Pathologist denies bodies had bullet wounds: Doubts about Justice Department's account deepen official muddle over the Waco siege

A PATHOLOGIST yesterday flatly contradicted claims by the US Department of Justice that bodies with gunshot wounds were found in the charred wreckage that used to be the fortified headquarters of the self-appointed cult leader David Koresh.

The considerable official muddle over the death of 86 cult members at Waco deepened still further - amid suspicions that federal officials have been dispersing misleading information in an effort to escape blame.

The Justice Department has repeatedly claimed that victims of shootings had been found amid the charred wreckage of Mount Carmel, the cult's fortified compound. The information fuelled speculation that Koresh and his armed guards, the 'Mighty Men', may have shot cult members as they fled the fire.

But Dr Nizam Peerwani, pathologist in charge of the investigation, said there was 'no evidence at this stage' that the 35 bodies recovered so far had been shot - although some were carrying rifles. 'The bodies are in very bad shape and we want to discourage stories that they had been shot,' he said. A group of charred corpses with side arms were found clustered at the top of a bunker, in which 1 million rounds of ammunition were found, he said.

His comments underscore the flawed efforts of the US government to provide a convincing explanation for giving the go-ahead to the disastrous operation, in which around 24 Britons died.

The FBI has claimed that some cult members 'were forced to stay' as the fire erupted, and that there had been shooting inside the compound. The US Justice Department went further by claiming that a number of people had been shot through the head - a sign of mass suicide, mass murder or a combination of the two.

As investigators gingerly pick through the wreckage, mindful of the risk of booby traps, two very different versions are emerging of the final hours inside Koresh's empire. The FBI has said that Koresh and his followers calmly slipped on their gas masks and assembled in a protected area - and that cult members later started the fire in three places.

But survivors tell a different story. Dick Kettler, a lawyer for Renos Avraam, a 29-year-old former shop clerk from London, yesterday said his client witnessed terrifying scenes as the tanks rolled in. 'He thought he was going to get trapped or crushed,' he said. Mr Avraam told him he thought the FBI started the fire by knocking over a lantern, and that flames spread to bales of hay used to barricade their quarters.

Mr Avraam was in bed at the back of the compound when the tank attack began but had been expecting something to happen after hearing a report of FBI activities on the radio, said Mr Kettler. As the tanks hammered away at the walls, he went to to the front of the building. The fire was 'incredibly quick' and filled the place with impenetrably thick black smoke. Mr Avraam escaped by jumping from a second-floor window.

He is being held in jail as a material witness along with another Briton, Derek Lovelock, 37, a chef from Manchester. Both men appeared briefly in court yesterday and were remanded in custody. As an exhausted and thin Mr Lovelock was led into court, he was asked if he was a member of Koresh's personal guard. 'Do I look like a 'Mighty Man'?' he replied.

According to a Texas lawyer, Dick DeGuerin, who has interviewed five of the nine survivors, they saw people screaming and crying, debilitated by the tear-gas. As FBI tanks battered the building, some people were trapped as masonry crashed to the ground. The passage leading to the main entrance and to a bomb shelter was blocked by debris. As the tanks advanced towards the kitchen and church, cult members ran to move cans of lantern oil. Survivors have said colleagues were scattered around the compound. Koresh and several of his children were in his tower bedroom - and may have been trapped by a fallen stairwell. Others were in their rooms, or had gathered in the gymnasium and cafeteria.

According to FBI affidavits detailing life in the compound, female cult members had a sewing circle which made tactical vests for 'God's Marines', while men designed machine guns on a computer. Armed guards kept a 24-hour watch with orders to shoot intruders on sight. The affidavits claim that the self-styled 'Lamb of God' was running an arms workshop, and had weapons and ammunition stacked to the ceiling.

