Vernon Howell (1959-1993), who became David Koresh, taught that he was the last of a line of prophets, each with a specific “message” or revelation about the meaning of the Bible: William Miller (1782-1849), whose interpretations resulted in a movement in the United States in which several dates were set for the return of Christ, the last of which was October 22, 1844 (termed the “Great Disappointment” by historians); Ellen G. White (1827-1915), the prophet who emerged out of the Millerite movement to reinterpret its failed prophecies, and around whom the Seventh-day Adventist Church coalesced; Victor T. Houteff (1885-1955), who split from the Seventh-day Adventist Church to establish the General Association of Davidian Seventh-Day Adventists (“Davidians”) in Waco in 1935; Ben Roden (1902-1978), who emerged from the Davidians in 1955 to form the General Association of Branch Davidian Seventh-day Adventists (“Branch Davidians”), and who took over the remaining 77.86 acres of the Davidians’ property named Mount Carmel on the outskirts of Waco, which Roden purchased on behalf of the Branch Davidian general association in 1973; and Lois Roden (1905-1986), Ben Roden’s widow, who revealed to the Branch Davidians that the Holy Spirit is feminine.
Vernon Howell arrived at Mount Carmel in 1981 when he was twenty-two years old. Thereafter Lois Roden gradually began to indicate he would succeed her as the next Branch Davidian prophet, and she took him to Israel several times. In 1984 the core group of Branch Davidians at Mount Carmel concluded that Lois Roden had lost “the Spirit of Prophecy,” and shifted their allegiance to Howell.
They left Mount Carmel due to the violence of George Roden 6 (1938-1998), Ben and Lois Roden’s son, who wished to be the next Branch Davidian prophet controlling Mount Carmel.
The Branch Davidians moved to live with Vernon Howell and his new wife Rachel, first in rentals in Waco, then briefly in a rented camp at Mexia, Texas. In 1985 Vernon and Rachel Howell visited Israel where he received his messianic calling.
In 1990 Vernon Howell legally changed his name to David Koresh, which expressed his identity as the Christ of the Last Days. Koresh taught, and the Branch Davidians accepted, that he was more than a prophet, he embodied the Christ Spirit returned to be martyred, after which he would be resurrected as the leader of an army of 200 million martyrs of the ages (Rev. 9:16), including Branch Davidians martyred with him, to slay the wicked and create the Lord’s Kingdom on the miraculously elevated and enlarged Mount Zion in the Holy Land. The 200 million martyrs of the ages, as well as living persons who gave their all for David Koresh’s message, are considered the “wave sheaf,” the first of the “first fruits” of those offered to God, who will play elite roles in God’s Kingdom. Also in 1985, the Branch Davidians settled in a camp they built on wooded property near Palestine, Texas.
They lived in school buses converted to housing, with a wooden cabin for cooking and meetings. Koresh often gave Bible studies in the open air. He travelled frequently to California to proselytize and to promote his band. His surviving recorded songs express his theological teachings.
He also travelled to Hawaii and Australia to proselytize. Several the Branch Davidians travelled to California and Hawaii to work to support the community in Texas. Branch Davidians in Texas worked at a variety of jobs, while women with children stayed at the camp. As converts began moving to the Palestine camp, they built small cottages in which to live.
Branch Davidians Sheila Martin, Catherine Matteson, and Bonnie Haldeman reported to Catherine Wessinger their fond memories of the communal life at the Palestine camp in the woods. Most of the converts had Seventh-day Adventist backgrounds, some had conservative and/or Pentecostal Christian backgrounds, a few had left Catholicism on their quest to learn the truths contained in the Bible, and a few secular individuals were attracted to the message by the prospect of playing in Koresh’s band. In 1986 Koresh began taking additional wives with whom to have children to fulfil what he taught were the Bible’s prophecies for the Christ of the Last Days to have twenty-four children, which he revealed to be the twenty-four elders next to the Lord’s throne in the book of Revelation (4:4,10-11; 5:8; 14).
Teenagers as young as fourteen (the legal age at that time in Texas for a girl to marry with parental consent) became Koresh’s “wives” with permission of their parents. One girl, Michele Jones, was twelve when she became Koresh’s “wife.” Girls and young women in the group were instructed that they would be Koresh’s wives in the project of bearing messianic children.
