Birth name: Vernon Wayne Howell Classification: HomicideCharacteristics: Leader of the Branch Davidians religious sectNumber of victims: 10 + 79Date of murders: February 28 / April 19, 1993Date of birth: August 18, 1959Victims profile: 4 ATF agents and 6 Davidians / 79 Davidians (men, women and children)Method of murder: Shooting - Fire - CS gasLocation: Waco, Texas, USAStatus: On April 19, 1993, Steve Schneider, Koresh's right-hand man, probably shot Koresh and killed himself with the same gun photo galleries
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Waco: A Massacre and Its Aftermalh, by Dean M. Kelley Assault on Waco, by Kevin S. Van Horn Holocaust at Waco, by Gary Null David Koresh (born Vernon Wayne Howell) (August 17, 1959 – April 19, 1993) was the leader of the Branch Davidians religious sect, believing himself to be the final prophet, until a 1993 raid by the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and subsequent siege by the Federal Bureau of Investigation ended with the burning of the Branch Davidian ranch. Koresh, 53 adults (including two pregnant women) and 21 children died in the fire.
Koresh was born in Houston, Texas to a 14-year-old single mother.. Bonnie Sue Clark, his mother, became pregnant with Koresh after sleeping with a 20-year-old carpenter named Bobby Howell. The pair remained unmarried. Two years later his father met another woman and left. He never knew his father and was raised by "a harsh stepfather".
Koresh described his early childhood as lonely, and it has been alleged that he was once raped by older boys. A poor student because of dyslexia, Koresh dropped out of high school. By the age of 12, however, he had learned the New Testament by heart.
When he was 19, Koresh had an affair with a 16-year-old girl who became pregnant, but left him because she considered him unfit to raise a child. He then became a born-again Christian in the Southern Baptist Church but soon joined his mother's church, the Seventh-day Adventist Church.
There he fell in love with the pastor's daughter and while praying for guidance he opened his eyes and found the bible open at Isaiah 34 which stated that none should want for a mate; convinced this was a sign from God he approached the pastor and told him that God wanted him to have his daughter for a wife. The pastor threw him out, and when he continued to persist with his pursuit of the daughter he was expelled from the congregation. A member of the congregation is reported to have said that he never "thought above his belt buckle."
In 1981 he moved to Waco, Texas where he joined the Branch Davidians, a religious group originating from a schism in the 1950s from the Shepherd's Rod, themselves excommunicated members of the Seventh-day Adventist Church in the 1930s. They had established their headquarters at a ranch about 10 miles out of Waco, which they called the Mount Carmel Center (after the Biblical Mount Carmel), in 1955.
Ascent to leadership of the Branch Davidians
In 1983 he began claiming the gift of prophecy. Koresh then had an affair with Lois Roden, the prophetess and leader of the sect who was then in her late sixties, eventually claiming that God had chosen him to father a child with her, who would be the Chosen One.
In 1983, Roden allowed Koresh to begin teaching his own message which caused controversy in the group. Lois Roden's son George intended to be the group's next leader, and considered Koresh an interloper.
When Koresh announced that God had instructed him to marry Rachel Jones, there was a short period of calm at Mount Carmel, but it proved only temporary. In the ensuing power struggle, George Roden, claiming to have the support of the majority of the group, forced Koresh and his group off the property at gunpoint. Disturbed by the events and the move away from the philosophy of the community's founders, a further splinter group led by Charles Joseph Pace moved out of Mount Carmel and set up home in Gadsden, Alabama.
Koresh and around 25 followers set up camp at Palestine, 90 miles from Waco, where they lived rough for the next two years, during which time Koresh undertook recruitment of new followers in California, the United Kingdom, Israel and Australia. In 1985 Koresh travelled to Israel and it was there that he had a vision that he was the modern day Cyrus. The founder of the Davidian movement, Victor Houteff, wanted to be God's implement and establish the Davidic kingdom in Palestine, Israel.
Koresh also wanted to be God's tool and set up the Davidic Kingdom in Jerusalem. At least until 1990, he believed the place of his martyrdom might be in Israel but by 1991 he was convinced that his martyrdom would be in the United States. Instead of Israel, he said the prophecies of Daniel would be fulfilled in Waco and that the Mount Carmel center was the Davidic kingdom.
At the Palestine, Texas, camp, Koresh "worked it so that everyone was forced to rely on him, and him alone. All previous bonds and attachments, family or otherwise, meant nothing. His rationale was if they had no one to depend on, they had to depend on him, and that made them vulnerable." By this time, he had already begun to give the message of his own "Christhood", proclaiming that he was "the Son of God, the Lamb who could open the Seven seals".
Lois Roden died in 1986. Up until now Koresh had been teaching that monogamy was the only way to live, but suddenly announced that polygamy was allowed for him. In March 1986, Koresh first slept with Karen Doyle, aged 14.
He claimed her as his second wife. In August 1986, Koresh began secretly sleeping with Michele Jones, his wife's younger 12 year old sister. In September 1986 Koresh began to preach that he was entitled to 140 wives, sixty women as his "queens" and eighty as concubines, which he based upon his interpretation of the Biblical Song of Solomon.
Koresh then built up an entirely new theology around his "marriage" to Doyle. This theology was called the "New Light", with a doctrine of polygamy for himself, which he called "The House of David".
