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What Happened to the Branch Davidians After Waco?

What Happened to the Branch Davidians After Waco?

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In April 1993, some 75 members of the millennial sect known as the Branch Davidians—including their messianic leader, David Koresh—perished in the blaze that destroyed their compound near Waco, Texas, after a 51-day siege by federal agents. The Branch Davidians fell from public view after the disastrous raid of their compound, but they still have a presence in Texas—and around the world.

The Branch Davidians began as an offshoot of the Seventh Day Adventist Church, and by the early 1960s had gained control of the Mount Carmel compound in Texas from an earlier group.

David Koresh, who was then known by his birth name of Vernon Wayne Howell, didn’t arrive until 1981, but within a decade the charismatic young man had become the undisputed leader of the group, taking a number of “spiritual wives” (some as young as 12 or 13 years old) and having numerous children with them.

The Waco siege destroyed the Branch Davidian compound.

WATCH: What Happened at the Waco Siege?

The Waco siege began on February 28, 1993, with a raid of the Mount Carmel compound by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) for suspected illegal firearms. Despite protracted talks with Koresh, FBI negotiators failed to convince him to come out of the compound or release his followers, though he insisted they were not planning on a mass suicide.

On April 19, after the FBI used gas in an attempt to force entry into the compound, fires broke out around the property. When investigators were finally able to enter, they found some 75 bodies, including 25 children, inside.

During the siege, 14 adults and 21 children had been allowed to leave the Davidian compound. Nine survivors served time in federal prison on charges related to the initial raid on the compound, in which four ATF agents and six Davidians were killed. All nine had been released by 2013, two decades after the Waco disaster.

WATCH: Full episodes of America's Book of Secrets online now and tune in for all-new episodes Tuesdays at 10/9c.

The Branch Davidians quickly disbanded.

Though the Branch Davidians essentially vanished as a community in the immediate aftermath of the raid, a few of the group’s members slowly moved back to the Mount Carmel site in the years that followed.

As one of the few male Davidians not to have been imprisoned, Clive Doyle, an Australian-born Texan whose daughter (one of Koresh’s wives) had perished in the fire, took on the role of lay preacher for the group. In 2003, Doyle told a reporter for Texas Monthly magazine that only a dozen or so Davidians were left in Texas, and maybe 100 in the entire world.

The Branch Davidian compound has been re-occupied.

In addition to Doyle’s congregation, a second group of Davidians settled on the site of the disaster, building a church atop the charred foundations of the original compound and placing plaques with the names of Davidians who died in the raid.

Calling themselves Branch, The Lord Our Righteousness, the group is led by Charles Pace, who became a Davidian in 1973 but left Mount Carmel after Koresh’s rise. “I just felt I needed to be here to represent the true church,” Pace told the Associated Press of his 1994 return to the group. Pace sees himself as the legitimate successor of Lois Roden, the previous prophetess of the Branch Davidians, and believes Koresh corrupted the group’s message.

As for Doyle, he left Mount Carmel in 2006 over conflicts with Pace and his followers. According to a 2013 report by NPR, he remained in Waco and continued to hold Bible study weekly with Sheila Martin, another Branch Davidian survivor who left the compound during the standoff with three of her children; her husband and four other children died in the fire.

As Doyle put it then: “We, as survivors of 1993, are looking for David and all those that died either in the shootout, or in the fire. We believe that God will resurrect this special group.”

WATCH: Full episodes of The UnXplained online now.

The Reporter That Waco Destroyed Has No Regrets

Observing the ATF’s disastrous assault on David Koresh and the Branch Davidian compound should have made John McLemore’s career. Instead, it ruined it. Maybe that was for the best.