Lois Roden died in 1986, which left George Roden in full control of Mount Carmel. In 1987 George Roden dug up the casket of Anna Hughes, a Branch Davidian who was buried in the Mount Carmel cemetery almost twenty years earlier, and challenged Vernon Howell to see which one of them could raise her from the dead.
Howell reported the disinterment to the McLennan County Sheriff’s Department, and, according to Clive Doyle, Howell was told that the deputies needed to see evidence that the body was exhumed before they would go to investigate. Koresh and a group of Branch Davidian men armed themselves and went to Mount Carmel to photograph the body.
While there they got into a shootout with George Roden. Koresh and his men were arrested and charged with attempted murder. The trial of Vernon Howell (David Koresh) and the Branch Davidian men involved in the shootout with George Roden took place in Waco in 1988. The jury could not come to a verdict on the charge against Howell, but all the other men were acquitted. Everyone was released from jail. Howell had already paid bail and was released.
During the run-up to the trial, George Roden had written letters threatening God’s punishment against the judge, so he was put into jail for contempt. While he was in jail, Koresh took legal steps to reinstate a restraining order that had been taken out by Lois Roden to keep George Roden away from the Mount Carmel property and to prevent him from claiming to be the president of the General Association of Branch Davidian Seventh-day Adventists. (Despite the restraining order, Lois Roden had permitted George Roden to move back onto the property.)
When George Roden was released from jail he moved to Odessa, Texas, where in 1989 he killed a man. George Roden was confined to the Big Spring State Hospital until his death in 1998. In 1988 most of the Branch Davidians left the Palestine camp and moved back to Mount Carmel, where they cleaned up and repaired the little houses for living quarters. They discovered equipment to make methamphetamine in one of the houses, which Koresh turned over to the Sheriff’s Department.
In 1988 Steve Schneider, who had a Master’s degree in Religious Studies from the University of Hawaii, went to Britain to present Koresh’s message to Adventists living near Newbold College, a Seventh-day Adventist institution. Several British converts were gained from this trip and another one in 1990 by Schneider and from visits by David Koresh in 1988 or 1989.
By 1992 many of these Branch Davidians had joined the group living at Mount Carmel. In 1989 Koresh taught a “new light” revelation that all the women in the community (including already married women) were his wives with whom he could choose to have children, and all the men other than himself were to be celibate.
Marc Breault and his wife Elizabeth Baranyai left Mount Carmel and moved to Australia, where Breault worked to persuade Branch Davidians living in Australia and New Zealand that Koresh was a false prophet. Breault began efforts to alert authorities in the United States about Koresh’s activities, and he alerted Australian and Waco media to the “cult” at Mount Carmel whenever he could.
In 1990, the year that Vernon Howell legally changed his name to David Koresh, Robyn Bunds left the Branch Davidians taking Shaun, her son with Koresh. In 1991 Bunds filed a complaint with La Verne, California police that Koresh had taken Shaun to Mount Carmel.
After La Verne police officers visited Koresh at Mount Carmel, he promptly returned Shaun to his mother (Bromley and Wessinger 2011, 205). In 1991 Marc Breault alerted David Jewell in Michigan that his young daughter, Kiri Jewell (age ten) living at Mount Carmel with her mother Sherri Jewell, was slated to become one of Koresh’s wives. Breault flew to Michigan to testify in a custody hearing in which David Jewell gained full custody of Kiri and after which Sherri Jewell returned to Mount Carmel.
In 1992, in response to a complaint by David Jewell, social workers with the Texas Child Protective Services investigated Koresh. Koresh permitted social worker Joyce Sparks to visit Mount Carmel and he explained his theology to her.
Sparks closed the case due to lack of evidence. Charges were not pressed against Koresh in relation to Kiri Jewell. Also in 1992 Dana Okimoto left the Branch Davidians with her two sons with Koresh, Sky and Scooter. In the spring of 1992 the Branch Davidians moved into a large residence they had built at Mount Carmel, having demolished the small houses.
