Once you have clambered over the huge tank tracks in the mud and negotiated large areas of weeds and brush scrub, the evidence of a decade-old tragedy is plain to see: a pair of charred leather boots, a single high-heeled pink and white shoe, several glass bottles, the burned and tattered remains of a dress and a table lamp, its metal base contorted by the heat. Ron Goins picks up a small piece of bone. "I don't figure this is human bone, but a number of people weren't recovered after the fire," he says.
Waco, Texas, will forever be known for the siege that began in February 1993 when agents of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms raided a compound owned by the Branch Davidian religious sect to investigate allegations of weapons hoarding. A 51-day stand-off between sect members and the FBI ensued and ended on April 19 when the complex was tear-gassed and a fire engulfed the building. Eighty Branch Davidians died, either in the fire or from gunfire. The dead included their 33-year-old leader David Koresh and 17 children.
The site of the siege was the 77-acre Mount Carmel ranch, about a 20-minute drive from the I35 - the busy freeway that links Dallas in the north and Austin in the south. Just in case anyone has forgotten what happened 10 years ago, inside Mount Carmel a tiny one-room visitors' centre chronicles the events, and photographs and text pinned to the walls describe the siege and fire.
Of the survivors, some have moved on, some are still in prison (indicted on charges of conspiracy to murder and murder), and some, including Koresh's mother, Bonnie Haldeman, remain in Waco, committed to the Davidian leader's ideology.
Although those left at Mount Carmel insist they are not evangelising, Ron Goins has only been around for five years and is already a convert. Describing himself as a "volunteer" he says he was traumatised by what happened. "I believe David was a messenger from God," he says. "We're all coming back. That's the promise. I believe in the resurrection. I believe I'm here for a reason. I'm not attracted by a cult."
On the site of the original compound stands a large white wooden church, built this year by various well-wishers, including Goins. Opposite the church are 7ft-tall cyprus trees, with a plaque at the bottom of each commemorating a Davidian member who lost their life. One reads: "David Koresh, 33."
The Davidians who still attend church at Mount Carmel every Saturday believe Koresh is coming back in the not too distant future. To them, he wasn't just a prophet - he was Christ.
"I know for a fact he was," says Catherine Mattison, one of the survivors. "The second coming of Christ was in 1959, the year David was born."
Mattison made headlines when, a month before the fire, she carried a taped sermon by Koresh out of the compound as part of a deal brokered by the FBI. They would give it national airplay in return for the release of all Davidian members. It was broadcast on the Christian Network in the US but the next day Koresh had changed his mind, telling negotiators God had told him to stay.
Mattison recalls the moment BATF first arrived. "They were shooting when they came in. I went upstairs to my room and all of a sudden I could see three helicopters in V-formation firing. David's rooms were in the back of the building and that's where they were firing. I didn't realise that for three months afterwards because of all the shock and commotion but they were trying to kill him right then. I didn't want to leave but David asked me to because he'd made a tape and said he wanted the world to understand.
"So many memories," she sighs as she stares at the empty ground around the side of the church. She was 87 this year but doesn't look it. She reads avidly - back in her Waco apartment, books on Isaac Newton, Genghis Khan and JFK are piled up on a table underneath her Bible. She resents accusations that she was brainwashed by Koresh. "Everybody is brainwashed. Look at television," she says. "I've been brainwashed by God's word. David said he was going to give us God's word and he did.
She does recall 18-hour sermons by Koresh, but insists that everybody wanted to hear them. "Sometimes I was ready to go to sleep afterwards," she laughs. "I used to love going shopping downtown but I stopped because I didn't want to miss a sermon. I once went to the doctors, came back and had missed a meeting and I was really upset."
The surviving Branch Davidians believe there will be an earthquake in Waco before Koresh rises from the dead. "We're nearing the end of days," Mattison says. "It will be in my lifetime."