John McLemore wanted to show off his backyard. It was an enviable suburban expanse in northwest Houston&mdasha pool, a patio, short palm trees, a manicured lawn made brittle by winter, and an offset smoker that he was still trying to figure out. &ldquoSee, John McLemore didn&rsquot die penniless,&rdquo he said. &ldquoHe&rsquos not just crawling in gutters like Google says he is. I ain&rsquot living high on the hog, but I&rsquom not crawling in the gutter.&rdquo

McLemore is 54 years old and underemployed, and he remains wary of the rumors and false accusations that have dogged him for the last 25 years&mdashof his demise, of his death, of his complicity in the tragedy that has shaped his adult life: the Branch Davidian siege near Waco. When I called McLemore in early January, he told me he&rsquod tended to decline requests from the press, but he said as long as I wasn&rsquot looking for his opinion on conspiracy theories, he&rsquod be happy to talk. &ldquoI haven&rsquot done any interviews in a while because I get sick of saying, &lsquoNo, I don&rsquot know who fired first,&rsquo &lsquoYeah, Koresh, he wasn&rsquot a very nice guy,&rsquo &lsquoYeah, it ruined my career.&rsquo Poor, poor me,&rdquo McLemore said when we met in Houston. &ldquoI wound up better than I probably would&rsquove been, but poor, poor me.&rdquo

McLemore has spent most of his adult life doing damage control, although most of the time, it hasn&rsquot been personal. As a corporate public relations specialist, he worked for Life Partners Inc., a Waco-based firm that pioneered the practice of purchasing life insurance policies from the terminally ill (&ldquoit was easy to portray as ghoulish,&rdquo he acknowledges, adding, &ldquowe were mainly in the AIDS market&rdquo), then he put in 14 years as a big-oil flack at ConocoPhillips. After McLemore got laid off in 2015, he started his own PR agency, but, he told me, &ldquoit&rsquos not going so well.&rdquo

McLemore isn&rsquot asking for anyone&rsquos pity, but he hasn&rsquot had the career that he wanted and he hasn&rsquot had the career that it looked like he was heading for when he was an upcoming TV reporter at Waco&rsquos CBS affiliate, KWTX, in the early nineties. Since high school, McLemore had been a news junkie, and as an undergraduate at UT-Austin, he&rsquod been single-minded about preparing for his career as a journalist. &ldquoWhen most people were going to South Padre for spring break, I was at the CBS or NBC or ABC in Austin working for free, staying after hours, teaching myself how to edit videos,&rdquo McLemore said. He had gotten a job at the Temple bureau of KWTX before he&rsquod even graduated, and quickly got assigned to Waco, where he was covering major stories.

Then, on the morning of February 28, 1993, the 29-year-old McLemore and KWTX cameraman Dan Mulloney followed a convoy of Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives vehicles onto a 77-acre compound west of Waco known as Mount Carmel. The property was owned by the Branch Davidian church and controlled by its leader, a preacher named David Koresh. When they drove onto Mount Carmel, the two newsmen expected to see a by-the-books seizure of illegal weapons. Instead, they witnessed one of the most ferocious gun battles in the history of American law enforcement. Four federal agents and six Branch Davidians died that day, setting off a 51-day FBI-led siege that ended when a fire consumed the Branch Davidians&rsquo multistory compound, Koresh himself, and 75 of his followers who remained inside.

KWTX reporter John McLemore (far left) arrived at Mount Carmel on February 28, 1993, expecting to cover a routine seizure of illegal weapons. Courtesy KWTX-TV

On the morning of the ATF raid, McLemore didn&rsquot have any inkling he was about to play a small role in the beginning of that history. He had spent much of the previous month in Houston covering the trial of serial killer Kenneth Allen McDuff, and as he and Mulloney drove up toward Mount Carmel in the cameraman&rsquos Ford Bronco, the reporter figured he&rsquod be able to write up a story and be home by noon. &ldquoI thought the sheriff&rsquos department was probably going to have to kick the door in, and they&rsquod come out with an armful of guns and then maybe somebody in handcuffs.&rdquo

Mulloney had been tipped off that some kind of raid was planned, but neither he nor McLemore had any idea of its scope. Instead of watching a modest operation by the McLennan County sheriff&rsquos office, the KWTX duo ended up witnessing dozens of ATF agents in full battle dress jumping out of the back of cattle trailers and preparing for a &ldquodynamic entry&rdquo into the compound. Just two minutes after the ATF arrived, bullets started flying. (Both sides say the other shot first.) Mulloney, sitting in the passenger seat of the Bronco, yelled &ldquopunch it!&rdquo and the reporter, sitting in the driver&rsquos seat, pulled the vehicle behind an abandoned coach bus that was sitting on the Branch Davidians&rsquo grounds. Mulloney set up his camera on a tripod, focused it on the battle, and took cover. McLemore assisted him until an ATF agent yelled out to him and asked if he could call for help.

