A Tragedy in Waco


Courtesy of, Homeland Security Digital Library

Tobin Murray

February 28, 1993.  Waco, Texas.  Federal law enforcement agents came face-to-face with the Branch Davidians, a controversial religious group that described themselves as “students of the bible”.  What was happening, what was going on?  They surrounded the Mount Carmel compound, where about 130 of them lived.  Agents were attempting to arrest their leader, David Koresh and raid the 77-acre complex but then, shots rang out and four ATF agents died.  How did this happen? Why was the FBI and the ATF laying siege to the Branch Davidians?

Well to start, the Davidians were founded in 1930 by Victor Houteff, a disgruntled member of the Seventh-Day Adventist Church.  After his death in 1955, Ben Roden led an offshoot movement known as the Branch Davidians.  They settled in Victor’s original settlement, Mount Carmel, in 1962.  They believed the Bible was the literal word of God, and the Branch Davidians looked for clues about the end of the world and Christ’s Second Coming.  After Roden died in 1978, a 22 year-old man named Vernon Wayne Howell arrived at the compound, and fought Ben’s son George Roden in 1987.  After shooting him in the head and chest he went to court where his case ended in mistrial.   By 1990, having control over the Branch Davidians, Howell changed his name to David Koresh.

According to History.com, Koresh negotiated with the FBI, claiming to be a “messianic figure prophesied in the Bible and that God had given him his surname.”  He threatened violence to anyone that would attack him and his family, and asserted that the Davidians weren’t planning a mass suicide, like those who died at the People’s Temple in 1978.  To the Branch Davidians, Koresh was the only one “worthy” of unlocking the Seven Seals and telling the world the entirety of the Bible’s teachings. This allowed Koresh to justify some of his controversial practices, including taking various “spiritual wives,” some reportedly as young as 11 years old.

Moving on from the Branch Davidians and David Koresh,  the Mount Carmel complex is surrounded by FBI and ATF troops.  With the Davidians and Koresh waiting inside, nobody knew how long the siege would last.  Around mid-April Koresh sent a  message to his lawyer saying that he had received word from God and was writing his message in the Seven Seals; he would now negotiate with the FBI.  Unconvinced, the FBI decided to end the siege by firing CS gas into the compound to lure them out.  On April 19, 1993 the FBI fired about 400 cans of CS gas into the building.  Soon after the attempt, around 12pm, the FBI and ATF were about to enter the building when  several fires simultaneously erupted out of the building, and gunfire rang out inside.  Before they could enter the whole complex was on fire.

Fortunately nine Davidians were able to escape, when investigators entered the building they found 76 bodies inside the building, 25 children had also died.  Some had fatal gunshot wounds, most were suicidal because they didn’t want a slow painful death in the fire.  The death of those later convinced Timothy McVeigh to bomb Oklahoma City.  The Waco siege was a devastating moment in America, it made others question the government.  Lost and not forgotten, David Koresh made a devastating mark on the United States.