George Roden, former leader of the Branch Davidians who in 1987 had a shootout with rival prophet Vernon Howell, has walked away from the Big Spring State Hospital, Big Spring police said Thursday.
About 8:30 a.m. Monday, Roden walked away from the mental hospital, said Big Spring Police Sgt. Scott Griffin.
Roden was sent there in 1990 after he was found not guilty by reason of insanity in the murder of a 56-year-old Odessa man.
In 1988, Howell, also known as David Koresh, and seven other Branch Davidians were tried for attempted murder for allegedly trying to kill Roden during a 1987 shootout at Mount Carmel. The seven Branch Davidians were acquitted, and Howell’s trial was declared a mistrial. Prosecutors did not seek a new trial.
Waco attorney Gary Coker, who represented Howell in the trial, said Roden has called him several times since he left the mental hospital Monday. Roden has also reportedly contacted a local judge.
Longtime Branch Davidian Janet Kendrick said he’s tried to call her.
“He’s been telling Gary he wanted to talk to me.
“He’s saying he owns Mount Carmel, and he’ll let us all come out there and live,” Kendrick said.
Griffin did not characterize an ongoing search for Roden as an “intensive” manhunt. However, he did say the Odessa Police Department and Texas Rangers are helping.
Laureen Chernow, a spokeswoman with the Texas Department of Public Safety, said Texas Rangers are working with federal authorities, whom she could not name, to find Roden.
Coker, who last spoke to Roden Wednesday, said he’s not afraid of Roden and doesn’t think Roden is much of a threat to anyone in Waco.
In court filings in 1988, Roden threatened several Waco judges. In the late 1980s, he served several sentences for contempt of court.
During the siege by federal agents surrounding Mount Carmel, Roden said of Howell, “He’s no Jesus Christ any more than Satan is.”
Coker said Roden “was adamant, but not nasty” about reclaiming Mount Carmel and about eventually moving to Israel.
“He wants to go back on the land, I’m sure,” Coker said. “He wants to go back and assert he is still the leader.
“George is an unusual person, a piece of work,” said Coker. “A person might have reason to be afraid of George because, I guess, his actions have been a little erratic.”
McLennan County Sheriff’s Department Capt. Dan Weyenberg said the department had not officially been notified about Roden’s departure.
“I hope someone’s out looking for him,” he said. “If it’s true he’s out, I’m sure he’s going to make it back to Waco sooner or later.”
Griffin said Roden was transferred from the Big Spring hospital soon after he was brought there in 1990. He was transferred to a Vernon hospital with stricter security. Three months ago, he was sent back to Big Spring.
New police officers didn’t know about Roden’s past, and when the mental hospital said he had walked Monday, police treated it like they do other routine walkaways, Griffin said.
No one at the state hospital alerted police to who Roden was or to his history of violent behavior.
“It’s important to understand that he’s not wanted on any criminal charge,” Griffin said. “We’ve issued a detainer to have him picked up and brought back to the hospital if found. We’re concerned because he can be dangerous.”
The roots of the Branch Davidians date back to 1934, when a disgruntled Seventh-day Adventist split with the church over interpretations of biblical teachings. Dissidence and even violence have continued in the group over the years.
Roden’s father, Ben Roden, formed the Branch Davidians in 1959 when the new kingdom failed to materialize as predicted by Florence Houteff, leader of the Davidian Seventh-Day Adventists. She believed the restoration of David’s kingdom in Palestine was imminent.
When Ben Roden died in 1978, his wife, Lois, took over leadership. She led the Davidians until another split in 1984, when members were torn between her son, George, and the up-and-coming leader, Howell.