Clive Doyle agrees. He too was living in the compound under Koresh's leadership and was one of the nine to escape the blaze. He now lives in a trailer near the visitors' centre on Mount Carmel. On a scale model of the Davidian compound he points to where government tanks smashed a hole in the wall of the chapel. "Four of us came through here," he says. "I was badly burned and had to have skin grafts on my hands. It was scary enough and quite an ordeal.
"The reason I'm still here is I know what went on and why we were here and I want to explain this to people. I still believe in David. I lost a daughter and a lot of friends, some of whom I'd known for 30 years."
His daughter, Shari, was just 18 at the time. Perhaps one of the more sinister allegations levelled against Koresh was that he was "marrying" many of the female members of the group and having sex with some as young as 15. Asked whether Shari was one of Koresh's "wives", Doyle turns his head. "I cannot answer that. If she wanted to I would have supported her. David said every woman was his wife even if they didn't enter into a physical relationship with him. Every man belonged to him as well."
"David did have 100 wives, but God told him to," Mattison adds. "The youngest was around 15, but her parents agreed to the marriage and the thing is she didn't look 15 and she didn't act 15. If you don't know the scriptures you can't understand why. He never took anybody that God didn't tell him to. David would tell us not to tell anyone else because they wouldn't understand.
"What is wrong with the world today is that there are no standards," she says. "Just look at what's happening on the TV. Sex is everywhere and people say there's nothing wrong with it. That's what they're teaching the young people." The irony seems to be lost on her.
Another allegation was that he beat the children living on Mount Carmel. Doyle explains: "They said he used to beat them until they bled, which was a lie. He never hit anyone in anger. He encouraged parents to buy what he called "mother's little helper" - basically a paddle. He told them to explain what the child had done wrong, paddle them and then love them. I remember one mother didn't agree with smacking her child but one day she beat him until he bled and then said, 'I hope David's happy now.' We all told her that he wouldn't be happy that she had taken it so far."
"Each child had a paddle with his own name on it," says Mattison with a smile.
While their future as prophesied by Koresh seems assured in their minds, the future of Mount Carmel is far from certain. The ranch belongs to the Davidians but the trusteeship of the land has been disputed over the years. The courts will eventually determine ownership after the survivors die and there are expected to be competing factions among the Davidians in other parts of the US and abroad, and among the Seventh Day Adventists.
"I have no feelings about what happened here," Mattison says, "and I don't regret anything. Even when I was looking at the fire I didn't feel sad because I knew what was happening and why. In the Dark Ages when they were killing Christians by putting them on poles and burning them, they would sing. Their minds weren't there so they didn't feel anything. God takes care of everything. I knew the people at Mount Carmel were singing. And if they were singing, their mind wasn't on the fire. The children were singing too. They knew the lions were going to tear them to pieces but they knelt down and they prayed and they sang. What David taught was worth dying for."
Ten years to the day after 82 Branch Davidians perished in an inferno that ended their 51-day standoff with federal authorities, family and friends gathered yesterday to praise the late leader David Koresh as a messiah not unlike Jesus Christ.
Like Jesus, said Phillip Arnold, who sought to communicate with the cult leader during the 1993 siege, Koresh came into conflict with traditional theology and was handed over to authorities, who ultimately killed him.
"The FBI delivered the apocalypse of the Book of Revelations to the Davidians," said Mr. Arnold, founder of the Reunion Institute in Houston. "Ten years ago, not very far from the spot we're on, a group of people, to the best of their ability and according to their faith, lived out the drama of Scripture."
Kenneth Newport, a writer from England who knew several Branch Davidians and is working on a book, noted that the memorial fell on the day between Good Friday and Easter. "It's a day we remember Christ is dead. The joy, the glory, of Easter Sunday is not yet here. Christ is in the tomb. ... But after the darkness that happened here 10 years ago, God will bring light," he said.
About 100 people from as far away as New York and California including dozens of curiosity-seekers and a few conspiracy theorists gathered yesterday at the remote, 77-acre site known as Mount Carmel on Double EE Ranch Road just outside Waco for speeches and the reading of the victims' names.
