MEMPHIS, Tenn. -- The seven black religious fanatics who beat to death a policeman they had taken hostage fired 12 shots at the assault team that stormed their pitch-dark, tear gas-shrouded house, authorities said Tuesday.
The six officers on the assault team returned their fire with 80 rounds from M16 carbines and 12-gauge shotguns, killing all seven blacks, police said in a minute-by-minute recounting of last week's bloody siege on Shannon Street.
Police Director John Holt told a news conference that the only demand made by Lindberg Sanders, the leader of the unnamed religious cult, was a live radio hookup 'because he wanted the people of Memphis to hear' when he killed Officer Robert Hester.
The only firearms and ammunition in the house, police said, were two .38 caliber service revolvers and 24 rounds for them, taken from Hester and his partner, who managed to escape when the ordeal began last Tuesday night.
'We believe that the weapons probably changed hands several times during the assault,' Holt said. 'Three had guns in hand when shot. One had a knife in his hand.'
One officer was shot in the back, Holt said, but he was wearing a flak jacket and the .38 slug did little but knock him down.
Holt said that after the 20-minute assault his men found a dozen spent cartridges in the house. In addition, nine unfired cartridges - six of them smeared with fresh blood -- were found. Three rounds remain unaccounted for, he said, but apparently were fired when Hester was taken hostage.
Holt said the only other weapons found in the house were two hunting knives and a box cutter, a special knife that uses a razor blade for a cutting edge.
'I have re-lived these hours many times,' Holt said. 'I don't know of a thing we could have done different. We had spent 30 hours trying to get these people to talk with us, surrender, cooperate ... all of which had been totally futile.' Police handling of the siege and the assault is under FBI investigation.
Holt said Sanders, 49, believed all police were 'devils' and wanted a Memphis radio station to provide live coverage while they beat Hester to death.
'He wanted to execute officer Hester with the citizens of Memphis listening on the radio,' Holt said.
Hester fell into the hands of the fanatics when he and his partner answered a call from someone at the house saying he had information on a purse-snatching suspect. When they arrived, they were attacked, and Hester taken captive. The other man, R.O. Schwill, was wounded but escaped.
Holt said 14 people were originally in the house awaiting the end of the world, which Sanders had predicted would occur Jan. 10, but seven fled when Hester and his partner arrived.
'This group of people was gathered in the house on Shannon Street as part of a meeting that to them had religious connotations,' Holt said. 'It involved Bible study and also extensive use of marijuana and consumption of alcoholic beverages, mainly wine.'
Holt said interviews with some of the people who had left the house indicated that Hester was seriously hurt, having been kicked, punched and beaten in the head with a flashlight, and the use of tear gas might be fatal if he had any respiratory problems.
'We knew that if we just put in gas the officer would be killed,' Holt said.
Police lobbed 35 rounds of small tear gas canisters and 'flash-bang' ordnance into the house -- thrown into darkness by cutting off electrical power -- before the six-man tactical squad, armed with four M-16 rifles and two shotguns, burst in through the back door.
Carrying lights on the barrels of their weapons to sight their targets, the officers swept through the three-bedroom house, killing five men in one of the bedrooms, including Sanders and his 26-year-old son, Larnell.
'At no point do we hear calls for surrender. No calls for help. No individual indicating in any way that they want to call a halt,' Holt said.
'At this point they find Officer Hester's body lying by the front door,' Holt said, and rushed him outside for medical attention, but he had been dead for at least six hours.
The tactical unit then made a second sweep through the house and encountered a sixth man -- in the same bedroom where the first five were killed -- crawling with a revolver in his hand. He levelled the revolver at the officers and was killed.
In a rear bedroom they found the last man alive, Holt said, lying on his back with a cocked revolver in his hand. He was killed with three rounds from the M16s.
All seven received at least one slug in the head from the M16s. Police said only three or four buckshot loads were fired from the shotguns, and only one of the zealots was struck by shotgun fire.
'I have relieved these hours many times,' Holt said. 'I don't know of a thing we could have done different. We had spent 30 hourrs tryinng to get these people to talk with us, surrender, cooperate...all of which had been totally futile.
Police handling of the siege and assault was under FBI investigation.
William Beavers, head of the Memphis FBI office, said Tuesday the investigation was requested by the Justice Department.
'We will spend as much time on it as we need to conduct a thorough investigation,' Beavers said, adding that the results would be forwarded to the Justice Department.
Holt said Sandersled a group of about 25 members that included hangers-on who just wanted drugs and wine.
Holt said 14 people were originally in the house awaiting the end of the world, which Sanders' had predicted would occur Jan. 10, and seven fled when Hester and his partner were lured to Sanders house and attacked last Tuesday night.
'This group of people was gathered in the house on Shannon Street as part of a meeting that to them had religious connotations,' Holt said. 'It involved Bible study and also extensive use of marijuana and consumption of alcoholic beverages, mainly wine.
He said Sanders and his followers did not believe in eating pork or drinking clear water, did not cut their hair or wear hats, did not seek medical attention or shake hands, and based most of their beliefs on interpretations of the Old Testament.
The incident began last Tuesday night after police received a call from a man in the house about a purse-stealing case.
Hester and his partner, R. O. Schwill, responded to the call and walked into a trap.
Schwill said once he and Sanders were inside the house they tried to talk with Sanders but Sanders made little sense and responded mainly with obscenities.
'He (Sanders) became loud and abusive,' Schwill said. 'At that time, I walked across the room and said if he didn't know anything (about the purse-snatching) we would leave.'
Schwill said he used his police walkie-talkie to request a back-up unit and that apparently upset Sanders even more.
'We attempted to back up and they began to curse and shout, 'You aren't going anywhere,'' Schwill said.
Schwill said he grabbed one of the men and went outside. Hester was grabbed and dragged into another room, and a fist-fight broke out.
Schwill said he was dragged back inside the house, his pistol was taken from its holster, he heard the weapon fire and he lost consciousness.
When he awakend, Schwill said, he saw Hester being beaten with a police flashlight and that was the last time he saw his partner alive.
More police arrived outside the house and began firing shots. Schwill managed to escape while his captors attention was diverted.
'I rolled over and ran for the door as fast as I could,' he said. 'I remember going out into the night. I remember seeing a line of squad cars.'
Officer Thomas Turner, responding to the call for help, entered the front of the house but was knocked back outside with a blow to the head. another officer entered the rear of the home, was fired upon, and returned fire. He reloaded and emptied his servive revolver before fleeing.
By then, an army of officers had rushed to the scene. they set up a command center in Shannon Elementary School across the street from Sander's residence. The tactical squad occupied a house behind Sanders' and adjacent houses were cleared.
Holt said that during 30 hours of attempted negotiations with Sanders over a walkie talkie, telephone and police bullhorn, Sanders never demanded anything.
'He repeatedly said we had nothing they want,' Holt said.