&ldquoI&rsquom going, &lsquoMan, I&rsquove got this Greyhound bus protecting me, you want me to run through this gunfire to call for help for you?&rsquo&rdquo McLemore remembers. He decided he needed to anyway, running twenty yards to the Bronco, hopping into the front seat, and calling the newsroom.

&ldquoGet every ambulance in the county out here. It&rsquos like Vietnam,&rdquo McLemore remembers saying. His news director informed him that every ambulance in the county was already nearby and paramedics were setting up a triage center just up the road.

For the rest of the ninety-minute firefight, McLemore narrated the action, with Mulloney occasionally pivoting his camera away from the building and training it on the young reporter. After a cease-fire between the ATF and the Branch Davidians had been brokered, McLemore stayed on the scene, and he and Mulloney volunteered their Bronco to transport three wounded agents, including one who had been critically injured and was laid across the front hood.

&ldquoI couldn&rsquot see over him,&rdquo McLemore said. &ldquoThere were these two guys standing on both sides of the doors, and they&rsquore going, &lsquoA little to the left, a little to the right.&rsquo We were the last ones off the property. All my life I won&rsquot think of myself as a hero, but I won&rsquot think of myself as a p&mdash- either,&rdquo McLemore told me.

After covering the exchanges of gunfire for ninety minutes, McLemore and his cameraman Dan Mulloney volunteered their Ford Bronco to transport wounded ATF agents off the property.

One critically injured agent was laid across the front hood of the Bronco as McLemore drove.

Left: After covering the exchanges of gunfire for ninety minutes, McLemore and his cameraman Dan Mulloney volunteered their Ford Bronco to transport wounded ATF agents off the property.

Top: One critically injured agent was laid across the front hood of the Bronco as McLemore drove.

Over the next day, McLemore&rsquos face appeared around the world, as reporters covering what was the beginning of the Waco siege sought him out as an eyewitness authority. On March 1, ATF director Stephen Higgins placed a call to KWTX and thanked McLemore for his bravery in helping to evacuate the wounded agents. McLemore figured this was his ticket to a big career. But on March 2, McLemore&rsquos brief celebrity began to unravel. That night, Houston Chronicle reporter Kathy Fair&mdashwho would later serve as Rick Perry&rsquos chief of staff under her married name, Kathy Walt&mdashtold Nightline anchor Ted Koppel that, according to her ATF sources, &ldquoreporters for, I believe, the TV station allegedly were hiding in the trees when federal agents arrived.&rdquo The sources, Fair continued, &ldquohave told me they think they were set up by at least one reporter&rdquo who had &ldquotipped off the sect about [the raid].&rdquo

This early account would prove to be mostly untrue. No reporters were at Mount Carmel before the ATF arrived. No one was hiding in trees. And no one had deliberately tipped off the Branch Davidians. McLemore&rsquos colleague Jim Peeler, a cameraman, had inadvertently aroused the suspicions of the Branch Davidians after getting lost on the way to Mount Carmel that morning and talking with a postman, who turned out to be Branch Davidian David Jones. But it was McLemore who caught the bulk of the early backlash. After Fair&rsquos report and a follow-up segment on Dallas station WFAA, some viewers blamed McLemore for the catastrophic outcome of the raid. Suddenly, it wasn&rsquot Higgins reaching out to KWTX to thank the station&rsquos reporters, but viewers calling to demand that McLemore be fired. One, McLemore told the Dallas Observer in 1998, had said, &ldquoThe blood of these ATF agents is on McLemore&rsquos hands.&rdquo

For the rest of the siege, KWTX more or less sidelined McLemore and told him to refrain from responding to the allegations. &ldquoThey moved me with a CBS crew on somebody&rsquos property where we could see the compound a mile away,&rdquo McLemore says. With his new assignment, he didn&rsquot attend press conferences, but he was an up-close observer of the fire on April 19, describing the scene for viewers as the blaze ripped through the Branch Davidians&rsquo home.