The day was filled with talk about Armageddon, the apocalypse, prophecies and the devil. Anti-government sentiment abounded, and several spoke of the federal assault on Ruby Ridge and as one man put it the "horrible federal crime of income taxes."
Among those attending were Clive Doyle, an Australian-born Branch Davidian who considers himself the group's spokesman, and Koresh's mother, Bonnie Haldeman, who was 15 years old and single when she gave birth in Houston to a boy she named Vernon Wayne Howell.
"It's a day of sadness, but it's not hard because I know the truth," said Mrs. Haldeman, surrounded by photographers. "It wasn't
David who caused any problems; the problems came to David." Mr. Doyle, who was inside the Davidian compound for the entire standoff and was burned escaping the fire, said 11 Davidians now in jail will be released in 2006. He spent a year in jail on gun charges before his acquittal.
Of yesterday's three-hour memorial, he said: "This is kind of a family reunion."
Little remains of the complex that stood April 19, 1993. Small piles of concrete rubble with metal reinforcing bars sticking out dot the rolling, overgrown landscape. A new chapel, devoted to the Students of the Seven Seals, as Branch Davidians now call themselves, was built on the site in 2000 for the 100 or so devotees left. A flagless flagpole, with a sticker of an upside-down U.S. flag a signal of distress stands along the walkway to the chapel.
The standoff began Feb. 28, 1993, when nearly 100 Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms agents sought to serve Koresh with a warrant. A gunfight erupted, killing four agents and six Branch Davidians, who believed Koresh was the messiah.
For the next 51 days, Koresh held off federal agents, who lit up the complex at night with floodlights and blasted tapes of chanting Tibetan monks over loudspeakers. Koresh claimed he would lead his followers out when he completed his interpretation of the Seven Seals referred to in the Bible's Book of Revelation.
President Clinton's attorney general, Janet Reno, gave federal agents the go-ahead to assault the complex on April 19. The resulting blaze killed 82 persons, including 21 children, 15 of them under age 5. More than a dozen of the dead children were fathered by Koresh. Some of them had underage mothers.
Two years later to the day, Timothy McVeigh, who had watched some of the standoff from hills near Mount Carmel and was infuriated by the government's actions, retaliated by bombing a federal building in Oklahoma City, killing 168.
While special counsel John C. Danforth in July 2001 cleared the federal government of any wrongdoing at Mount Carmel, saying Koresh and his followers were responsible for the fire, the FBI acknowledged that federal agents fired one or more incendiary tear-gas rounds at the complex an admission made only after a filmmaker found potentially incendiary devices among evidence.
Yesterday, a Branch Davidian supporter held up the shell of a 40 mm "White Star Parachute" flare found recently while volunteers planted 82 crepe myrtles on the site to commemorate the dead. "This is a torch," he said, noting that all other evidence was bulldozed by federal authorities after the standoff ended. Ramsey Clark, former attorney general for President Lyndon Johnson, delivered an anti-government screed. Mr. Clark has served as the lawyer for several Davidians in a suit now under consideration by the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals in Houston, with a verdict expected by the end of summer.
"Our government attacked defenseless children, women and men as old as I am 75 and celebrated it," he said. "Where are their souls that permit them to lie about it to this day?"
The former attorney general compared the events at Mount Carmel to the U.S.-led war in Iraq. "You can't miss the similarities," he said, noting that soldiers from Fort Hood participated in both campaigns, which also employed Abrams tanks and Bradley armored personnel carriers.
"Someday I'd like to hear President Bush explain how he reconciles what he has done in Iraq and in Afghanistan with what is to me the heart of Christianity, the Sermon on the Mount," the longest biblical discourse attributed to Jesus in which He counsels followers to "turn the other cheek" and "love your enemy." "What happened here is, without compare, the most tragic failure of U.S. law enforcement in the history of the United States," Mr. Clark said to applause. "If their purpose was to protect us, why did they kill us? ... The world should never forget what happened here."
Two-year-old Kimberly Martin fell asleep on a chapel bench during a rambling sermon about the end of the world.
The religious group's leader, David Koresh, got angry. He jerked the sleepy toddler and made her sit beside him as he kept on preaching.