According to this doctrine, Doyle was supposed to have a daughter named Shoshanna who would then be married to Koresh's firstborn son Cyrus. Doyle failed to conceive however, so Koresh then transferred his attention to his wife's sister. Former Davidian David Bunds said that Koresh's doctrine of polygamy "rose out of his deep desire to have sex with young girls. Once he was able to convince himself that it was God's will then he was able to be free of guilt and have sex with as many young girls as he could get his hands on."
By late 1987, George Roden's support had withered. To regain it, he challenged Koresh to a contest to raise the dead, even digging up one corpse to practice on it. Koresh returned to Mount Carmel in camouflage, with seven armed followers. All but one - who managed to escape - were arrested by the local police who had been alerted by the sound of gunfire. When deputy sheriffs arrived and ended the shoot-out, they found Koresh and six followers firing their rifles at Roden, who had already suffered a minor gunshot wound and was pinned down behind a tree at the Compound.
As a result of the incident, Koresh and his followers were charged with attempted murder. At the trial, Koresh testified that he went to Mount Carmel to uncover evidence of corpse abuse by George Roden. Koresh's followers were acquitted, and in Koresh's case a mistrial was declared.
In 1988 Roden murdered Dale Adair with an axe blow to the skull after Adair stated his belief that Koresh was the Messiah. Roden was convicted of murder and, as he owed thousands of dollars in unpaid taxes, Mount Carmel was placed for sale. Koresh and his followers raised the money and purchased the property, which he subsequently renamed "Ranch Apocalypse". A methamphetamine laboratory was discovered on the property, which Koresh reported to the local police department and asked to have removed.
Koresh believed himself to be a modern-day Cyrus, who had delivered the Jews from Babylon. Koresh is the Hebrew word for "Cyrus". In the documentation involved, Koresh stated that the change was for "publicity and business purposes." The switch arose from his belief that he was now head of the biblical house of David, from which Judeo-Christian tradition maintains the Messiah will come.
The name Koresh is a transliteration of the Hebrew name of Cyrus the Persian king who allowed the Jews who had been dispersed throughout Babylonia by Nebuchadnezzar to return to their homelands.
Both King David and Cyrus are referred to as Messiah (literally anointed one) in the Hebrew Bible (King David on several occasions, Cyrus in Isaiah 45:1), thus the names, "David" and "Koresh", Vernon Howell chose evidenced his belief that he too was an anointed one, a belief that stemmed from a vision he claimed to have received from God in 1985 during his trip to Israel. During the siege, Koresh would explain to the FBI negotiators that (in Koresh's mind at least) "koresh" had a deeper meaning:
Koresh: "What is Christ revealed as, according to the fourth seal?"
FBI: "Pale... a rider on a pale horse."
Koresh: "And his name is what?"
Koresh: "Now, do you know what the name Koresh means?"
FBI: "Go ahead..."
Koresh: "It means death."
Accusations of child abuse and statutory rape
Koresh advocated polygamy for himself, and asserted that he was married to several female residents of the small community. Some former members of the cult also alleged that Koresh felt he could claim any of the females in the compound as his. Evidently he fathered at least a dozen children by the harem. Allegedly, his harem included girls as young as age 14. The other adults at the compound were told by Koresh not to tell anyone else about this "because they wouldn't understand."
The 1993 U.S. Department of Justice report sets out detailed evidence of historical child sexual and physical abuse. ATF Special Agent David Aguilera had interviewed former Branch Davidian Jeannine Bunds, who claimed that Koresh had fathered "...at least fifteen children with various women and young girls at the compound.
Some of the girls who had babies fathered by Koresh were as young as 12 years old. She had personally delivered 7 of these children. According to Ms. Bunds, Howell annuls all marriages of couples who join his cult. He then has exclusive sexual access to the women. He also, according to Mrs. Bunds, has regular sexual relations with young girls there. The girls ages are from 11 years old to adulthood.
In his book, James Tabor states that Koresh acknowledged on a videotape sent out of the compound during the standoff that he had fathered more than 12 children by several "wives", some of whom were as young as 12 or 13 when they became pregnant. DNA testing of the women and children in the video who died in the subsequent fire confirmed that the children were his.
At the time, in Texas, the age of parental consent for a minor to marry was 14, as was the age for consent to sex. Kiri Jewell, daughter of Branch Davidian Sherri Jewell, claimed in testimony before Congress in 1995 that she was sexually molested at the age of 10 by Koresh, who then read to her from the Bible.
She originally related the incident in a 1992 custody battle, and the judge ordered that she be kept away from Koresh and Mount Carmel. While conceding that Jewell's testimony may be "100 percent true", Schneider's attorney expressed doubts about her veracity.
Twenty-one children, aged from 5 months to 12 years, were released from Mount Carmel over a 3 day period at the beginning of the siege. These children were placed in the custody of the Child Protective Services and housed together in a single cottage.
Over the next two months, these children were in the constant care of a multidisciplinary treatment team consisting of child care and mental health professionals from a variety of institutions and organizations, who carried out extensive evaluation and assessment. They concluded that the children had been raised in an abusive setting, and that Koresh's regime at Mount Carmel was clearly "a psychologically destructive environment for children."
Koresh deliberately undermined the traditional parent-child relationship and replaced it with a dependence upon a central figure, himself. The children related at various times that they had been instructed to call their natural parents "dogs" and to call Koresh "father." Children who were not biologically Koresh's or 'adopted' by Koresh were called "bastards."
Koresh continuously undermined all relationships within the Branch Davidian community, including sibling relationships, husband and wife relationships, and friendships. Any attachment judged by Koresh to be more important to an individual than the dependence upon him or God was not tolerated. By 1992 the children were being taught to view Koresh as their father, and soon after they were taught that he was God.
The children demonstrated inappropriate and age-inappropriate behaviors and significant gaps in general understanding, reflecting practices present in the compound. Very young children, including a six year old girl, knew an incredible amount about weapons, while they knew almost nothing about common age-appropriate concepts.
Child psychologists concluded that the children were significantly traumatized by previous harsh and inappropriate disciplinary techniques including severe corporal punishment, extended isolation and severe food restrictions. They were continually exposed to "harsh, capricious, and humiliating" disciplinary techniques.
Children, as young as 8 months, were beaten for trivial matters, and older children were beaten for not fighting hard enough in bouts arranged by Koresh between the children as part of their "paramilitary training". In the building where the children were first housed after leaving mount Carmel, one spotted the door to the basement:
"Do you have a whipping room down there?" she asked her new guardians. '"No, do you have one?" "Yes," said the little girl. "When they don't want everyone to hear us, they take us down there."
The children were also threatened with death if they revealed aspects of life inside the compound to the "non-believers". As is typical when an abusive adult threatens a child, they were told that outsiders would not understand "our special ways". The children were convinced that Koresh would return from the grave and punish them if they betrayed the Davidians by interacting with, or disclosing information to, the "bad guys" (eg law enforcement and non-Davidians).
Koresh was exploitive and manipulative of children and exposed them all to a variety of inappropriate sexual content - such as graphically describing intercourse and sexual technique in his hours-long sermons at which the children were present.
Furthermore, the girls were socialized to believe that sex with Koresh, by age 11-12, was normal, appropriate, and desirable as part of "God's plan" as revealed to and by Koresh. All of the young girls were being prepared to be his wives and to view that as a healthy and desired position to be in. One of the older girls expressed distress, now that she had been released from the compound, that she would not be able to be picked by Koresh as one of his brides. Koresh created an environment which had "an unhealthy, malignant and predatory quality of sexuality", and all of the girls were 'groomed' for sexual activity at an early age.
Several of the children mentioned dead babies, and stated that dead babies were kept in the freezer until they could be buried or burned. Amongst the children there was an ongoing secretive quality to these occasional allusions to births, dead babies, miscarriages, storage of dead babies in the freezer, burning bodies, a ceremony with a male baby underwater and other incomplete and unformed stories. When any of the children mentioned these subjects, there was evidence of peer-group monitoring, group censoring and avoidance of disclosing any more information.
Dr. Bruce D. Perry concluded that:
"The fact that the name of God and religion were used to obscure this exploitive and abusive practice make these activities even more heinous and destructive to the long term development of these children. The fact that responsible adults, either parents or 'academics', would minimize these activities is shameful. David Koresh systematically exploited the members of the Branch Davidian community, slowly but surely coercing that community to play out the tragic and destructive visions of his own disturbed inner world."
Raid and siege
On February 28, 1993, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (BATF) raided Mount Carmel. The raid resulted in the deaths of four agents and six Davidians. Shortly after the initial raid, the FBI took command of the federal operation and contact was established with Koresh inside the church. Communication over the next 51 days included telephone exchanges with various FBI negotiators.
As the standoff continued, Koresh, who was seriously injured by a gunshot wound, along with his closest male leaders negotiated delays, possibly so he could write religious documents he said he needed to complete before he surrendered. His conversations with the negotiators were dense with biblical imagery. The federal negotiators treated the situation as a hostage crisis despite a two hour video tape sent out by the Davidians in which the adults and older children/teens appeared to explain clearly and confidently why they chose of their own free will to remain with David.
The 51-day siege of Mount Carmel ended when U.S Attorney General Janet Reno approved recommendations of veteran FBI officials to proceed with a final assault in which the Branch Davidians were to be removed from their building by force. In the course of the assault, the church building caught fire. The cause of the fire was later alleged by the "Danforth Report," a report commissioned by The Special Counsel, to be the deliberate actions of some of the Branch Davidians inside the building..
However this hypothesis is disputed in the documentary "Waco: The Rules of Engagement," which argues that the fire was deliberately set when the FBI fired an incendiary device into the building after loading the building with CS gas, which is highly flammable.
At the subsequent trial of the surviving Branch Davidians, the jury listened to edited parts of a tape-recording from hidden microphones inside Mt. Carmel during the final attack and fire of 19 April. These consisted of sounds of static during which one could faintly hear a voice saying "...fire..."
A government expert testified that through electronic enhancement, he had reconstructed some clearly incriminating comments, even if the jury couldn't hear them. It later transpired that the FBI, when meeting Koresh's demands that milk be sent in for the children's wellbeing, also sent in tiny listening devices concealed inside the milk cartons and their styrofoam containers..
Barricaded in their building, seventy-six Branch Davidians, including Koresh, did not survive the fire. Seventeen of these victims were children under the age of 12. The Danforth Report claims that those who died were unable, or unwilling, to flee and that Steve Schneider, Koresh's right-hand man, probably shot Koresh and killed himself with the same gun. "Waco: The Rules of Engagement" claims that FBI sharpshooters fired on, and killed, many Branch Davidians who attempted to flee the flames.
Testimony by the few Branch Davidians who did successfully flee the fire supports this claim. Autopsy records indicate that at least 20 Branch Davidians were shot, including 5 children. The Danforth Report claims that the adults who died of gunshot wounds shot themselves after shooting the children.
David Koresh is buried at Memorial Park Cemetery, Tyler, Texas.
Branch Davidians believe that Koresh will someday return to Earth. Some hoped, based on Daniel 12:12, that this would occur 1,335 days after his death: December 14, 1996. The Hidden Manna faction believed that it would take place on August 6, 1999, then October 20, and now March 2012. Other survivors avoid date-setting.
- Reavis, Dick J. The Ashes of Waco: An Investigation (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1995). ISBN 0-684-81132-4
[*] Samples, Kenneth et al. Prophets of the Apocalypse: David Koresh & Other American Messiahs (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1994). ISBN 0-8010-8367-2
On February 28, 1993, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) raided the Branch Davidian ranch at Mount Carmel, a property located nine miles (14 km) east-northeast of Waco, Texas.
The initial raid resulted in the deaths of four agents and six Davidians. The subsequent 51-day siege by the FBI ended on April 19 when fire completely consumed the complex, killing 79 people, including 21 children and Davidian leader David Koresh. This has come to be known as the Waco Siege.
The Branch Davidian Seventh Day Adventist Church was formed in Los Angeles, California during the 1930s, breaking away from the Seventh-day Adventist Church. As the group gained members, the leadership moved the church to a hilltop several miles west of Waco, which they named Mount Carmel, after a mountain in Israel mentioned in the Bible. A few years later, they moved again to a much larger site east of the city.
The new Mount Carmel Center consisted of a main church building (constructed primarily of thin plywood, taking advantage of a lack of building codes at the time), administrative and storage buildings, and homes for the leadership and important visitors.
The church announced at some point that the Second Coming of Jesus Christ was about to take place, and members were told to gather at the center to await this event. Many built houses, others stayed in tents, trucks or buses, and most sold their possessions.
By 1992, most of the land belonging to the group had been sold, and most of the buildings had been removed, or were being salvaged for construction materials to convert much of the main chapel and a tall water tank into apartments for the resident members of the group.
Interviews with surviving Davidians state that David Koresh was intimately versed in the Bible and "knew it like he wrote it". Koresh taught that the US government was the enemy of the Davidians, and that they would have to defend themselves. He also professed that the apocalypse foretold in the Book of Revelation was upon them.
In a video made by the Davidians and released during the siege, Koresh stated that he had been told by God to procreate with the women in the groups to establish a "House of David", his "Special People".
This involved married couples in the group dissolving their marriages and agreeing that only Koresh could have sexual relations with the wives. On the tape, Koresh is also shown with several minors who claimed to have had babies fathered by Koresh. In total, Koresh had fourteen young children, who stayed with him in the compound.
A video clip of an interview between Koresh and an Australian television station notes that he was accused of impregnating the aged widow of the founder of Branch Davidianism. He sarcastically said that if the charges were true, if he had "made an 82 year-old woman pregnant... I do miracles, I'm God!" Frequently, only the last two words were seen in news coverage.
On February 27, 1993 the Waco Tribune-Herald began what it called the “Sinful Messiah” series of articles. It alleged that Koresh had physically abused children in the compound and had taken underage brides, even raping one of them. Koresh was also said to advocate polygamy for himself, and declared himself married to several female residents of the small community.
According to the paper, Koresh declared that he was entitled to at least 140 wives, that he was entitled to claim any of the females in the group as his, that he had fathered at least a dozen children by the harem and that some of these mothers became brides as young as twelve or thirteen years old.
Reports from Joyce Sparks, an investigator from the Texas agency responsible for protective services, stated that she had found no evidence that the allegations were true in any of several visits to the Mount Carmel site over a period of months, but said that she was not permitted to speak with the children alone, nor was she permitted to inspect all areas of the site. She noted that safety concerns over construction sites at Mount Carmel were immediately addressed and corrected. Carol Moore, author of the 1994 "The Massacre Of The Branch Davidians—A Study Of Government Violations Of Rights, Excessive Force And Cover Up", published by The Committee For Waco Justice, writes:
(Rick) Ross told the Houston Chronicle that Koresh is "your stock cult leader. They're all the same. Meet one and you've met them all. They're deeply disturbed, have a borderline personality and lack any type of conscience...No one willingly enters into a relationship like this. So you're talking about deception and manipulation (by the leader), people being coached in ever so slight increments, pulled in deeper and deeper without knowing where it's going or seeing the total picture."
In 1992 the ATF became concerned over reports of automatic gunfire coming from the Carmel compound. Subsequent investigations, including sending in one agent undercover, revealed that there were over 150 weapons and 8,000 rounds of ammunition in the complex. Most of the weapons were legal semi-automatics however the ATF alleged there were also a number that had been illegally modified to fire fully automatically.
The ATF began surveillance from a house across the road from the compound, but their cover was noticeably poor (the "college students" were in their 30s, not registered at the local schools, and they did not keep a schedule which would have fit any legitimate employment or classes).
Speculating that the Davidians had violated federal law, the ATF obtained search and arrest warrants for Koresh and specific followers on weapons charges due to the many firearms they had accumulated, and they planned their raid for March 1, 1993. However, they moved it up a day in response to the Waco Tribune-Herald "Sinful Messiah" article (which the ATF had tried to prevent from being published).
People critical of the inital ATF investigation and raid have lambasted the search warrant application. The warrant application and supporting affidavits contain a great deal of discussion listing large numbers of firearms and ammunition, all having nothing to do with any violation of federal law.
Further, there is much discussion about the "cult" like nature of the group (Davidians) and allegations of untoward sexual practices. The result of such language is to prejudice the reader agaings Koresh and the Davidians all the while providing information irrelevant to any violation of federal law.
The initial assault
The ATF mounted the raid on a Sunday morning, February 28, 1993. Any advantage of surprise was lost as a reporter, who had been tipped off on the raid, asked for directions from a USPS mail carrier who was Koresh's brother-in-law, and the assault team assembled within view of the upper stories of the Mount Carmel main building.
Koresh then confronted the ATF agent who had infiltrated the Branch Davidians and told him that they knew a raid was coming. Koresh and his followers then began arming and taking up defensive positions, while the women and children were told to take cover in their rooms.
Despite being informed that the Davidians knew the raid was coming, the ATF commander ordered that the raid go ahead, even though their plan had depended on reaching the compound without the Davidians having armed.
Agents approached the site in cattle trailers pulled by pickup trucks owned by individual ATF agents. It is not known who fired the first shots. It is reported that the first firing occurred at the double front entry doors; ATF agents stated that they heard shots coming from within the building, while Branch Davidian survivors claimed that the first shots came from the ATF agents outside.
Within a minute of the raid starting, a Davidian, Wayne Martin, called 911 pleading for them to stop shooting. The resident asked for a ceasefire, and audiotapes clearly caught him saying "Here they come again!" and "That's them shooting, that's not us!"
The local sheriff then attempted to contact the ATF force, but initially could not get through as the ATF communications officer had turned his radio off. Eventually the sheriff got through and negotiated a ceasefire.
After the ceasefire, the Davidians, who still had ample ammunition, allowed the dead and wounded to be removed and held their fire during the ATF retreat. Steve Willis, Robert Williams, Todd McKeehan and Conway LeBleu were the ATF agents killed during the raid, with another 16 having been injured.
The Davidians killed were Winston Blake, Peter Gent, Peter Hipsman, Perry Jones and Jaydean Wendel. Michael Schroeder was shot dead by ATF agents when he fired a Glock 19 pistol at agents as he attempted to reenter the compound around 5 PM with Woodrow Kendrick and Norman Allison.
The local sheriff, in audiotapes broadcast after the incident, said he was not apprised of the raid.
Timeline of events 28 February
76 agents assemble at Fort Hood for the drive to the staging area at the Bellmead Civic Center. According to a later Treasury Department Review, the agents drove in an 80-vehicle convoy that stretched for a mile with a cattle trailer at either end
ATF agents move in on the compound. A gun battle begins.
Branch Davidian Wayne Martin, a Waco attorney, calls 911
Cease fire reached
The first message from Koresh is relayed over KRLD Radio In Dallas
Mike Schroeder is shot dead returning to the compound
ATF spokesman Ted Royster says gunfire has continued sporadically through the afternoon
David Koresh is interviewed by CNN. The FBI instructs CNN not to conduct further interviews
ATF spokesperson Sharon Wheeler says negotiations continue with Davidians and gunfire has ended
By now 4 children have exited (2 Sonobe children, 2 Fagan children)
Koresh talks for about 20 minutes on KRLD, describing his beliefs and saying he is the most seriously wounded of the Davidians
ATF agents established contact with Koresh and others inside the building after they withdrew. The FBI took command soon after as a result of the deaths of Federal agents. They placed the FBI Special Agent in Command of San Antonio, Jeff Jamar, in charge of the siege. The tactical team was headed by Richard Rogers, who had previously been criticized for his actions at the Ruby Ridge incident.
For the next fifty-one days, communication with those inside was by telephone by a group of 25 FBI negotiators (who reportedly were not always in touch with the tactical units surrounding the building).
In the first few days the FBI believed they had made a breakthrough when they negotiated with Koresh an agreement that the Davidians would peaceably leave the compound in return for a message, recorded by Koresh, being broadcast on national radio. The broadcast was made, but Koresh then told negotiators that God had told him to remain in the building and "wait".
Despite this, soon afterwards negotiators managed to facilitate the release of 19 children, but without their parents. Ninety-eight people remained in the compound.
On day nine the Davidians released a video tape to show the FBI that there were no hostages, but in fact everyone was staying inside on their own free will. This video also included a message from Koresh.
As the stand-off continued, Koresh negotiated more time, allegedly so he could write religious documents he said he needed to complete before he surrendered. His conversations, dense with biblical imagery, alienated the federal negotiators who treated the situation as a hostage crisis.
As the siege wore on two factions developed within the FBI, one believing negotiation to be the answer, the other force. Increasingly aggressive techniques were used to try to make the Davidians leave. Outside the building nine tanks and five combat engineering vehicles (CEVs) obtained from the US Army began patrolling.
The tanks were used to destroy outbuildings and crush cars belonging to Koresh. Loud music (heavily distorted) and disturbing sounds were played at high volume. Eventually all power and water was cut off to the complex, forcing those inside to survive on rain water and stockpiled army Meal, Ready-to-Eat rations.
Criticism was later leveled at the tactic of loud noises against Koresh by Schneider's attorney, Jack Zimmerman:
The point was this - they were trying to have sleep disturbance and they were trying to take someone that they viewed as unstable to start with, and they were trying to drive him crazy. And then they got mad 'cos he does something that they think is irrational!
Despite the increasingly aggressive tactics, Koresh ordered a group of followers to leave. Eleven people left and were arrested as material witnesses, with one person charged with conspiracy to murder.
The children's willingness to stay with Koresh disturbed the negotiators who were unprepared to work around the Davidians' religious zeal. However, as the siege went on, the children were aware that an earlier group of children who had left with some women were immediately separated, and the women arrested.
During the siege a number of scholars who study apocalypticism in religious groups attempted to persuade the Justice Department that the siege tactics being used by government agents would only create the impression within the Davidians that they were part of a Biblical End Times confrontation that had cosmic significance. This would likely increase the chances of a violent and deadly outcome (in a subsequent stand-off with the Montana Freemen, the Justice Department incorporated this advice to end the confrontation peacefully).
Koresh's discussions with the negotiating team became increasingly difficult. He proclaimed that he was the second coming of Christ and had been commanded by his father in heaven to remain in the compound.
Many of Koresh's statements about religion that baffled government negotiators were understood by religious scholars as references to his idiosyncratic interpretations of the Book of Revelation, and his claimed role in the End Times battle between good and evil.
The final assault
The FBI became increasingly concerned that the Davidians were going to commit mass suicide, as had happened at Jonestown when 900 people killed themselves at their leader's behest. The then-newly appointed U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno approved the recommendations of the FBI to mount an assault after being told that conditions were deteriorating and children were being abused inside the compound.
Because the Davidians were heavily armed, the FBI's arms included .50 caliber guns and armored vehicles known as combat engineer vehicles (CEVs). A plan was formed which would see the CEVs use booms to punch holes in the walls of buildings and then pump in CS gas ("tear gas") to try to flush out the Davidians without harming them.
The plan called for increasing amounts of gas to be pumped in over two days to increase pressure. No armed assault was to be made, and loudspeakers were used to tell the Davidians that there was no armed assault and to ask them not to fire on the vehicles. Despite this, several Davidians opened fire. Instead of returning fire, the FBI increased the amount of gas being used.
After more than six hours no Davidians had left the building instead sheltering in an underground bunker or using gas masks. The CEVs were used to punch several large holes in the building to provide exits for those inside. However several of these were blocked when the floor above collapsed, and Davidians were scared that they would be shot if they left. At around noon, three fires started almost simultaneously in different parts of the building. Even then, as the fire spread, only nine people left the building.
The remaining Davidians remained inside as fire engulfed the building, with footage being broadcast worldwide by television. In all, 74 died. Jeff Jamar prohibited fire crews access to the burning buildings until after the blaze had burned itself out, due to the danger of explosives within the fire and possible weapons fire from surviving Davidians. Nothing remains of the compound today. Only a small chapel stands on the site, used by a small number of Branch Davidians.
Chronology of events 19 April
Agents call Davidian compound to warn they are going to begin tank activity and advise residents "to take cover". Agents say the Davidian who answered the phone doesn't reply, but instead throws the phone and phone line out of the front door
Surveillance tapes record a man inside the compound saying "Everybody wake up, let's start to pray," then, "Pablo have you poured it yet" ..."Huh" ... "Have you poured it yet"... "in the hallway"... "things are poured, right?"
Armored vehicle with ram and delivery device to pump tear gas into compound with pressurized air rips into front wall just left of front door leaving a hole 8 feet high and 10 feet wide. Agents claimed the holes not only allowed insertion of the gas, but also provided a means of escape. Agents allege that 75 rounds are fired from inside compound at this time
Surveillance tapes record "don't pour it all out, we might need some later"... "throw the tear gas back out" FBI negotiator Byron Sage is recorded saying "It's time for people to come out." Surveillance tape records a man saying "what?" then, "no way."
Surveillance tapes record Davidians saying "They're gonna kill us," then "They don't want to kill us."
Surveillance tapes record a male Davidian saying, "The fuel has to go all around to get started." Then a second male says, "Well, there are two cans here, if that's poured soon."
Armored vehicle with battering ram rips into second floor of compound and then minutes later another hole is punched into the backside of the compound. The vehicles then withdraw
The Davidians unfurl a banner which reads "We want our phone fixed."
Armored vehicle powers through front door to deliver more gas
Surveillance tapes record conversation between two males identified as David Koresh and Steve Schneider.
Koresh: "They got two cans of Coleman fuel down there? Huh?"
Koresh: "All of it?"
Schneider: "Nothing left."
A man is seen waving a white flag on the southeast side of the compound. He is advised over loudspeakers that if he is surrendering he should come out. He doesn't. At the same time a man believed to be Schneider comes out to retrieve the phone and phone line
More gas inserted through front, punching another big hole
Surveillance tapes record a man saying "I want a fire around the back," then later, "Let's keep that fire going."
Another gas insertion takes place, with the armored vehicle moving well into the building to reach the concrete interior room where the FBI believe Davidians are trying to avoid gas
Armored vehicle turret knocks away first floor corner on right side
First visible flames appear in two spots in the front of the building, first on the left of the front door on the second floor (a wisp of smoke then a small flicker of flame) then a short time later on the far right side of the front of the building, and at a third spot on the back side. Agents say Branch Davidian members ignited the fires, alleging that observers saw a man dressed in black bend over with cupped hands and then saw flames as he lifted his hands
Ruth Riddle exits with computer disk in her jacket containing Koresh's Manuscript on the Seven Seals.
Flames spread quickly, fanned by high winds. The building is not well constructed and burns very quickly
911 call placed for fire department. Two Waco FD trucks are dispatched. Shortly after, Bellmead FD dispatches two trucks
Waco fire trucks arrive at checkpoint, Bellmead follows shortly after
There is a large explosion on the left side. One object hurtles into air, bounces off the top of white bus and lands on grass
Part of the roof collapses. Around this time there are several further explosions and witnesses report the sound of gunfire, attributed by the FBI to live ammunition cooking off throughout the compound because of fire
Fire trucks arrive in compound according to fire department logs
Fire begins to burn out, compound leveled
Law enforcement source says David Koresh is dead
Various gun-control groups, such as Handgun Control Incorporated and the Violence Policy Center have claimed that the Branch Davidans had (and used) .50 caliber rifles and that therefore these types of firearms should be banned.
However, the US Treasury Department, in a memorandum to the press dated July 13, 1995 titled "Weapons Possessed by the Branch Davidians", provided an inventory of all the firearms and firearm-related items that were recovered from the Branch Davidian's compound. The inventory shows no .50 rifles or machine guns, only 4 .50 magazines, 3 .50 magazine springs and .50 belt links.
Several years later, the the General Accounting Office in response to a request from Henry Waxman released a briefing paper titled, "Criminal Activity Associated with .50 Caliber Semiautomatic Rifles" which claims that the Branch Davidians did have access to and use .50 rifles.
The GAO's claim is based on an unsourced BATF claim that the Branch Davidians fired on the BATF with a .50 rifle. There has not been a reconciliation between the Treasury Department's account and the GAO's.
Actually, transcripts of trial testimony and exhibit lists confrm that two .50 caliber Barrett rifles and many rounds of .50 caliber bullets, including armor piercing bullets, were found in the remains of the compound and entered into evidence during the criminal trial in 1994 and the civil trial in 2000.
- [*]Judge Walter J. Smith (who was under investigation during the first half of the trial by the Justice Department for perjury) presided over the trial in which a jury found some of the surviving Branch Davidians guilty. Over government objections, Judge Smith empanelled an advisory jury in the civil case. That jury ruled in favor of the United States and against the Davidians (see below).
- Congressional Inquiry—The House Committee on Government Reform concluded that the Davidians started the fires.
- Danforth Report—The Special Counsel appointed to look into the "darker questions" concluded with "100% certainty" that the Davidians started the fires. However, evidence of pyrotechnic "Flite-Rite" rounds was discounted due to sworn testimony by federal agents that no such devices were used, present or even available to the FBI. Since the FBI now admits that this testimony was false, many deem the Danforth Report conclusions to be less than reliable.
- Federal prosecutor Bill Johnston pled guilty to charges of obstructing an investigation for withholding evidence of the use of pyrotechnic devices.
- The advisory jury that heard the civil case against the government in the summer of 2000 found in favor of the government on all claims, and found specifically that the BATF agents acted within the law in returning fire on February 28, 1993, and that the FBI neither caused, nor contributed to, the fire.
- The eleven surviving Davidians accused of murder in the deaths of the four ATF agents who were killed in the initial assault were acquitted on grounds of self-defense.
- Some critics claim that the initial assault on the Davidians was an attempt to divert media attention away from the recent Ruby Ridge incident.
- Kevin A. Whitecliff—convicted of voluntary manslaughter and using a firearm during a crime.
- Jaime Castillo—convicted of voluntary manslaughter and using a firearm during a crime.
- Paul Gordon Fatta—convicted of conspiracy to possess machine guns and aiding Davidian leader David Koresh in possessing machine guns.
- Renos Lenny Avraam—convicted of voluntary manslaughter and using a firearm during a crime.
- Graeme Leonard Craddock—convicted of possessing a grenade and using or possessing a firearm during a crime.
- Brad Eugene Branch—convicted of voluntary manslaughter and using a firearm during a crime.
- Livingstone Fagan—convicted of voluntary manslaughter and using a firearm during a crime.
- Ruth Riddle—convicted of using or carrying a weapon during a crime.
- Kathryn Schroeder—sentenced to three years after pleading guilty to a reduced charge of forcibly resisting arrest. She was the only Davidian to testify against the others.
In the aftermath of the initial raid, the ATF drew heavy criticism for proceeding, despite being aware that the Davidians knew of the offensive and of the months-long surveillance of Mount Carmel.
Some critics also continue to ask why the ATF agents turned down a direct invitation given months before the initial assault, in which Koresh spoke with the agents by phone and asked that they come talk with him about their concerns. There is also controversy over what the exact content of the original search warrants were.
Some critics claim that ATF documentation from their observations of Mount Carmel proved that they knew that Koresh left the property every day for a run. The ATF has so far not responded to questions about why they did not wait for Koresh to leave his property on the day of the raid and then arrest him instead of staging a raid.
Who fired first?
Helicopters had been obtained from the Texas National Guard on the pretext that there was a drug laboratory at Mount Carmel. There were, however, no drug related charges on the arrest warrant served on the morning of February 28, 1993. While the official version of events has always stated that the helicopters were merely used as a diversion, and that the Davidians were not targeted by sharpshooters within them, in transcripts of the negotiations, as a negotiating tactic, one negotiator admitted that the occupants were armed, and may have opened fire:
Koresh: "No! Let me tell you something. That may be what you want the media to believe, but there's other people that saw too! Now, tell me Jim, again - you're honestly going to say those helicopters didn't fire on any of us?"
Jim Cavanaugh: "What I'm saying is the helicopters didn't have mounted guns. Ok? I'm not disputing the fact that there might have been fire from the helicopters."
An Austin Chronicle article noted, "Long before the fire, the Davidians were discussing the evidence contained in the doors. During the siege, in a phone conversation with the FBI, Steve Schneider, one of Koresh's main confidantes, told FBI agents that "the evidence from the front door will clearly show how many bullets and what happened."