The end of the siege was the effective finale of McLemore&rsquos journalism career. He was nominated for an Emmy for his coverage, but &ldquothat stigma never left me,&rdquo he says. A group of ATF agents and the families of the agents who died during the raid sued KWTX, the Waco Tribune-Herald, and a Waco ambulance company for negligent actions that caused the deaths and injuries at Mount Carmel. (The case settled out of court for a reported $15 million.) In Waco, McLemore and his family felt unwelcome, with his wife, a receptionist at a bank, getting hounded at work by those who held the reporter partially responsible for the Branch Davidian tragedy. McLemore tried to get jobs in other markets, but he never got a call back from most stations, and others agreed to meet with him only in the hopes of getting a scoop. &ldquoI got job interviews in places, and I&rsquod get there and sit down, and they&rsquod say, &lsquoHey, do you mind if we turn the camera on?&rsquo&rdquo McLemore remembers. &ldquoAnd then they&rsquod start: &lsquoSo, did you tip them off?&rsquo&rdquo

Life Partners, the life insurance policy purchasing firm, was &ldquoabout the only place that I could get a job,&rdquo McLemore says. He attempted to get damages for his tarnished reputation by suing Fair, the Chronicle, and other news organizations for defamation, but he eventually lost the case when the Texas Supreme Court ruled that he was a &ldquolimited purpose public figure&rdquo and thus had to prove that the reporters and stations had displayed &ldquoactual malice&rdquo in filing what turned out to be inaccurate stories. Eventually, his marriage broke up, and he left Waco for the ConocoPhillips job in Houston.

Still, in comparison with the two KWTX cameramen who also were assigned to Mount Carmel that day, McLemore made out well. Mulloney died in 2001 at the age of 52, largely as the result of alcoholism. Peeler, who continued to work for KWTX, told the reporter Robert Bryce, &ldquoHave you ever seen the movie The Sixth Sense, where a man was completely dead but really didn&rsquot know that he&rsquos dead? Well, that&rsquos me, ya know. My body, physically, doesn&rsquot know that it&rsquos dead, but my heart, my heart really knows that it&rsquos over with. I ain&rsquot ever gonna be the same again.&rdquo

Twenty-five years after the Branch Davidian siege, McLemore has more or less made peace with what happened. When Life Partners went public, McLemore got enough money to have a measure of financial security. (&ldquoThat&rsquos what paid for my daughter to go to Baylor.&rdquo) When the company&rsquos CEO, Brian Pardo, became obsessed with proving the innocence of David Wayne Spence, a man sentenced to die for the 1982 stabbing deaths of three teenagers at Lake Waco, McLemore found himself working as an investigator once again. (My colleague Michael Hall reported on the Lake Waco murders in a 2014 story.) When McLemore got the ConocoPhillips job in 2001, he was making a higher salary than he ever would have in local TV news and, he says, he liked the perks of the job. The tarnishing of his name during the siege, McLemore says, may have looked like bad luck, &ldquobut in the long run it was good luck for me, I guess?&rdquo

McLemore sometimes thinks about going back to Waco. &ldquoI love the people there, I love the genuineness of it,&rdquo he told me, before rattling off a list of the city&rsquos attractions and historical claims to fame&mdashthe Chisholm Trail, the Dr Pepper Museum&mdash&ldquothere&rsquos even a museum called the Red Man that has a painting by Adolf Hitler.&rdquo But McLemore knows that he&rsquod be an unwelcome specter in the city. Around the world, the name &ldquoWaco&rdquo remains a shorthand for the Branch Davidian siege, a fact that residents of the city have long sought to combat. There&rsquos no public memorial in the city to the Branch Davidian dead, and a common refrain among residents is that the tragedy actually happened in rural Elk, since Mount Carmel lay beyond the city limits. There&rsquos little appetite to relitigate what happened or to restore anyone&rsquos reputation. As former McLennan County sheriff Larry Lynch, who helped negotiate the cease-fire between the ATF and the Branch Davidians, told me recently, &ldquothe city fathers and mothers would like to have us remembered for Chip and Joanna [Gaines] instead of a biker shootout, or the Branch Davidian [siege].&rdquo

&ldquoI probably won&rsquot be invited to very many house parties in Waco,&rdquo McLemore conceded. &ldquoI bring up bad memories. But I would not change one thing. I&rsquom associated with these tragic events, but I was just a journalist pointing them out.&rdquo Even after decades out of the profession, he says,&ldquoThat&rsquos who I am, and what I do.&rdquo

The Waco Tragedy Explained

Two years ago on April 18, 2018 this article by Tara Isabelle Burton, The Waco Tragedy explained, appeared marking the 25th anniversary of what she called: “of one of the strangest and most tragic incidents in American religious history: the bloody ending of the siege between FBI agents and members of the Branch Davidian religious group in Waco, Texas.”