Many Branch Davidians came from England, Australia, and other locations in North America to Mount Carmel for that spring’s Passover. Marc Breault and other former Branch Davidians alleged to law enforcement and the media that the Branch Davidians would commit group suicide over Passover. Nothing happened.
By the end of 1992, overflights of helicopters and the arrival in the house across the street (Double EE Ranch Road) of a group of men claiming to be students, but who had carried in rifle cases, alerted Koresh and the Branch Davidians that they were under surveillance.
Nevertheless, in 1993 Koresh welcomed the men he knew to be undercover agents to Mount Carmel, shot AR- 15 semi-automatic rifles with them behind the building, gave Bible studies to one of them, Robert Rodriguez, inside the residence and invited him to move in.
Among the 124 Branch Davidians who were present at Mount Carmel during the ATF raid on February 28, 1993, 84 were Americans, 31 were British, five were Australians, two were Canadians, one was Israeli, and one was a New Zealander.
The community was multiracial. Of the British approximately 26 were Black, many of them with Jamaican family backgrounds. There was one Nigerian Brit. There were eleven African Americans, eight Mexican Americans, and Americans of Japanese, Filipina, Chinese, Samoan, and mixed ethnicities.
There were 43 women (18 and older), 37 men (18 and older), and 44 children of all ages. Of the children, thirty were eight years old or younger. Twelve of the children were David Koresh’s biological children.
Two young women were pregnant with Koresh’s children: Nicole Gent (Australian, age 24) and Aisha Gyarfas Summers (Australian, age 17).
These figures do not include the Branch Davidians who were away from Mount Carmel on February 28.
On February 28, 1993, about 9:45 a.m., agents with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms pulled up at the front door of the residence at Mount Carmel in covered cattle trailers pulled by trucks to carry out a “no-knock” “dynamic entry” to deliver a search warrant and an arrest warrant for David Koresh.
The ATF’s allegation was that the Branch Davidians, who had legally purchased forty AR-15 semi-automatic rifles, were converting them to M-16 automatic weapons without applying for the required license permits and paying the fees.
Alerted to the impending raid, an unarmed David Koresh met them at the front door saying words to the effect, “Hey, wait a minute! There are women and children in here!” When shooting started, Koresh backed inside, the doors were shut, and ATF agents and Branch Davidians exchanged shots that pierced the metal double front doors.
Two teams of ATF agents used ladders to climb up to and enter second-floor windows of two rooms over the chapel, which they thought were Koresh’s bedroom and Armory. When the shootout erupted, Branch Davidian and Harvard-educated attorney Wayne Martin (American, age 42) dialled 911, reached Lieutenant Larry Lynch at the Sheriff’s Department, and shouted into his speakerphone: “There are seventy-five men around our building and they’re shooting at us at Mount Carmel. Tell them there are children and women in here and to call it off!”
In the shootout four ATF agents and five Branch Davidians were killed, twenty ATF agents were wounded, some severely, and four Branch Davidians were wounded, with David Koresh severely wounded by a bullet that pierced his side.
Later about 5:00 p.m. Branch Davidian Michael Schroeder was shot and killed by ATF agents as he attempted to walk back to Mount Carmel. The ATF agents alleged that he shot at them first.
A ceasefire at Mount Carmel was negotiated through the 911 call.
After ATF agents recovered their dead and wounded, they remained on alert at an armed perimeter around Mount Carmel until FBI agents took over the next day.
During the night and for several following days, some parents sent their children out. Despite Koresh’s wounds, he immediately began giving telephone interviews to CNN and radio talk shows in Texas explaining his theology, and he negotiated with ATF agent James 12 Cavanaugh and Lieutenant Larry Lynch.
Koresh insisted to Lynch the significance of his theology for the unfolding events: “Look, this is life, this is life and death…theology really is life and death.” Because of the deaths of federal agents, FBI agents took control of Mount Carmel on March 1 and gave the case the internal code WACMUR (Waco Murder).
FBI agents took over the negotiations and the FBI’s elite Hostage Rescue Team (HRT) commanded by Dick Rogers brought in its snipers and on March 2 brought in tanks. Jeffrey Jamar from the San Antonio, Texas FBI office was the Special Agent in Charge of the WACMUR case. Bob Ricks of the Oklahoma City, Oklahoma office was the FBI agent who spoke most often at press briefings. Gary Noesner from the FBI’s Special Operations and Research Unit at Quantico, Virginia, was negotiation coordinator from March 1 to March 24; Clint Van Zandt was negotiation coordinator from March 25 to April 19, 1993.
