Koresh died of gunshot, officials say


WACO, Texas -- After two days of speculation, authorities announced last night that the body of Branch Davidian leader David Koresh has been identified.

Justice of the Peace James Collier, in whose district the Branch Davidian compound was located, said the cult leader apparently died of a gunshot wound to the head.

However, it's too early to tell whether the gunshot wound was self-inflicted, Mr. Collier said.

The identification was made possible by dental records and X-rays of mouth and body, Mr. Collier said.

Mr. Koresh was among approximately 72 cult members who died in the April 19 inferno that destroyed the Branch Davidian compound.

His body was in the room next to the kitchen area of the compound, which served as communication headquarters, Mr. Collier said at a hastily called news briefing. Unlike other fire victims who died mingled with one another, Mr. Koresh died alone in a separate area, he said.

Justice of the Peace David Pareya, who has been making the daily announcements concerning the cause of death of the fire victims, said the determination of Mr. Koresh's exact cause of death is pending.

Mr. Pareya said the Texas Rangers were in the process last night of notifying Mr. Koresh's family that his body had been identified.

Mr. Koresh, 33, was born Vernon Wayne Howell in Houston on Aug. 17, 1959.

Mr. Pareya said Mr. Koresh is among 15 fire victims who have been identified so far. But as of last night only the names of six fire victims have been released. Authorities have yet to contact the families of the other nine, Mr. Pareya said.

At least five of the previously autopsied bodies had gunshot wounds, but it has not been established whether they were self-inflicted, official said.

Mr. Pareya said it appears that of the 72 fire victims, 27 were British citizens. The number of children who died in the blaze is unknown, but Mr. Collier believes it is about 17.

The number of bodies officials have discovered, 72, is 14 short of the number of followers officials initially thought to be in the compound at the time of the fire. However, officials have said they don't believe there were any more.

The fire started April 19 as FBI agents in armored vehicles were punching holes in the compound buildings and pumping in tear gas.

The FBI and arson investigators say evidence shows the compound was set ablaze by cult members; survivors of the fire say it was set when lanterns were overturned by the shock of the armed vehicles punching holes in the building.

The 51-day siege began Feb. 28 when agents of the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms raided the compound in an attempt to serve search and arrest warrants alleging federal weapons violations. Four ATF agents were killed and 16 were wounded in the gun battle. An undetermined number of cult members were killed and several, including Mr. Koresh, were wounded.

The only bodies that authorities think are left in the compound are those of five Branch Davidian members who apparently died in the initial gun battle.

Treasury Secretary Lloyd Bentsen today is expected to formally introduce a three-member panel to oversee the Clinton administration's investigation of the Feb. 28 raid. The ATF falls under the jurisdiction of the Treasury Department.

The three people to be named to the panel are Los Angeles Police Chief Willie L. Williams, former Watergate prosecutor Henry Ruth and University of Southern California journalism professor Edwin O. Guthman.

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