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Freed Cult Children In ‘Surprisingly’ Good Shape

March 3, 1993

WACO, Texas (AP) _ They’re the littlest victims of the Mount Carmel religious cult, but the children freed so far are doing remarkably well, authorities say.

Eighteen of 38 children held in the compound were released by Wednesday.

″These kids are in good shape. We were surprised,″ said Karen Eells, regional director of the state Child’s Protective Services division.

Some youngsters told counselors they hid under beds during Sunday’s 45- minute shootout between members of the Branch Davidian cult and federal agents, Ms. Eells said.

Cult leader David Koresh said his 2-year-old daughter was among the dead. Koresh, who says he is Jesus Christ, has said many of the children living in the compound were his.

He has gradually freed small numbers of children, ranging from infancy to age 11, as negotiations continued.

The pictures have been heart-wrenching: small children, heavily bundled against the cold, looking even smaller in the vans that federal agents used to carry them from the violence.

One girl, about 4 years old, clutched a Coke can and stared at the television cameras through the van’s windows.

But counselors have talked with the children and were encouraged by what they heard, Ms. Eells said.

″They know what’s going on. They talk about their fear. They are able to tell us what happened,″ she said. ″They described the gun battle, hiding under the bed. That’s a real healthy sign they’re able to talk about it.″

Ms. Eells said the children were in good shape emotionally and physically. A 3-year-old boy was treated at Hillcrest Baptist Medical Center for a fever Monday and released, said hospital spokeswoman Marsha Jepson.

Ira Iscoe, a psychology professor at the University of Texas-Austin, agreed it was encouraging that the children were able to talk about their ordeal.

He cautioned, however, that it can take several days for signs of trauma to become evident.

″Kids, like adults, manage to live through certain emergencies. They make it through the incident and it’s later that you begin to see the effects,″ he said.

One concern for the children, he said, will be the fate of their parents inside the compound.

″These poor kids, there’s going to be a hell of a lot of wonderment and worrying about their parents,″ he said.

The children were being placed in foster homes until court proceedings that would determine whether they are returned to their parents, placed with relatives or made available for adoption.

According to an eight-month investigation of the cult by the Waco Tribune- Herald, welfare workers visited the compound at least twice to investigate allegations of physical, psychological and sexual abuse of children.

″We were not able to confirm abuse,″ Ms. Eells said.

Koresh has freely admitted he practiced polygamy and stockpiled weapons, but denied sexually abusing children.