotiations continue between the authorities and Koresh, the cult leader, who reneged Tuesday on a promise to surrender. Authorities say he often speaks on the phone in long, rambling discussions about God and the Bible. Nevertheless, officials remain hopeful.

"He is still saying he's going to come out, but only when gets a message to do so from God," Jamar said.

Meanwhile, concerns about the ATF handling of the Sunday confrontation continued to mount.

An eyewitness to the staging area for the raid said the agents were casually preparing to move in on the Mount Carmel complex when one of the federal officials started shouting.

"He yelled it," said the witness. "He said, `We gotta move. He's been tipped off. He's nervous and he's reading his Bible and he's shaking.' "

"They just grabbed their gear and left," the witness said.

The witness, who requested anonymity, said the federal agents getting ready for the raid appeared relaxed.

"They were talking and joking around," the witness said. "I don't think they thought it was going to be hard at all."

Wednesday, Dan Hartnett, an associate ATF director out of Washington, said his agency did not know the surprise raid had been compromised until the agents arrived and then later learned of the telephone call.

But Thursday, Dan Conroy, a deputy associate ATF director from Washington, repeatedly refused to discuss details of the telephone tip, except to say the ATF and the Texas Rangers are investigating the matter.

"That is very aggressively being pursued," Conroy said. "That is being investigated in its totality."