Officials identify Koresh’s body, forehead shot

By Jean Pagel

WACO, Texas (AP)—Branch Davidian leader David Koresh died from a gunshot wound to the head before a fire destroyed the cult’s compound, authorities said Sunday.

Koresh’s badly-burned body was found in the ashes of the cult’s compound, Justice of the Peace David Pareya said. Koresh’s 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, authorities said.

His body was found alone, near the kitchen and communications area of the structure, Pareya said. Authorities didn’t say when Koresh died.

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

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

Independent investigators said cult members lit the fire, although some of the nine survivors said agents started it when a tank knocked over a lantern.

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

Koresh’s family had not been contacted Sunday evening, Pareya said.

He was among those wounded in the Feb. 28 gun battle that started the standoff when federal agents raided the compound because of alleged firearms violations. The battle left four agents from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms and an unknown number of Branch Davidians dead.

‘‘They shot me and I’m dying…,’‘ Koresh told his mother in a telephone call recorded on an answering machine. ‘‘But I’ll be back real soon, OK?’‘

Koresh had said 95 people were inside, making the death toll 86. Investigators have pulled only 72 bodies from the rubble. Officials said it’s possible some bodies were incinerated and will never be recovered.

The bodies of 17 children have been recovered, said James Collier, a McLennan County justice of the peace. Koresh had said 17 children were inside the compound, and that he had fathered many of them.

President Clinton has ordered an inquiry into the February raid 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 Jesus Christ.

But Koresh insisted at one point that he was offended by such media references. He said he was just a mere prophet.

The 9th-grade dropout seized power over the Branch Davidians in 1987 and ruled the splinter group of the Seventh-day Adventist Church with various techniques. The Davidians, or ‘‘Koreshians,’‘ spoke reverently of their leader’s charisma, magnetism, ministry and biblical knowledge.

A former leader of the group, deposed in a 1987 shootout with Koresh, insisted his adversary was an arsonist, a rapist and an embezzler who deluded himself into believing he was Jesus Christ.

Although Koresh denied some of the graver allegations, he told the Waco Tribune-Herald before the raid that he was a ‘‘sinner without equal.’‘

The Houston-born Koresh said he married his legal wife when she was 14, that he enjoyed drinking beer, that he played a pretty good guitar and he had indeed stockpiled weapons.