What happened there was unprecedented in American history. …the F.B.I. assembled the largest military force ever to be gathered against a civilian suspect …a total of eight hundred and ninety-nine (899) people against 85 Branch Davidians. Seventy-six people lost their lives in the fiery massacre including 20 children and 2 pregnant women. The adults were there as Bible students seeking to learn the Word of God. David was their shepherd and teacher.

FBI burning Branch Davidians

Sunday, April 19, 2020 is the 27th anniversary of burning the ‘heretics’ in Waco, Texas. This all played out in front of God and all the American people.
David Koresh and his group, the Branch Davidians, were demonized and dehumanized by the press, the FBI and the BATF to the extent that a majority of Americans approved of actions taken.


What happened at the Branch Davidian compound in 1993 had its genesis years earlier after David Koresh had made a series of trips to Israel. Koresh had told his followers the apocalypse -- the end of days -- would occur there.

Marc Breault: And he believed that we were gonna go over there and there was gonna be a war.

But the Breaults, who had left the cult, were secretly working to sabotage Koresh from back home in Australia.

Elizabeth Breault: Marc and I &hellip approached the Israeli consulate here in Melbourne and told them. And all of a sudden, they shut that down.

Marc Breault says Israeli authorities kicked Koresh out of the country. It was then, the couple says, that Koresh decided to bring the apocalypse to Waco.

Elizabeth Breault: "Oh no -- by the way -- I've had a new revelation. It's all going to happen here."

Robert Cervenka, a local rancher, has kept this secret from the public for almost a quarter century. One day, he saw 20 Davidians in combat fatigues open fire in a field.

Robert Cervenka: They weren't firing at bull's-eye targets. They were firing at men silhouette targets.

Peter Van Sant: Practicing to shoot human beings?

Robert Cervenka: That's what it looked like.

Even more disturbing, Cervenka -- who is an Army veteran -- heard the distinct sound of a .50 caliber machine gun. He quietly told police.

Robert Cervenka: They're like, tat-tat-tat-tat -- tat, tat, tat, tat.

Robert Cervenka: It looked like they're preparing for a war.

Larry Gilbreath: A lot of the men started wearing Army fatigues. &hellipAnd they started looking more like a militia than a religious group.

Larry Gilbreath remembers it was around 1991 when he began noticing that those packages he was regularly delivering to the Davidians were getting bigger and heavier. He realized the Davidians were using a small, off-site house as a checkpoint where the boxes could be inspected.

Larry Gilbreath: And they would come out, unlock the gate and let me in. And I would take the packages right there.

Larry Gilbreath Larry Gilbreath

Gilbreath then drove the packages to the compound, where Koresh sometimes greeted him.

Larry Gilbreath: And I'd say probably 75 percent of the time, when I would get there, David -- always came out. He signed for a lot of 'em.

An arsenal of weapons CBS News

It would only be later, that Gilbreath would learn the exact contents of his cargo.

Larry Gilbreath: I delivered ammunition for 223s, AK-47s.

Peter Van Sant: AR-15s?

Larry Gilbreath: And AR-15's and big magazines to go on 'em. &hellipEven a grenade launcher.

Peter Van Sant: Hello? What did you just say?

Larry Gilbreath: A grenade launcher!

The Davidian arms race turned even more ominous in February 1992, when Gilbreath was checking a box in his truck and his life flashed before his eyes.

Larry Gilbreath: About six to eight grenades fell out of it.

Peter Van Sant: Hand grenades?

Larry Gilbreath: Hand grenades!

Peter Van Sant: Did you jump back?

Larry Gilbreath: I did!

He says the grenade casings scared him so much, he told his wife Debra about what he'd seen.

Like Larry, Debra Gilbreath had never told her story publicly, until she decided to join "48 Hours"' interview while the cameras were rolling.

Debra Gilbreath: It was scary. &hellip I mean you talkin' bout family! When mama bear's family gets threatened, mama bear reacts!

Debra Gilbreath told the sheriff's department about the grenade casings and the extraordinary amount of arms going into the compound.

Debra Gilbreath: Somebody had to do something!

The sheriff called the Federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms -- the ATF. Larry Gilbreath showed them receipts of the arms shipments and that's when the ATF starting investigating. Special Agent Bill Buford was one of the ATF agents in charge.

Bill Buford: We started the surveillance about the first part of January of 1993.

From a house across the street from the compound, a rotating team of ATF agents watched the Davidians every move.

Clive Doyle: We knew they were spyin' on us.

In fact, Larry Gilbreath began working closely with the ATF, even participating in an undercover operation.

Larry Gilbreath: They told me, "We're gonna send an ATF agent riding with you on this delivery today."

Larry Gilbreath: &helliphe had hair down to his shoulders. And he looked nothing like a UPS person. They knew what we looked like.

Larry Gilbreath: I said, "They're gonna make you in two minutes after you step off the truck."

Larry Gilbreath: And outta nowhere, David just looks at me and says, "Larry, I know they're watching us." I went numb.

After two months of reconnaissance, ATF headquarters authorized them to take action. The mission: arrest David Koresh, confiscate any illegal weapons, and keep the children safe.

ATF Special Agent Bill Buford audio: We go right in front and-- and start drawing fire.

ATF Special Agent Bill Buford is seen briefing his troops in video shot before the raid Lee Hancock

In video shot before the raid, and broadcast for the first tiem on "48 Hours," Bill Buford is seen briefing his troops.

ATF Special Agent Bill Buford audio: We got nothing to do but go ahead and do &hellip run the plan just like we're gonna run it.

Bill Buford: If we came rollin' up in a SWAT van, it would be very obvious what was goin' on and we needed the surprise.

Buford and his team came up with an unusual idea: A Texas Trojan horse.

ATF Special Agent Bill Buford audio: Truck one- truck two- we're about one mile off.

The ATF drive onto the property in two pickup trucks pulling cattle trailers with about 35 armed agents in each hiding under canvas tarps. Byron Sage/FBI archive

They would drive onto the property in two pickup trucks pulling cattle trailers, with about 35 armed agents in each, hiding under canvas tarps.

Bill Buford to Van Sant: We drove in down this driveway and pulled up right here.

ATF audio: Everything is clear. &hellipWindows are cleared, truck one and two. &hellipFull speed ahead! Full speed ahead! Bring those choppers in, come on!

Within seconds, the ATF's mission went terribly wrong.

ATF audio: It's showtime&hellip Showtime! Showtime! &hellipHeavy fire. Heavy fire we're taking.

The Davidians were lying in wait, having been inadvertently tipped off by a TV cameraman. It was about 9:45 a.m. on Feb. 28, 1993.The Davidians and the ATF each swear the other fired first.

Joann Vaega rushed to look out her bedroom window on the second floor.

Joann Vaega: I just see black dots running toward us. &hellipI had no idea what it was. &hellipMy mom &hellip grabbed me off the bed. She put me on the floor.

Sheila Martin was right down the hall from Joann.

Sheila Martin: I ran to put my two older children down. &hellipBy the time I &hellip reached &hellip for my 10-year-old son, all this glass started breakin' around him. And he started screaming. Shots were just coming into the building.

Her husband Wayne called 911:

Wayne Martin 911 call: There's 75 men around our building and they're shootin' at us. Tell 'em there are children and women in here and to call it off!

Joann Vaega: At that point-- everyone had a gun. &hellipthere was bullet holes everywhere. There were people lying on the floor that were dead. Like, you, it was, it was war.

Bill Buford: Our job was to go on the roof and take over the arms room and Koresh's bedroom.

ATF agents seen on the roof of the Branch Davidian compound during the raid CBS News

Both objectives were on the second floor. You can see Buford in the video from that day, crouched on the roof and taking heavy fire.

ATF audio: Heavy fire we're taking, flashbangs going in.

Bill Buford: I took a -- flashbang and threw &hellip in the window.

Bill Buford: When I get through the window, there's a man standing in the room with an AK-47 &hellip and I shot him several times.

Seconds later, Buford -- like another agent -- was shot.

ATF audio: Got one man down, got a man down on the roof.

Bill Buford: One creased across the nose, once in the hip, once in the thigh, and once right square in the butt.

