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At least five dead, 15 injured in two shootouts at cult compound

WACO, Texas -- Two gunfights about nine hours apart Sunday on a religious cult's heavily fortified farm compound in central Texas left at least five people dead and 15 wounded as federal agents attempted to serve a warrant on a firearms charge, authorities said.

Four agents of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms died after arriving at hospitals in Waco, 10 miles from the scene of the first bloody shootout about 9:30 a.m. CST, officials said.

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Fifteen other ATF officers were hospitalized, some in serious condition from wounds apparently inflicted by large caliber weapons, authorities said.

The second gunfight occurred about 6 p.m., said ATF spokesman Les Standford in the agency's Washington headquarters.

'Three armed members from inside the compound came out shooting. One was killed, one was wounded and is possibly dead - we can't get to him, and one is in custody,' Stanford said.

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Stanford said details on the second shootout were not immediately available.

He confirmed, however, that at least one ATF agent was hit by gunfire from a 50-caliber machinegun, which is a large caliber military weapon used against tanks, troops and aircraft.

ATF Special Agent in Charge Ted Royster of Dallas told a news conference there were reports of injuries inside the compound, but no one inside had requested medical attention. He said negotiations were continuing.

'We want to bring the situation to an end. There are ongoing negotiations between negotiators and Mr. Koresh (the leader). We want to get his people out of there first. We have constant telephone contact.'

Royster said there were 70 to 75 people in the compound. About 30 are males, eight are juveniles, the rest are females.

ATF asked Dallas radio station KRLD to broadcast a statement so it could be heard in the compound. It read, 'ATF will not initiate any aggressive action. Negotiations are going on and both parties are seeking a peaceful resolution of the situation.'

Royster said ATF had been investigating the cult for nearly eight months and the raid had been planned for weeks. He said gunfire erupted before agents could make any verbal contact with those inside.

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'We practiced for it. They drilled over and over again, and we had our plan down... we had a diversion down. All went into effect, and they were waiting,' he said.

'We know of them buying firearms, and we have heard of explosives at the compound,' ATF spokesman Tom Hill said in Washington. 'We went out there to serve the warrant and look for the devices.'

The warrant named Vernon Howell, who also uses the name David Koresh, according to Royster. He is the 33-year-old charismatic leader of the 75 so-called Branch Davidians who live in the 77-acre Mount Carmel compound.

In a telephone interview with CNN, Howell said he was 'shot in several places.' Asked how he was feeling, Howell said: 'Weakening.' Several times during the interview, his voice broke and his breathing was labored.

He said he had given authorities a message to be broadcast over an area radio station. ''We'll send two children out every time they play the message,' Howell said. 'I'll send two children out every time until they're all gone.'

Asked if his followers inside the compound were well armed, Howell said, 'Yeah, we're heavily armed.' He declined to reveal any details of weapons inside the compound.

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The siege began when 150 to 200 federal, state and local law officers arrived to serve the warrant and look for illegal firearms or explosive devices at the fortress-like compound equipped with a watch tower.

When the officers arrived, backed up by three helicopters, they were met with immediate gunfire, Royster said. Officers dressed in bullet- proof vests and carrying shields stormed the compound and a 30-minute gunfight broke out.

Royster said after the initial gunfight, a ceasefire was negotiated with Howell to allow the ATF to remove its wounded from the headquarters.

Heavily-armed ATF agents picked up and carried their wounded from the compound. Some of the injured were placed atop the hoods of ATF vehicles for transport to where helicopters could airlift them to Waco hospitals.

Two of the helicopters were hit by gunfire, Royster said, apparently from a semi-automatic AR-15 rifle.

Dramatic KWTX-TV videotape showed one ATF officer lying on the roof next to a window after two other officers had gone inside. A torrent of gunfire ripped through the wall and he rolled down the roof to a ladder to escape.

KWTX-TV reporter John McLemore, who witnessed the firefight with a camerman, said he used his vehicle to transport three wounded federal agents from the scene of the bloody battle after officers yelled for help.

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'Somebody yelled 'Hey, television get an ambulance.' I ran back to the truck, and then I heard a couple of shots hit the truck. I called my news director and told him we need every ambulance you can get out here. '

The cult moved to the Waco area many years ago and came to public attention this weekend with a copyright series published in the The Waco Tribune-Herald.

The cult, estimated at about 75 members male and female, is awaiting the end of the world, the newspaper reported. Howell, the latest leader of the cult that moved from Los Angeles in 1935, claims to be Christ.

Former members of the cult told the Tribune-Herald that Howell abuses both adult and child members of the cult and claims at least 15 wives. Howell denies these charges, saying he has had only two children.

The Branch Davidians is an old off-shoot of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, but the Seventh-Day Adventist Church strongly denies any connection with Howell's group which was founded in 1934 by Victor Houteff.

At Fort Worth, a spokesman for the Seventh Day Adventist Church said they have no connection with Howell's group and deplore what happened near Waco.

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Cyrill Miller, president of the church's southwest region, said, 'There are absolutely no connections whatsoever with the Seventh-Day Adventist Church -- never have been and never will be.'

Local welfare workers visited the cult's compound at least twice last year to talk to the children there, former cult members told the Tribune-Herald. Juvenile officils refused to discuss details of their investiglation.

Howell and his followers believe he is the lamb referred to in the Bible's book of Revelation, the newspaper said. His followers say he alone can open the so-called Seven Seals, setting loose events that the Branch Davidians believe will end mankind and propel Howell and his followers into heaven.

Howell told the Tribune-Herald, 'If the Bible is true, then I'm Christ. But so what? Look at 2,000 years ago. What's so great about being Christ? A man nailed to the cross. A man of sorrow acquainted with grief. You know, being Christ ain't nothing. Know whatI mean? ... If the Bible is true, I'm Christ. If the Bible is true. But all I want out of this is for people to be honest this time.'

The cult was founded in Los Angeles when Houteff left the Seventh-Day Adventist Church because his interrpetation of the book of Revelation disagreed with the church's view. It has had several leaders and divisions since Houteff's death in 1955.

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