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
The two faces revealed by the ultraviolet light
newsScholars left shaken after shining ultraviolet light on 500-year-old Welsh manuscript
News
Rosamund Pike played Bond girld Miranda Frost, who died in Die Another Day (PA)
news
Arts and Entertainment
books
News
newsHow do you get your party leader to embrace a message and then stick to it? With people like this
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
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

Recruitment Genius: In House Counsel - Contracts

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This leading supplier of compliance software a...

Recruitment Genius: Associate System Engineer

£24000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The Associate System Engineer r...

Recruitment Genius: Executive Assistant

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: An Executive Assistant is required to join a l...

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager - B2B, Corporate - City, London

£45000 - £50000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: A highly successful, glo...

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: The masterminds behind the scenes

The masterminds behind the election

How do you get your party leader to embrace a message and then stick to it? By employing these people
Machine Gun America: The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons

Machine Gun America

The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons
The ethics of pet food: Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?

The ethics of pet food

Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?
How Tansy Davies turned 9/11 into her opera 'Between Worlds'

How a composer turned 9/11 into her opera 'Between Worlds'

Tansy Davies makes her operatic debut with a work about the attack on the Twin Towers. Despite the topic, she says it is a life-affirming piece
11 best bedside tables

11 best bedside tables

It could be the first thing you see in the morning, so make it work for you. We find night stands, tables and cabinets to wake up to
Italy vs England player ratings: Did Andros Townsend's goal see him beat Harry Kane and Wayne Rooney to top marks?

Italy vs England player ratings

Did Townsend's goal see him beat Kane and Rooney to top marks?
Danny Higginbotham: An underdog's tale of making the most of it

An underdog's tale of making the most of it

Danny Higginbotham on being let go by Manchester United, annoying Gordon Strachan, utilising his talents to the full at Stoke and plunging into the world of analysis
Audley Harrison's abusers forget the debt he's due, but Errol Christie will always remember what he owes the police

Steve Bunce: Inside Boxing

Audley Harrison's abusers forget the debt he's due, but Errol Christie will always remember what he owes the police
No postcode? No vote

Floating voters

How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

By Reason of Insanity

Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

Power dressing is back

But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

Caves were re-opened to the public
'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

Vince Cable interview

'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat