WACO - 85 innocent men, women
and children murdered.
- INTRODUCTION -
David Koresh (originally named Vernon Howell) and
his followers and some children had set up a base in Waco, Texas.
Some members were recruited from as far away as Australia. Claiming
to be Christ, Koresh claimed to have a special interpretation of
the mysterious seven seals described in the Bible's Book of Revelation.
WHAT STARTED IT ALL:
In late February 1993, after preliminary investigations,
the ATF began preparing for what would be its biggest raid in
history. They were concerned about the stockpiling of weapons
at the Koresh compound, as well as the possible endangerment of
children. All it lacked was a plan- and the element of surprise.
When acting Special Agent in Charge Darrell Dyer arrived from
Kansas City and asked to see the paperwork, he found that none
existed. In the next four days, Dyer and fellow agent William
Krone drew up a plan-but it was never distributed.
On the day of the raid, February 28, 1993, an ambulance
company hired by the ATF agents leaked word of "Operation
Trojan Horse" to a local TV station, which then sent a cameraman
to check on the situation. The cameraman asked a local postman,
David Jones, for directions to the Koresh compound. He also told
Jones about the raid. Jones, who was Koresh's brother-in-law,
An undercover agent at Koresh's compound found out
that Koresh knew of the pending raid and found an excuse to leave.
The agent in charge of the raid, Philip Chojnacki, decided the
raid should still go on. On March 29, ATF head Higgins claimed,
"We would not have executed the plans if our supervisors
had lost the element of surprise."
COUNTDOWN TO DISASTER
Following the disastrous ATF raid, the Koresh matter
was turned over to the FBI.
A standoff took place, lasting 51 days. The FBI and
their people wanted Koresh and his followers to come out, and
face charges concerning the killing and wounding of ATF agents.
For awhile, the FBI had had success negotiating with
Koresh. They got 37 people out, including 21 children, before
negotiations went sour. To make their tactical case, officials
had to defend on their intelligence from the inside of the compound,
but as Koresh grew more paranoid it was harder to gather. After
negotiating to send in milk, magazines and a typewriter, they
tucked in tiny listening devices as well to monitor Koresh's moods.
But cult members were said to have found the bugs and destroyed
Prior to the assault, the FBI came to Reno with their
plan, laid out in a briefing book, That started a week of meetings,
briefings, phone calls and more meetings in which Reno probed
the motives and methods the bureau laid out.
The plan ultimately presented to Reno involved pumping
tear gas into the compound to create enough chaos to distract
anyone intent on either firing back or orchestrating a mass suicide.
Perhaps those wavering would come out.
That was the plan FBI director William Sessions and
his deputies put before Reno on Monday morning. She had many questions.
Why now? What is Koresh likely to do? Is this the best way to
go? Her questions always came back to the children.
Reno was told that child abuse was going on at the
compound, ranging from slapping around to the "ongoing pattern
of young girls in there being sexually abused/ She approved the
plan at 7:15 p.m. She called President Clinton the next night
to inform him of her plan. The assault began the next morning.
DAY OF DEATH:
The pounding began a few minutes after 6 a.m., April
19, when an armored combat engineer vehicle with a long, insistent
steel nose began prodding a corner of the main building. Shots
rang out from the windows the moment agents began pumping in tear
A second cev joined in bucking walls, breaking windows,
nudging, nudging, as though moving the building would move those
Koresh left his apartment on the top floor and stalked
the halls. "get your gas masks on," he told them. The
masks would protect them for hours. They went about their chores,
even as a tank crashed through the front door, past the piano,
the potato sacks and the propane tank barricaded against it.
The vehicles exhaled clouds of tear gas as the rounds
of bullets rained down on them. Fleeing the gas, the women and
children clustered in the center of the second floor, from which
there was no exit.
