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Sect Member Says Helicopters Shot at Compound in Gun Battle

March 30, 1993|J. MICHAEL KENNEDY and LOUIS SAHAGUN | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

WACO, Tex. — A member of the Branch Davidian sect said Monday that the rural compound where she lived was fired upon from the air during the ill-fated raid by federal agents a month ago, contradicting the government version of what happened that day.

Also on Monday, a man on a motorcycle rode up to the front door of the compound, took off his jacket, was offered a chair by a cult member and began an hours-long conversation though the door with someone inside.

A government source who spoke on condition of anonymity said the man was an attorney who had been allowed to go to the compound to talk to cult members. The attorney's name and who he represents were not disclosed.

Cult member Rita Riddle said in an interview that shots were coming straight down through the roof during the Feb. 28 raid in which four Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms agents were killed and 16 others were injured.

Riddle, who left the compound after three weeks and is being held as a material witness, said there was no question agents fired from helicopters used in the raid, contrary to accounts given by the ATF as late as Sunday morning.

"They say these helicopters were not armed. Bull puck," she said. "I heard them spraying the building when they went over."

At the regular Sunday morning press conference, ATF spokesman David Troy said categorically that "the helicopters did not overfly the compound."

Riddle's statement is another example of the mounting contradictory accounts of what happened during the ATF attempt to serve a search warrant for weapons violations.

A witness to the staging of the raid attempt told The Times more than three weeks ago that ATF agents quickly moved into action when they realized cult leader David Koresh had been tipped that they were coming. But the ATF maintains that it became aware of the tip only after the raid.

The helicopters were supplied by the Texas National Guard. A spokesman for the Guard on Monday said he would not release the pilots' names so they could be asked what routes were flown.

The federal agents told the National Guard they had reason to believe the compound housed a methamphetamine laboratory. Drug interdiction is one of the reasons the National Guard can loan helicopters to another agency. The theory about the drug lab was based on an infrared scan and the discovery of two "hot spots" that sometimes indicate a place where drugs are being manufactured.

But Riddle said the "hot spots" were places where they had heaters in the compound.

"Once they go in there, they'll be in for a big surprise," she said. "To my knowledge, there's nothing illegal in there."

In other developments Monday, federal authorities said they had re-established contact with Koresh, who had not spoken to them since last Wednesday. Negotiators said they also asked for a face-to-face meeting with Koresh but had gotten nowhere as of Monday morning.

FBI agent Dick Swensen said the cult members also provided a videotape of 16 of the 17 children inside the compound after concerns were expressed that their health might be in jeopardy. Swensen said they seemed healthy. Agents said they did not know why 17 children were not shown, which led to speculation about Koresh's earlier claim that his 2-year-old daughter died in the Feb. 28 gunfight.

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