Conditions deteriorating in compound, agents say

March 14, 1993|By Robert Reinhold | Robert Reinhold,New York Times News Service

WACO, Texas -- Nearly two weeks after federal agents began a siege on an armed religious sect, federal officials said yesterday that conditions were deteriorating inside the compound, with a number of the 105 remaining sect members suffering life-threatening injuries from the shootout. But there was no sign of any speedy break in the standoff.

Doctors gave medical advice to the wounded by telephone Friday night and urged them to seek hospitalization; none accepted. One of the most seriously wounded is Judy Schneider, 41, the wife of Steve Schneider, the top lieutenant to the Branch Davidian sect's leader, David Koresh. She said she had a badly infected finger and told doctors that she might cut it off.

FBI negotiators continued telephone discussions with Mr. Schneider, Mr. Koresh and two other members. As a result, they said they hoped that three more people will leave the compound and surrender soon. They were identified as Kevin Whitecliff, 32; Brad Branch, 34; and Rita Riddle, 35.

Little is known about the three who might be released next. One sect member said that Mr. Whitecliff was a former prison guard from Honolulu and Mr. Branch an aircraft electrician from San Antonio. No information was available about Ms. Riddle.

On Friday, an Australian man, Oliver Gyarfas, 19, and an American woman, Kathryn Schroeder, 34, walked out of the fortified compound and surrendered to authorities. They were being held yesterday as material witnesses in the shootout Feb. 28, in which four federal agents and at least two cult members, including Ms. Schroeder's husband, Michael Schroeder, were killed.

So far, 21 children and 4 adults have left. Remaining are 17 children and 88 adults -- 46 women and 42 men.

Officials with the FBI and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms expressed frustration at the slow pace. "Our belief is a slow dribble of one or two a day when there are still 105 will not lead to a speedy resolution," said Bob Ricks, special agent in charge of the FBI's Oklahoma City office. He said some of the sect's members were suffering gangrene and other life-threatening conditions.

But as a bright winter sun warmed the compound on the Central Texas prairie 10 miles east of Waco there were no signs of an imminent move against the sect. "We are not losing patience," Agent Ricks said. "We are willing to go for the long haul. For the sake of human life, things need to be ended and ended promptly."

The agents wondered why Mr. Gyarfas and Ms. Schroeder surrendered, and whether any signal was meant. They described both as very active members of the sect, "not weak links," as Agent Ricks put it.

As a signal to the sect, the agents made elaborate gestures to treat them well. Ms. Schroeder was allowed a lengthy reunion with her son, Bryan, 3, at the FBI command post and then a telephone call back to the compound to report on what happened. The child had been released earlier.

From what the agents said they had learned from various sect members, the compound is split into various factions, based on nationality and other connections. It was described as a place with only primitive latrines, no running water, little heat: harsh conditions long familiar to the group.

In the past 24 hours, the agents spoke to Mr. Schneider, his ill wife, Gregory Allen Summers, Scott Kojiro Sonobe and Mr. Koresh periodically. They said Mr. Schneider appeared to have taken the role of mediator within the compound, trying to figure out which ones wanted to leave, but that none could leave without first being interviewed by Mr. Koresh, who has dominated the group.

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