10 Years Later, Uneasy Acceptance

It's been nearly two years since Sandy Connizzo wrote her last letter demanding more details about the death of her youngest son, Michael Schroeder.

Schroeder, 29, was shot seven times by agents with the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms on Feb. 28, 1993, as he tried to make his way back into the Branch Davidian compound outside Waco, Texas, hours after a shootout left four ATF agents and six Branch Davidians dead. Inside were his wife, Kathy; their 3-year-old son, Bryan; and Kathy's other children, Scott, 12, Jake, 10, and Chrissy, 8.

Ten years later, Connizzo still doesn't have the answers she wants. But she's not as relentless about getting them anymore. In recent years, her focus has been on healing. Trying to forgive.

It's what Mike would have wanted, she said.

Kathy Schroeder, 41, has questions, too. But she said she believes she already knows the answers, and she's too busy trying to make ends meet and raising her children to push for a public truth. As a convicted felon, she said she probably wouldn't get much consideration, anyway.

The Schroeders, high school sweethearts from Zephyrhills, joined the Branch Davidians at their Mount Carmel compound in Texas in August 1989 after meeting David Koresh in Miami. Intrigued with his religious message, the couple packed up the family and followed Koresh to Waco.

Life was good there until Feb. 28, 1993, when ATF agents arrived to arrest Koresh and others on weapons charges. Shooting broke out, a standoff ensued, and 51 days later fire engulfed Mount Carmel as law enforcement tried to flush out those Davidians who hadn't surrendered.

A federal judge later cleared the government of any wrongdoing in the deaths of some 80 sect members, most killed during the fire.

Within days of the shootout that sparked the standoff, the Schroeder children emerged from the compound. Bryan came to Zephyrhills with Connizzo and her husband, Bill. The other three went to South Dakota to live with their father.

Kathy Schroeder left the compound March 12, 1993, and eventually agreed to testify for the prosecution in exchange for a more lenient sentence. She served about three years in prison for resisting arrest with a firearm, and then returned to the Tampa area for a reunion with Bryan.

Her daughter, Chrissy, came to live with her about five years ago. Jake arrived after finishing high school. Scott graduated and joined the Air Force.

There is a fourth child now, 4-year-old Kendall, from a relationship with a boyfriend. Schroeder waits tables to pay the bills.

Not a day goes by when she doesn't think about Mike, her best friend, her role model, the man who strummed a guitar and sang a marriage proposal from the parking garage roof at Tampa International Airport. Sweet and sensitive, he was loved by everyone.

The Missing Blue Cap

The two women who loved Mike Schroeder best know the public version of how he died, and some additional details law enforcement officials won't confirm.

He was living and working off the compound in an automobile repair shop the Davidians owned. When word of the shootout reached the shop, Schroeder took off with two other men to get back to their families.

They became separated at one point while crossing a field surrounding the compound and before encountering ATF agents, who later said Schroeder fired first with a handgun. As for the other two men, one was caught and arrested minutes after Schroeder was shot. The third was arrested days later.

A handful of Texas Rangers started investigating the scene but were pulled away by the FBI, who said they feared more gunfire from the compound. Connizzo scoffs at the rationale. She went to the spot where her son died and couldn't see the compound.

Schroeder's body lay in a small gully for four days. The blue wool cap he wore was missing.

Connizzo and her husband drove to Texas right after hearing the news of the shootout to get Bryan and find out about Mike. It took 10 days before Texas Rangers officially informed them of his death.

An autopsy documented seven bullet wounds on his body. Two were an inch apart on the side of his head, just above his right ear. Connizzo and others wonder about those wounds: How far away was the gun that fired the bullets? Was Mike on the ground, wounded but not dead, when they were inflicted?

She says her questions would be resolved by forensic testing of the wool cap. But for the next few years, as Connizzo pursued information and explanations, she was continually told nobody knew where the cap was.

Six years after Schroeder's death, a researcher for a documentary on Waco found a clear plastic bag with Schroeder's name on it while sifting through mountains of evidence in a storage warehouse. Inside was the wool cap.

The researcher, Mike McNulty, also discovered an incendiary tear gas canister, forcing FBI and other officials to admit they lied when they insisted that only nonincendiary tear gas was used while trying to force the Davidians from their compound April 19, 1993.

Connizzo fired off more letters, relentless telephone calls, asking for testing of the cap. To her knowledge, it's never been done.

A Mother Stands Alone

Kathy Schroeder often wishes she had left this life with her husband. Now, she said she believes she survived to take care of her children. They were the reason she left the compound and took the stand against her fellow Davidians. She's heard from some of them in the years since, and they've told her they understand why she did it.

She misses the structured life she had with Mike at Mount Carmel.

``Life was so much simpler when you knew where you stood with other people; they took care of each other,'' she said. ``Everything made sense there. Nothing makes sense out here. It's constant chaos.''

Bryan doesn't remember anything about those early years, and her other children don't talk about it. They do talk about Mike, though. They miss him. Bryan wishes he could have known his father the way his siblings did.

While her mother-in-law pursued answers, Kathy Schroeder left things alone.

``Even if they get that cap and test it, it's not going to do any good,'' she said. ``It won't make any difference.''

Connizzo still wants the cap tested. She still wants her son's personal belongings returned. But healing is more important now. That started with a decision to forgive. She's not sure she's done it completely, but it's enough to bring some measure of peace.

``The people who did wrong will have to answer to someone a whole lot bigger than me,'' Connizzo said. ``They have to live with it.''

She has a new, better relationship with God. Her definition of patriotism has changed. It's not blindly following whatever the government says or does; it's watching and questioning decisions and actions. She doesn't feel the urge to turn her back on the American flag anymore.

``That flag is bigger than the government,'' Connizzo said.