A former cult member told agents that Koresh had asked an aide to design a 'grease gun', a large-calibre machine pistol. And a state welfare worker, who visited the compound to investigate child abuse, described a seven-year-old boy who told her he longed to grow up so he could have a 'long gun' like the men around him.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
Young Winstone: His ‘tough-guy’ image is a misconception
people
Sport
Adnan Januzaj and Gareth Bale
footballManchester United set to loan out Januzaj to make room for Bale - if a move for the Welshman firms up
Arts and Entertainment
British actor Idris Elba is also a DJ and rapper who played Ibiza last summer
filmIdris Elba responds to James Bond rumours on Twitter
Arts and Entertainment
Ellie Levenson’s The Election book demystifies politics for children
bookNew children's book primes the next generation for politics
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
News
Outspoken: Alexander Fury, John Rentoul, Ellen E Jones and Katy Guest
newsFrom the Scottish referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister in Game of Thrones
film
News
i100
Sport
Yaya Sanogo, Mats Hummels, Troy Deeney and Adnan Januzaj
footballMost Premier League sides are after a striker, but here's a full run down of the ins and outs that could happen over the next month
News
Nigel Farage celebrates with a pint after early local election results in the Hoy and Helmet pub in South Benfleet in Essex
peopleHe has shaped British politics 'for good or ill'
Sport
Tim Sherwood raises his hand after the 1-0 victory over Stoke
footballFormer Tottenham boss leads list of candidates to replace Neil Warnock
Voices
Strictly Come Dancing was watched by 6.9m viewers
voicesIt has been hard to form generally accepted cultural standards since the middle of the 19th century – and the disintegration is only going to accelerate, says DJ Taylor
Arts and Entertainment
Roffey says: 'All of us carry shame and taboo around about our sexuality. But I was determined not to let shame stop me writing my memoir.'
books
News
Danielle George is both science professor and presenter
people
News
i100
News
Caplan says of Jacobs: 'She is a very collaborative director, and gives actors a lot of freedom. She makes things happen.'
people
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Selby Jennings: VP/SVP Credit Quant- NY- Investment Bank

Not specified: Selby Jennings: VP/SVP Credit Quant Top tier investment bank i...

Ashdown Group: Senior Marketing Executive- City of London, Old Street

£40000 - £43000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Senior Marketing Executiv...

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager

£40000 - £43000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: An international organisa...

Ashdown Group: Internal Recruiter -Rugby, Warwickshire

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Internal Recruiter -Rugby, Warwicksh...

Day In a Page

War with Isis: The West needs more than a White Knight

The West needs more than a White Knight

Despite billions spent on weapons, the US has not been able to counter Isis's gruesome tactics, says Patrick Cockburn
Return to Helmand: Private Davey Graham recalls the day he was shot by the Taliban

'The day I was shot by the Taliban'

Private Davey Graham was shot five times during an ambush in 2007 - it was the first, controversial photograph to show the dangers our soldiers faced in Helmand province
Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Many flyers are failing to claim compensation to which they are entitled, a new survey has found
The stories that defined 2014: From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions

The stories that defined 2014

From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions
Stoke-on-Trent becomes first British city to be classified as 'disaster resilient' by the United Nations

Disaster looming? Now you know where to head...

Which British city has become the first to be awarded special 'resilience' status by the UN?
Finally, a diet that works: Californian pastor's wildly popular Daniel Plan has seen his congregation greatly reduced

Finally, a diet that works

Californian pastor's wildly popular Daniel Plan has seen his congregation greatly reduced
Say it with... lyrics: The power of song was never greater, according to our internet searches

Say it with... lyrics

The power of song was never greater, according to our internet searches
Professor Danielle George: On a mission to bring back the art of 'thinkering'

The joys of 'thinkering'

Professor Danielle George on why we have to nurture tomorrow's scientists today
Monique Roffey: The author on father figures, the nation's narcissism and New Year reflections

Monique Roffey interview

The author on father figures, the nation's narcissism and New Year reflections
Introducing my anti-heroes of 2014

Introducing my anti-heroes of 2014

Their outrageousness and originality makes the world a bit more interesting, says Ellen E Jones
DJ Taylor: Good taste? It's all a matter of timing...

Good taste? It's all a matter of timing...

It has been hard to form generally accepted cultural standards since the middle of the 19th century – and the disintegration is only going to accelerate, says DJ Taylor
Olivia Jacobs & Ben Caplan: 'Ben thought the play was called 'Christian Love'. It was 'Christie in Love' - about a necrophiliac serial killer'

How we met

Olivia Jacobs and Ben Caplan
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's breakfasts will revitalise you in time for the New Year

Bill Granger's healthy breakfasts

Our chef's healthy recipes are perfect if you've overindulged during the festive season
Transfer guide: From Arsenal to West Ham - what does your club need in the January transfer window?

Who does your club need in the transfer window?

Most Premier League sides are after a striker, but here's a full run down of the ins and outs that could happen over the next month
The Last Word: From aliens at FA to yak’s milk in the Tour, here’s to 2015

Michael Calvin's Last Word

From aliens at FA to yak’s milk in the Tour, here’s to 2015