On April 19, 1993 the Waco, Texas church and communal residence of a Christian group was burned to the ground with 74 men, women, and children inside. Those people were members of a small Adventist reform movement called the Branch Davidians.
This incident has, from the beginning, been controversial, with various federal agencies telling different versions, numerous video recordings of the standoff and siege, FBI surveillance tapes planted in the walls of the building, and official congressional hearings, as well as vast news media coverage. The official investigation and the media coverage of both events differ greatly.
In this short article, we will look at the events in Waco, Texas, in what I hope is a non-controversial manner.
In late February 1993, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms, generally known as the ATF, having heard that a small religious group in Waco, Texas was stockpiling weapons in preparation for Armageddon and the end times, planned a raid on the Mt. Carmel Complex, the group's church and living quarters on February 28, 1993, in an operation which they named “Operation Trojan Horse.”
Word of that operation was leaked to the local television news station and the group inside the buildings were prepared for the raid. Gunfire erupted, though it is still not known whether it was the government agents or the Branch Davidians who fired it, but a gun battle ensured. During this battle, four ATF agents and six Davidians were killed. The leader of the church, David Koresh, was wounded
The gunfire lasted for more than two hours, with the McLennan County Sheriff finally being allowed to negotiate a ceasefire.
A 51-day standoff ensued at the 77-acre property, according to retired ATF agent Chuck Hustmyre, with this new mission in mind:
1. Conceal 76 ATF agents inside to cattle trailers.
2. Stealthily move the trailers down 200-yard-long muddy driveway leading to the Mount Carmel Complex, which had come to be known as the "Branch Davidian compound."
3. Create a diversion involving Texas National Guard helicopters which were supposed to hover noisily over the compound. The Texas National Guard had been falsely informed by the ATF that the compound "might contain a methamphetamine lab."
4. Utilizing multiple simultaneous entries on the 1st and 2nd floors of the compound, storm the building.
5. Grab the cash of handguns, rifles, and hand grenades without involving injury to anyone.
A simple plan, but apparently too simple; it did not take into account the fact that humans were involved, and so the actions of those involved had not been calculated into the formula.
The events which took place next occurred over a period of more than 6 hours, however they went so quickly that it seemed much shorter.
At 5:50 in the morning of April 19, federal agents placed a phone call to a telephone inside the compound to warn the people inside that they were about to send tanks to the building and advise them to "take cover.” The person who answered the phone said nothing, but instead opened the front door and through the telephone and the phone cord out of the front door.
Five minutes later, the FBI Hostage Rescue Team sent in to armored vehicles to the sides of the building. At 6:04 a.m., one of those vehicles ripped into the front wall, leaving a 10' x 8' hole in it. In the ensuing investigations, several agents claimed that the hole was made in order to provide a way for the residents to escape.
When the wall began to cave in, agents say that they heard shots from inside the compound which were directed at the vehicle. Shortly after that, the FBI tapes which were inside the wall recorded people inside saying, "They're going to kill us!"
Between 6:31 and 7:30 in the morning, federal agents gassed the building using plastic teargas rounds which were expelled into the windows and the hole in the wall. They later followed this up with "pyrotechnic tear gas," meaning canisters which gave off fireworks as well as gas.
At this point, shots rang out from inside the compound, apparently trying to stop the armored vehicles from advancing further. Two more shells of military style teargas were shot into the underground concrete bunker in an effort to penetrate it. Moments later, another vehicle with a battering ram ripped a hole into the second floor as another vehicle punched a hole into another part of the building.
At 9:00, a hand-made banner with the message "WE WANT OUR PHONE FIXED" was unfurled out by the captive residents of the complex. It was apparent that they wished to re-establish communication.
At 10:00 a.m. a white flag was raised on the southeast side of the compound. Federal agents, using loudspeakers, announced that if anyone inside was surrendering they needed to come outside the building.
That did not happen, although someone did eventually come out to get the phone. Just after noon, flames became visible in two different places inside the front of the building, followed by more flames at the back of the building.
Within minutes, a woman came out of the building carrying with her a manuscript by David Koresh about his church's beliefs about the prophecy of the Seven Seals.
The fire department was called, but they were detained by federal agents before they could get to the compound.
In the next twenty minutes, gigantic explosion came from inside the house, the roof began to collapse, there were seven or eight more explosions, and there were reports of gunfire which, as it turned out, was due to the FBI's ammunition exploding due to the fire.
By 12:55 in the afternoon the fire was finally beginning to burn out, and the compound was leveled.
Three hours later, federal agents announced that David Koresh and 73 of his followers were dead.
Final report to the Deputy Attorney General concerning the 1993 confrontation at the Mt. Carmel Complex, Waco Texas
TruTV: David Koresh and the Waco Incident
The Waco Attack: Waco, Texas
PBS: Waco - The Inside Story