A few minutes past noon, FBI agents claimed they saw
a Davidian in a gas mask cupping his hands, as though lighting
something. Soon, an explosion rocked the compound, then another
and another as ammunition stores blew up. The building shuddered
like the earthquake Koresh had foretold.
The FBI waited to see adults or children coming out.
No one did. Eventually word got out that several adult Davidians
were outside the building. Ruth Riddle, who had jumped through
a hole punched in the wall, was spotted. She was taken to safety
by FBI agents. A man appeared on the roof, his clothing in flames.
He fell off the roof. Agents put out the fire and took him to
Helped by 30 mile per hour wind, flames roared through
the Branch Davidian compound. The fire raced through the big parlor,
feeding on the wooden benches and the stacks of Bibles kept by
the door. The chapel crackled as flamed consumed the wooden pew-like
bleachers for his audience. Table after table in the cafeteria
burned, and rows of children's wooden bunk beds upstairs, as the
flames spread faster, through the attic that ran the length of
the building like a wind tunnel. It burned fast because it was
built on the cheap, a tar-paper, yellow-pine and plasterboard.
By the time the fire fighters went into the compound, only ashes
and bones were left, and questions.
WHAT MAY HAVE CAUSED THE FIRES:
Some speculated that the tanks punctured the propane
tank barricading the door, sending flames speeding through a storage
room full of of gallon fuel containers for the lanterns, lighting
the hay bales and other debris.
Survivor Avraam claims, "People had no time to
get out. The fire spread very fast," says Avraam, who escaped
by diving out a window.
At the time, FBI agent Sage claimed, "I saw three
fires almost simultaneously." Insisted Sage, "There's
no question but that it was not started by the tanks in front
of the building. That's ridiculous. I saw tanks at different points
from where the fires were."
WHY THE LIES?
As the week progressed the FBI had to back off certain
claims: that they had fresh evidence of child abuse, that they
had actually seen a cult member lighting the fire, and that some
victims were shot by fellow Davidians for trying to flee.
ANOTHER FBI MISCALCULATION:
A couple days before the fiery destruction, Koresh
promised that he and his followers would emerge as soon a she
had finished his manuscript interpreting the Seven Seals of the
Bible's Book of Revelation.
FBI officials, exasperated after the 51-day siege
and by Koresh's constantly shifting demands about the terms of
his surrender, doubted that the manuscript and went ahead with
A woman who escaped from the fire carried with her
the first, 13 page, installment of Koresh's manuscript.
THE OFFICIAL GOVERNMENT EVALUATION:
According to a 220 page critique of the Bureau of
Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms issued by the Treasury department
in October of 1993, the Feb. 28 raid on David Koresh's compound
in Waco, Texas, resulted in the death of four ATF agents and six
cult members and led to a 51-day siege and a fiery conflagration
that claimed the lives of 85 people, including at least 17 children,
The Bureau, the report said, not only handled a sensitive situation
ineptly but tried to cover up its bumbling with lies and obfuscations.
As the study coldly noted, "There may be occasions when pressing
operational considerations-or legal constraints-prevent law-enforcement
officials from being... completely candid in their public utterances.
This was not one of them." The field commanders made "inaccurate
and disingenuous statements" to cover up their missteps,
putting the blame on agents.
After the report was released, Treasury Secretary
Lloyd Bentsen, whose department is in charge of ATF, announced
the replacement of the agency's entire top management. Its boss,
Stephen Higgins, who knew the report was going to be harsh, announced
his retirement three days before.
There is reason to believe the FBI played a big role
in the deaths of those at the Waco compound. Whether the FBI,
by accident, or Koresh and his followers, on purpose, started
the fires that killed most of those at the compound will never
be clear. But, if the FBI had been patient, there MIGHT have been
a peaceful end to the standoff. We will never know for sure.
FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CHECK OUT THESE BOOKS
Data Sources include: Time magazine, March 15, May
3, May 10, October 11, 1993;
U.S. News & World Report, March 15, 1993; Newsweek, October 11,