Byron Sage was the FBI agent from Austin, Texas, who was the first to arrive to assist Lieutenant Larry Lynch with negotiations on February 28, and he continued to play key roles in the negotiations through April 19. Throughout the siege the FBI negotiators, commanders, Special Agents in Charge in Waco were in constant contact with FBI officials in the Strategic Information and Operations Centre (SIOC) in the Hoover Building in Washington, D.C. According to the FBI WACMUR Major Event Log available in the Lee Hancock Collection in the Southwestern Writers Collection at Texas State University-San Marcos, the officials in SIOC to whom agents in Waco most often reported were: Danny Coulson, Deputy Assistant Director and former commander of the HRT; Larry Potts, Assistant Director; and E. Michael Kahoe, Chief of the Violent Crimes and Major Offenders Section. These officials reported to Deputy Director Floyd I. Clarke and Director William S. Sessions.
On March 1, the FBI cut off Koresh’s telephone line to the outside world, thereby preventing him from talking to the media. Koresh then negotiated that he would surrender after his audiotaped sermon presenting his theology was broadcast on the Christian Broadcasting Network and the radio. The audiotape was brought out by Catherine Matteson (American, age 77) on the morning of March 2.
The tape was duly played, the Branch Davidians prepared to carry Koresh out on a stretcher, but at the last-minute Koresh reported that God had told him that they should wait. Steve Schneider, who spoke most often to negotiators during the siege, explained that just as the agents had their commander, Koresh had his commander and he had to wait on orders. During negotiations conducted first by Lieutenant Larry Lynch, then concurrently by Lynch with Sage assisting and James Cavanaugh of the ATF, and later by FBI negotiators under the supervision of Gary Noesner, twenty-one children were sent out.
During the period of Noesner’s supervision of negotiations fourteen adults came out. However, every time adults came out the remaining Branch Davidians were punished by actions taken by the Hostage Rescue Team. Beginning on March 9 HRT cut the building’s electricity off and on, which Noesner says in his book, Stalling for Time (2010), he informed Special Agent in Charge Jeffrey Jamar only served to aggravate the Branch Davidians.
Noesner reports that on March 11 additional Bradley tanks and M1 Abrams tanks were brought to Mount Carmel, the latter of which Jamar proclaimed, to the dismay of the negotiators, could drive straight through the building. On March 12 two adults came out, but HRT then cut off the electricity for the final time, angering Koresh and Schneider.
On March 15 Schneider and Wayne Martin stood outside the building to negotiate with McLennan County Sheriff Jack Harwell and FBI agent Byron Sage, recorded Koresh sending a CB message to the FBI agents thanking them for being cordial in the face-to-face talk: “Let everybody just rest assured that you act decent, so we’re going to act decent and we’re all human beings, and we’re all under God, and under this country. Let’s see if we can’t work this out. Let’s don’t get itchy. We won’t get itchy. Let’s just relax and think about mamas and papas and babies….”
Also on March 15 Schneider reported to negotiators that the Branch Davidians had heard Bible scholar Dr. J. Phillip Arnold of Houston on the radio discussing the Bible’s prophecies, and he asked that Dr. Arnold be permitted to discuss the prophecies with David Koresh, a request that was never granted.
On March 21 seven adults came out, but the HRT then used tanks to crush and remove some of the Branch Davidians’ vehicles, angering the Branch Davidians. Noesner reports that he protested this action to Jamar to no avail.
Noesner also tried to persuade Jamar not to permit implementation of the plan to blast irritating, high-decibel sounds toward the Branch Davidians.
The loud sounds were initiated that evening, and Steve Schneider informed negotiators that the Branch Davidians who had intended to come out had decided to stay inside.
On March 23 Livingstone Fagan, a Branch Davidian from England with a Seventh-day Adventist Master of Divinity degree, was sent out to explain Koresh’s theology to the agents. He was the last adult to come out before the final assault on April 19.