Houston attorney Dick DeGuerin, who went inside Mount Carmel during the siege, testified at the trial that protruding metal on the inside of the right-hand entry door made it clear that the bullet holes were made by incoming rounds. DeGuerin also testified that only the right-hand entry door had bullet holes, while the left-hand entry door was intact. The government presented the left-hand entry door at the trial, claiming that the right-hand entry door had been lost. The left-hand door contained numerous bullet holes made by both outgoing and incoming rounds.
Texas Trooper Sgt. David Keys testified that he witnessed two men loading what could have been the missing door into a U-Haul van shortly after the siege had ended, but he did not see the object itself. And Michael Caddell, the lead attorney for the Davidians' wrongful death lawsuit explained, "The fact that the left-hand door is in the condition it's in tells you that the right-hand door was not consumed by the fire. It was lost on purpose by somebody." Caddell offered no evidence to support this allegation, which has never been proved.
Critics suggest that during the final raid the CS gas was injected into the building by armored vehicles in an unsafe manner, which could have started a fire. However, two of the three fires were started well inside the building, away from where the CS gas was pumped in.
Between 1993 and 1999, FBI spokesmen denied (even under oath) the use of any sort of pyrotechnic devices during the assault; non-pyrotechnic Flite-Rite CS gas grenades had been found in the rubble immediately following the fire.
In 1999, FBI spokesmen were forced to admit that they had used the grenades, however they claimed that these devices, which dispense CS gas through an internal burning process, had been used during an early morning attempt to penetrate a covered, water-filled construction pit, and were not fired into the building itself. According to FBI claims, the fires started approximately four hours after the grenades had been fired.
FBI-released video and audio tapes, and aerial infra-red videotape shot by the FBI, shows flashes of light that some have suggested might be heat signatures consistent with the launching of CS gas grenades moments before the first heat plume of fire appears. Several expert studies concluded that the flashes were caused by reflected infrared radiation and not muzzle blasts.
The FBI has also admitted to using incendiary flares during the stand-off to illuminate areas at night, but claims not to have used illumination flares during the assault, all of which took place during daylight hours.
The Branch Davidians had given ominous warnings involving fire on several occasions. This may or may not be indicative of the Davidians' future actions, but could be construed as evidence that the fire was started by the Davidians.
On May 12, less than a month after the incident, Texas state authorities bulldozed the site, rendering further gathering of forensic evidence impossible.
Several documentaries suggest that the FBI fired weapons into the building, which the FBI denies. The main evidence for gunfire is bright flashes in aerial infra-red recordings from Forward looking infrared (FLIR) cameras on government aircraft flying overhead. Edward Allard, a former government specialist on infra-red imagery, submitted an affidavit in which he declared that the video revealed bursts of automatic gunfire coming from government agents. Another independent FLIR expert, Carlos Ghigliotti, also confirms gunfire, when shown the original video kept by government officials.
International experts hired by the Office of Special Counsel claimed that the flashes were not gunfire because (1) they lasted too long, (2) there were no guns or people on the tapes anywhere near the flashes; and (3) the flashes were consistent with reflections of debris and other materials near the building.
Edward Allard commented on the reflection theory, saying that it was impossible for the flashes on the FLIR film to be reflections, because FLIR does not record light, it records heat, and reflections do not produce enough heat to be noticeable on tape. Actually, FLIR records infrared radiation, which can be reflected or absorbed by different materials. Maurice Cox, a former analyst from the US intelligence community, tested the reflection theory using the principles of solar geometry. Cox's Sun Reflection Report concluded that the flashes seen on the FLIR footage could only be from gunfire.
In January, 1999 Mr Cox challenged FBI director Louis Freeh and FBI scientists to dispute his findings. There was no response.
Secondary proof was a summary of a statement made by FBI sniper Charles Riley several weeks after the incident to an FBI investigator. Riley stated that he had heard shots fired from a nearby sniper position Sierra 1. The sniper team had included Lon Horiuchi and Christopher Curran who had been involved in the Ruby Ridge incident, with the former having fired the fatal shots.
In 1995, when attorneys submitted the summary of Riley's statement as evidence to Judge Smith, the FBI produced an additional interview in which Riley clarified that he had heard the statement "shots fired" from Sierra 1, which meant that agents at Sierra 1 had observed shots being fired at FBI vehicles by the Davidians.
Finally, .308 cartridge cases found at Sierra 1 were examined by ballistics experts hired by the Branch Davidians. They agreed with government experts that the casings matched guns used by the ATF during the first raid on February 28, and the Davidians dropped the Sierra 1 shooting claim from their lawsuit against the government.
Autopsies of the dead revealed that some women and children found beneath a fallen concrete wall of a storage room died of skull injuries. Photographs taken after the fire show that the M728 CEV that penetrated the building while injecting CS gas did not come close enough to cause the collapse, which was more likely the result of the fire; photographs show signs of spalling on the concrete, which suggests that it was damaged by the intense heat). Some claim that the cooking off of some of the ammunition stored in the bank vault damaged the walls, but so little energy is released by rounds which cook off that this is highly unlikely.
Autopsy photographs of other children locked in what appear to be spasmic death poses have been attributed by some to cyanide poisoning produced by burning CS gas. However, these poses are more likely the post-mortem "boxer pose" all bodies caught in fires eventually assume, created as ligaments connecting bones together shorten as the fire dries them.
Autopsy records indicate that at least 20 Davidians were shot, including five children under the age of 14, and three-year-old Dayland Gent was stabbed in the chest. The expert retained by the Office of Special Counsel concluded that many of the gunshot wounds "support self-destruction either by overt suicide, consensual execution (suicide by proxy), or less likely, forced execution."
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