"I don't remember much, but I remember that he spanked me in front of people," said Martin, now 14.
The girl was among the 21 children and 14 adults who left the Branch Davidian compound near Waco a decade ago during a 51-day standoff following a botched raid by federal agents.
But more than 80 people, including two dozen children, were still inside when the buildings were consumed by flames April 19, 1993. Only nine people escaped. Martin's father, oldest brother and three older sisters did not.
Some survivors remain in central Texas, and a handful still follow Koresh's teachings and attend a weekly Bible study at a chapel built on the compound's remnants. The rest moved to other states with relatives or returned home to Canada and Australia.
Seven Davidians remain in prison on charges stemming from the shooting deaths of four federal agents who raided the compound in February 1993, trying to arrest Koresh for stockpiling illegal weapons and explosives.
Children who left the complex during the siege remember being terrified during the initial raid, hiding under mattresses as bullets shattered windows and walls. Some say they helped adults load ammunition.
Their vivid memories support an extensive government investigation revealing that the Davidians shot each other and set the blaze to end the standoff.
They say Koresh taught his followers - even the youngsters - how to commit suicide.
"You didn't want to stick the gun to your temple because you might live. You wanted to stick it in your mouth and point up," Kiri Jewell, now 22 and a Michigan college student, told ABC's PrimeTime Thursday. "He never was very specific but at some point, we were gonna have to die for him. I didn't expect to live past 12."
Jewell left the compound in 1992, but her mother died in the standoff's fiery end. In a 1995 congressional hearing, a teenage Jewell recalled how Koresh began having sex with her when she was 10.
Many in the complex were too young to understand that Koresh had multiple "wives," including underage girls, with whom he fathered a dozen children. Neither did they know why they had to sit through all-night Bible studies.
But some say they have fond memories of riding go-carts, eating ice cream, swimming in the pool at the compound and listening to Koresh play the guitar.
Heather Jones, 19, said she had a hard time adjusting to life outside the compound, where she was born. She doesn't blame the tragic finale on Koresh, whose legal wife was her aunt, but she has turned against religion.
Jones still grieves over her father, grandfather and other relatives who died there, and she was in counseling for years.
"I have really bad dreams. Every year around this time I get depressed," said Jones, who plans to graduate from high school next month. "I think about it. I don't talk about it, though."
Jones, Martin and the other children released during the siege stayed briefly at Waco's Methodist Home, which cares for abused, neglected and troubled youths. Counselors remember the Davidian children, who stayed in a house together, as well-behaved but distrustful.
When the center's president, Jack Kyle Daniels, showed a few of the girls around the home, one asked whether basement stairs led to a "whipping room," he said.
Another night, those in the house were awakened by the sound of rushing water.
"A 5-year-old was leaning over the toilet and watching the water go out, and he would just squeal," Daniels said. "These kids had never seen a flushed toilet."
See Bradley Borst's Web site
Children raised in the Branch Davidian compound under cult leader David Koresh don't consider their parents crazy.
Seven young adults who lived in the Waco, Tex., compound - and fled the fire that killed 75 members of Koresh's clan 10 years ago - reunite to talk with ABC News' Charles Gibson for an hour on tonight's "Primetime Thursday" (10 o'clock).
"They don't want to say that Koresh was nuts, or that their parents were nuts for living there, because that would be a terrible rejection of their parents," Gibson said. "Instead, they say their parents messed up."
Gibson also talks with Byron Sage, a former FBI negotiator who tried to convince Koresh to release his followers before the 1993 fire.
"One of the things I find most interesting about these kids is that they've all had to deal with the ultimate rejection by their parents, who chose Koresh and death over them," added Gibson. "They're all guarded emotionally."
On a Sunday morning a decade ago, federal agents expected to storm a religious group's compound, catch the occupants off-guard and take their leader away in handcuffs.
It didn't happen that way.
Four lawmen and six members of the group were killed in a gun battle during the Feb. 28, 1993, raid. It led to a 51-day standoff that ended that April 19 in the deaths of nearly 80 people, including two dozen children, as the compound burned to the ground.