After Clint Van Zandt took over as FBI negotiation coordinator on March 25, he and the FBI negotiators had to contend with the aggressive actions carried out by the Hostage Rescue Team with the approval of officials in SIOC in Washington, D.C., as evidenced in the WACMUR Major Event Log.
On March 29, 30, and 31, Dick DeGuerin, an attorney from Houston who had agreed to represent David Koresh, went inside the building for discussions with his client. Jack Zimmerman, who had agreed to be Steve Schneider’s attorney, went inside the building with DeGuerin on April 1.
Gradually after their visits, Koresh, who had probably been suffering from infection (the FBI WACMUR Major Event Log records that Schneider frequently expressed this concern to negotiators), began to be awake for longer periods and speak more often to negotiators, making it likely that the attorneys took in antibiotics.
On April 2 Schneider informed negotiators that they would come out after the eight days of Passover. The FBI WACMUR Major Event Log reports some uncertainty on the part of the Branch Davidians in calculating the beginning day for Passover. Eventually they settled on Monday, April 5.
On April 4 DeGuerin and Zimmerman took inside an audiotape of Dr. J. Phillip Arnold and Dr. James D. Tabor, University of North Carolina, Charlotte, discussing alternative interpretations of the book of Revelation on an April 1 radio program.
Upon coming out, DeGuerin and Zimmerman told FBI agents that the Branch Davidians would come out after Passover, which began the next day. They also told a reporter with the New York Times that they had observed incoming bullet holes in the topmost ceiling of the building the four-story central tower and that the Branch Davidians alleged that ATF agents had shot at the building from National Guard helicopters on February 28.
DeGuerin and Zimmerman expressed concern that the tanks crushing and moving vehicles were destroying evidence. This story appeared in the New York Times on April 5 (“Sect’s Lawyers Dispute Gunfight Details”).
During Passover week Schneider complained to negotiators about the high decibel sounds as being disrespectful of their sacred time, but the WACMUR Major Event Log indicates that the sounds continued to be played.
Beginning on April 7 HRT agents began firing flash-bang grenades at Branch Davidians who came outside the building to collect rainwater in the courtyard or to get some fresh air.
On April 9, Good Friday, Steve Schneider obtained permission to go outside and light seven smoke canisters in honour of Christ’s death. The Major Event Log records that later that evening an HRT agent reported to SIOC that per SAC Jamar and HRT-ASAC Rogers “there would be no plan to fight a fire should one develop in the Davidian compound.”
An hour later Steve Schneider called the negotiators “absolutely distraught” over being flash-banged after agents in a tank beckoned to him to come outside. He went outside because it had become customary for the tanks to drop off items for Branch Davidians to take inside.
On Wednesday, April 14, the day after the conclusion of Passover, DeGuerin and Zimmerman spoke with Koresh and Schneider by telephone, who read them a letter from Koresh saying they would come out after he wrote a “little book” explaining his interpretations of the Seven Seals of Revelation and the manuscript was given to Drs. Arnold and Tabor for safekeeping and dissemination.
That afternoon, as reported in the Major Event Log, a series of banners was hung out from tower windows: “Read Proverbs 1, 2, 3, 4. We come to love not war.” “Let’s have a beer when this is over.” “My name is Neil Vaega. I’m from Hawaii.”
That evening at 7:45 p.m. Koresh sent out the contract he had signed to retain DeGuerin as his attorney in addition to his letter outlining his exit plan that had been read over the telephone earlier that day.
The Major Event Log records that on April 16 at 1:15 a.m. a Bradley tank rammed the outside wall of one of the bedrooms, almost injuring Graeme Craddock who was sleeping in a bunk there. Nevertheless, Koresh reported at 2:35 a.m. that he had completed his commentary on the First Seal.
He reiterated that he was working day and night on the manuscript and that they would come out when it was completed.
Branch Davidians began requesting batteries and ribbon cassettes for a battery-operated word-processor to facilitate faster production of the manuscript. According to the United States Department of Justice, Report to the Deputy Attorney General on the Events at Waco, Texas, February 28 to April 19, 1993 (1993), on April 12 the FBI began persuading Attorney General Janet Reno to approve a plan to gas the building to drive the Branch Davidians out.
Reno was new to Washington, having been sworn in as Attorney General in the new Bill Clinton Administration on March 12, 1993, after the siege at Mount Carmel had begun.
On April 12 Reno was dubious of the proposed plan to insert gas into the building. On April 14 FBI officials brought in Dr. Harry Salem, a U.S. Army research toxicologist, to assuage Reno’s concerns about the harmful effects of CS gas. Dick Rogers, HRT commander, told Reno that negotiations had broken down.
Reno continued to ask why an assault was needed at that time. A telephone call, which lasted for two hours, was set up between Acting Associate Attorney General Webster Hubbell and Supervisory Special Resident Agent Byron Sage on April 15 to discuss the state of negotiations with the Branch Davidians.
According to the Report to the Deputy Attorney General and Sage’s congressional testimony in 1995, Sage told Hubbell that negotiations with Koresh and the Branch Davidians were at an impasse, and that negotiators would never be able to persuade Koresh to come out or to send others out.
Hubbell reported this information to Reno.
Shortly after Hubbell conveyed to the FBI on April 16 that Reno still declined to approve the plan, FBI Director William S. Sessions, Deputy Director Floyd I. Clarke, and Assistant Director Larry Potts arrived in Hubbell’s office and asked to speak to Reno.
Reno requested that documentation relating to the proposed plan be prepared for her to examine on the following day. According to the Major Event Log, on Saturday, April 17 at 5:00 p.m., Sessions, Clarke, and Potts briefed Attorney General Janet Reno on the “proposed operational plan.”
The Major Event Log records that by 7:00 p.m. Reno had approved the plan and it would be implemented on Monday, April 19.
Attorney General Reno’s authorised for the FBI tank and CS gas assault on the Branch Davidians. The first sixty-seven pages of documents in the Briefing File relate to allegations of Koresh’s abuse of children, and include a memo from psychiatrist Park Dietz stating it was likely that Koresh was continuing to abuse children sexually during the siege, an assertion that Reno made to the press immediately after the fire, which she had to retract as not being supported by evidence.
The memo dated March 5, 1993, by FBI psychological profilers Pete Smerick and Mark C. Young, is effectively buried on pages 74- 76 of the a highly sourced document nicknamed the ‘Reno Briefing File’.
This memo explains that Koresh taught and his followers believed that they would die in an attack by federal agents. They counselled a low-key tactical presence, noting that children had been sent out during periods when the tanks were pulled back.
They pointed out that aggressive actions against the Branch Davidians served to confirm Koresh’s apocalyptic prophecies: “If these forces continue to move closer to the compound, the increased paranoia of these people could result in their firing weapons, thus encouraging retaliation, leading to an escalation of violence.”
Two crucial memos by Smerick and Young, dated March 7 and 8, 1993, are not included in the “Reno Briefing File.” The March 7, 1993, memo recommended continued negotiations with the assistance of Sheriff Jack Harwell, who was respected by the Branch Davidians.
If the compound is attacked, in all probability, DAVID KORESH and his followers will fight back to the death, to defend their property and their faith, as they believe they did on February 28, 1993. If that occurs, there will have to be a HRT response and the possibility of a tremendous loss of life, both within the compound, and of Bureau personnel.
Commanders are thus faced with the prospect of defending their actions and justifying the taking of lives of children, who are with their families in a “defensive position”, defending their religion, regardless of how bizarre and cult like we believe it is manifested. Smerick and Young’s March 8, 1993 memo advises that the Branch Davidians saw Mount Carmel as sacred ground, and that he and his followers would die fighting to defend it.
“It should not be overlooked that [Koresh] is a religious fanatic with delusions of being JESUS CHRIST, and that he and his followers will die as a result of being attacked by his enemies.” Smerick and Young inaccurately discuss Koresh’s interpretations of the Seven Seals of Revelation, but they correctly grasp that Koresh’s prediction was that some Branch Davidians would die in a conflict with federal agents as had happened on February 28 and after a period the rest of them would die in an assault. (This was Koresh’s interpretation of the Fifth Seal.)
Smerick and Young write: In traditional hostage negotiations with people who are psychopaths, the goal is to wrest control away from the individual and give him a face saving scenario, so he can surrender.