In the years that followed the raid on the Branch Davidian complex, the mantra "Not Another Waco" has become a powerful credo for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms &Mac247; recently renamed the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives - and law enforcement agencies nationwide.
"The events of Waco were a watershed for the ATF, on a personal level ... and professional level in terms of it being a horrendous wake-up call in terms of how we do business," said Brad Buckles, ATF director since 1999.
The ATF was criticized for raiding the Waco compound instead of arresting cult leader David Koresh while he went jogging or drove into town. The agency also was blamed for not calling it off after an undercover agent reported that Koresh, suspected of stockpiling illegal weapons and explosives, knew about the raid.
The FBI, which assumed command the day after the raid, was accused of ineffective negotiating with Koresh and criticized for rushing to end the standoff with a self-proclaimed prophet who had predicted a violent finale.
Government officials have maintained that the deadly fire was started by Davidians. The FBI admitted in 1999 that two potentially incendiary tear gas canisters were fired on the last day but said the devices were aimed away from the compound hours earlier.
Criticism of federal officials built quickly. Many agents and supervisors with the ATF, FBI and other agencies involved in the Waco incident have since retired or been fired or reassigned.
Then-Attorney General Janet Reno, who had approved the use of tear gas, ordered an investigation. The report in 2000 concluded that Branch Davidians started the fire and shot each other in a mass suicide, ending the standoff.
There is a perception "that we were big macho guys rolling in with tanks, trying to show these guys who was boss, but there's nothing further from the truth," said Bob Ricks, a retired FBI special agent who worked with negotiators at Waco. "In the final analysis, our hopes and prayers and wishes were that everyone would come out alive."
The FBI was already under scrutiny for its handling of a 1992 standoff in Idaho, when an agent shot and killed the wife of a white separatist as she held her 10-month-old baby. Timothy McVeigh said he bombed the Oklahoma City federal building &Mac247; on the second anniversary of the Waco fire &Mac247; as retribution for Waco and the Idaho standoff.
Law enforcement agencies made sweeping changes after Waco. The ATF changed its policy on who makes decisions during an incident and improved how intelligence is gathered and reported. Agents now get more tactical training.
The FBI formed a crisis-response group to coordinate negotiators, agents, hostage-rescue teams and others. Officials admitted that they didn't communicate well with each other at Waco.
"That's the attitude in all of law enforcement. ... You have to be much more patient," Buckles said.
That approach was tested three years later in Montana with a small, heavily armed anti-government group called the Freemen. Members had filed bogus multimillion-dollar liens against public officials and others who crossed them, then issued checks against the liens.
On March 25, 1996, federal undercover agents lured the two top Freemen leaders into the open on a ruse and captured them. A standoff lasted 81 days until a Montana lawmaker persuaded the rest of the group to surrender. No shots were fired.
Ricks, now the Oklahoma commissioner of public safety, said agents can wait "forever" if a barricaded suspect or group has no hostages. But officers must consider raids and use of tear gas if innocent lives are at stake, he said.
"There's a role for lawmen with tactical intervention," Ricks said. "The greatest lesson is you don't initiate a process without anticipating what the result is going to be."
Weeds and grass have grown up around a concrete slab, the stone base of a wall, charred wooden planks and chunks of twisted metal.
These are remnants of the Branch Davidian compound that burned to the ground April 19, 1993, killing nearly 80 members of a religious group and ending a 51 day stand-off that followed a failed raid by federal agents.
Each year, hundreds of people visit this site in a pasture 10 miles east of Waco.
Some make pilgrimages and are drawn by anger over by what they say was an aggressive law enforcement raid on a harmless group who had a right to own weapons.
Curiosity draws others who want to stand on the site of an event they watched unfold on television.
Clive Doyle, 62, survived the siege and now lives in a trailer at the site.
He said people go to the site every day, and that the public's interest has waned only a bit through the years.
Waco, FBI and the Branch Davidians: Updates
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