With DAVID KORESH, however, perhaps one way to take control away from him is to do the OPPOSITE of what he is expecting. Instead of moving towards him, we consider moving back. This may appear to be appeasement to his wishes, but, it is taking power away from him.
He has told his followers that an attack is imminent, and this will show them that he was wrong. Smerick and Young’s March 8, 1993 memo warned that Koresh might order a “mass suicide” if his status as the group’s messiah was threatened.
These two memos by Smerick and Young are not in the “Reno Briefing File,” but their memo of March 9, 1993, advocating hard-line measures “to break the spirit” of Koresh is found on pages 82-83 of the file.
Lee Hancock’s Dallas Morning News article of March 6, 2000 reports Smerick telling her that the memo dated March 9, 1993 was written under pressure from officials in Washington. On pages 163-68 of the “Reno Briefing File” is a summary of British studies alleging that CS “riot control agent” is not harmful to children and unborn foetuses as long as they are removed quickly from the gassed area.
According to David B. Kopel and Paul H. Blackman, No More Wacos (1997), this document does not report that a baby exposed to CS in a home in Northern Ireland spent twenty-eight days in a hospital receiving medical intervention before recovering.
The last document in the file is the proposed operation plan for the assault (pages 169- 77). Plan A approved by Reno allowed for the gradual insertion of CS gas into the building over forty-eight hours in the hope that the parents would bring their children out.
It contained a provision that the FBI commanders on the ground could switch to Plan B, the rapid insertion of CS, if FBI agents received gunfire from the Branch Davidians. Plan B was put into operation within a few minutes after the assault started.
On April 18 before 2:00 p.m. the remaining Branch Davidian vehicles parked around the residence were crushed and removed by tanks (Combat Engineering Vehicles). A transcript of a negotiation audiotape made by Catherine Wessinger included in How the Millennium Comes Violently (2000) shows that Koresh called a negotiator and asked, “what do you men really want?” Koresh warned: “These commanders are fixing to ruin the safety of me and my children. My life, the lives of my wives, the lives of my friends, my family. You are fixing to step across the ribbon.”
He explained that the tactical actions were cornering him: “If this is the corner of the box that you place me in to….” The audiotape was cut off when Koresh and the negotiator got into a shouting match. Nevertheless, Schneider continued to ask for word-processing supplies and these were delivered by 9:30 p.m. On April 19, 1993 at 6:00 a.m. the FBI’s Hostage Rescue Team initiated a tank and CS gas assault against the building.
FBI officials in SIOC in Washington watched the assault on closed circuit television. The Updated Event Log for April 19, 1993 and information given by retired Colonel Rodney Rawlings of the United States Army to Lee Hancock of the Dallas Morning News in 1999 together indicate that officials in SIOC and FBI Special Agents in Charge and other agents near Mount Carmel listened in real time to audio captured by surveillance devices inside the building.
(After the fire, the FBI alleged that agents were not listening in real time to audio captured by bugs on April 18 and 19, so they did not hear the Branch Davidians’ discussions of an imminent fire and fulfillment of prophecies on April 18, and discussions of pouring fuel on the morning of April 19.)
The Updated Event Log for April 19, 1993 in the Lee Hancock Collection indicates that FBI officials in SIOC and the FBI commanders in Waco were in constant contact during the assault.
Throughout the assault Byron Sage announced through the loudspeaker, “This is not an assault,” and called for the Branch Davidians to surrender. Grenade launchers were used to fire in small rocket-shaped ferret rounds to release the gas, and CS was inserted through sprayers attached to the booms of Combat Engineering Vehicles.
Four hundred ferret rounds were fired within the first hour, and additional rounds were brought in. Instead of coming out, the Branch Davidian adults put on gas masks and attempted to dodge the tanks when they penetrated the building. There were no child-sized gas masks.
Survivor Derek Lovelock reports in “A Personal View” (2006): The gas masks that we had were not small enough for some of the children so we drenched towels in water and wrapped them around the children’s heads and then put the masks over them. There were some little children as young as three and they were crying and coughing with tears streaming down their faces as they struggled to breathe.
According to Lovelock, “The gas masks that we had would last about half an hour before they started to fail. When they do, you can feel the gas getting to you and your eyes begin to burn.”
The small children and their mothers took shelter in a concrete vault located at the base of the central tower, the door to which had been removed when a large refrigerator had been put into that space. The open doorway to the vault faced out toward the front of the building.
According to the analysis of FBI audio and video recorded on April 19, 1993 by attorney David Hardy in This Is Not an Assault (2001), a tank drove into the building and from 11:31 a.m. to 11:55 a.m. gassed the area of the vault’s open doorway.
Then the tank backed out of the building and moved to the southeast front corner of the building to use its boom to penetrate the outer wall of the second-floor room.
Hardy argues that this is where David Koresh and Steve Schneider were located. At the same time, a tank began driving through the gymnasium heading toward that same part of the building.
At 12:01 p.m. Byron Sage announced over the loudspeaker: “David, we are facilitating you leaving the compound by enlarging the door. David, you have had your fifteen minutes of fame…. Vernon is no longer the messiah.”
The two tanks backed out of the building, and a fire became visible in the southeast corner second-floor bedroom window at 12:07 p.m. FLIR [Forward Looking Infrared] footage shot from a Nightstalker aircraft (according to the Major Event Log it was provided by Westinghouse) circling over Mount Carmel shows that at 12:08 and 12:09 p.m. fires were apparent in the cafeteria, the chapel, and the gymnasium. Fire quickly engulfed the building and produced a huge fireball explosion.
Fifty-three adults and twenty-three children, including two infants born during the assault, died. Nine people escaped the fire, some badly burned.
Branch Davidian survivors include the nine people who escaped the fire, people who came out during the siege, and other people who were not at Mount Carmel on February 28, 1993 when the ATF raid initiated the siege.
Almost twenty-five years after the incident debate still rages surrounding David Koresh and the Branch Davidians. These debates included who fired the first shots during the siege at the Mount Carmel compound, and the hotly debated topic of who started the fires which eventually engulfed the compound.
The stance from the United States Government is that it was David Koresh who led the agents of the Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms into an ambush with members of the Branch Davidians lying in wait within the compound awaiting their arrival.
Surviving members of the Branch Davidians back the claims that Koresh was unarmed, and that ATF Agents fired the first shots, however remain divided as to whether the shots were fired towards the religious leader or the guard dogs whose kennels were a short distance from the front door.
Survivor Kevin Jones – who was a child who left the Mount Carmel compound during the 51-day siege being the second last child to be taken by authorities after he was asked by his aunty inside the property if he wanted to leave.
Jones states “Anyone who wanted to leave could have just walked out the front door,” further adding to the wide known fact that religious followers were confined to the property due to sheer terror of the tactics on offer by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and their agents.
Kevin explains that on the morning the raid began everything happened so quickly, his father tipped off in relation to the impending raid less than an hour before the cattle trucks filled with Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms agents tracked down the driveway to the main building of the Mount Carmel compound.
Despite the animosity that exists between surviving Branch Davidians and the Government of the United States of America, Kevin Jones says he as a child he was treated very well after exiting the compound.
“We were all treated very well. I was taken to airplane hangar and fed from a vending machine, then given a sleeping bag and took a nap.”
“I talked to my aunt on the telephone, and answered questions in a room full of reporters. Then I was taken to the Methodist Home and reunited with the other children.”
Kevin further explains however that not everything was rosy upon leaving the compound.
“I was pat searched before entering the tank they picked me up in. They took my bag of clothes and teddy bear away and never returned them – even to this day.”
As a young Kevin Jones left the compound David Koresh was laying the hallway, seriously injured from the gunshot earlier in the siege. He was weak, and had grown weaker over the 51-days with no medical attention.
He was struggling to breath, in pain, and was in absolutely no position to refrain anyone from leaving. Putting to bed the notion that he prevented the parents of the children who perished in the fire from leaving.
Kevin further believes that is was the United States of American Government who started the fire that killed the religious followers.
After the government cut off the electricity the Branch Davidians resorted to using Kerosene lamps to light the hallways and bedrooms. With the tear gas fired into the buildings, which burns more than 1000 degrees, it, to Kevin and countless others, could have easily knocked the lamps over setting the wooden structure alight.