Bill Buford: The thing I remember is the slow motion as the rounds would come through the wall&hellip.And the splinters were stickin' in my face as they came off. &hellipAnd I thought, "I'm not gonna let 'em kill me in here."

Buford -- on the hood of a vehicle -- was rescued by fellow agents. Larry Gilbreath was at his sister's house when the ATF raid went down.

Larry Gilbreath: I said &hellip "Holy crap &hellip These guys are gettin' massacred out there!"

ATF audio: The ATF will cease fire if they will cease fire and we'll pull back.

The ATF asked the Davidians for a cease-fire. Four agents were killed in the raid, 28 wounded. The Branch Davidians lost six people that day. Four others were wounded, among them, David Koresh, who was shot in the wrist and side. And for now, the shooting stopped.

Lee Hancock: As awful as the firefight was, it was just the beginning.

ATF agent audio: Get out of here!

ATF agent audio: Get that s--- out of here!

ATF agent audio: Get the f--- out of here!

Many of the Branch Davidians died during the April 1993 fire

76 of the Branch Davidians died as a result of the fire, 25 of them children. Among those who died were Koresh, his wife Rachel, Michelle Jones (Rachel&rsquos younger sister and &ldquosecond wife&rdquo to Koresh), and Steve Schneider, Koresh&rsquos right-hand man.

Men’s Health

David Thibodeau was one of nine who survived the fire. He managed to find his way out by crawling through a hole in the building. (He later wrote a memoir about his time with the Branch Davidians.) According to the New York Times, out of the remaining eight who survived the fire, three members&mdashRenos Avraam, Jaime Castillo and Graeme Craddock&mdashserved time for various crimes associated with the fire, including conspiracy to murder federal agents.

Branch Davidian Massacre Site

Exactly who did the massacring here is still a matter of some debate. The only thing that everyone seems to agree on is the death toll: four ATF agents and 80 followers of Vernon Howell, a.k.a. David Koresh, and his splinter group of Branch Davidian Seventh Day Adventists. It happened in early 1993 when the ATF raided, then besieged, then attacked the fortified compound that the Koreshians called Mount Carmel. All that was left was a smoking ruin.

There are no signs of the compound any more the only remnant is a hole, formerly a swimming pool that was used as a bunker during the siege. A little chapel has been built out by the road by the Koreshians and their supporters, incorporating a museum of Davidian history that censures everyone for the bloodshed.

Up a dirt road is a grove of trees planted in rows, one for each Branch Davidian killed. For several years each had a little granite marker at its base with a victim's name and age and the same date of death: April 20, 1993 (The stones were later mortared into a single memorial). When we visited, a rusting motorcycle stood off to one side, choked with weeds -- David Koresh's? We couldn't say, because our only company was a friendly dog and a lot of grasshoppers.

The surviving Koreshians have erected monuments to everyone who died, to eliminate any lingering animosity. Across the dirt road from the trees is a memorial to the ATF officers who were killed in the February 28, 1993 raid, which kicked off the 51 day siege and the eventual storming of the compound. And there's another monument to the people who died in the Oklahoma City bombing, two years to the day after the massacre at Mount Carmel.

According to John Anderson, who we encountered at his House Of Horrors attraction north of town, "Some folks believe Oklahoma City happened because of Waco." He also told us that the current Branch Davidian leader, Charles Pace, runs the local health food store, and that the Branch Davidians are "very peaceful people." This may be true, but we were getting this information from a guy who runs an attraction with a giant, laughing skull on the side of its building.

Pace has organized about a dozen surviving Davidians into a new church: The Branch, The Lord Our Righteousness. For years he has been trying to turn the massacre site into a visitor destination, with an amphitheater, a biblical petting zoo, a museum and gift shop, a wellness center, a deli, an organic farm, and a model of the tabernacle that housed the Ten Commandments. The intent has always been to de-emphasize the massacre. All parties seem to want very much to forget about the whole thing.

Waco Survivors Still Believe Cult's Teachings 25 Years After Deadly Siege: 'I Should Have Died, Too&rsquo

Twenty five years after the little-known Branch Davidian cult leapt into the headlines after a deadly siege on its compound outside of Waco, Texas, sect survivors leave little doubt in a new documentary that they were willing to die for their leader, David Koresh.

“I think the FBI never tried to understand our beliefs,” surviving Branch Davidian Kat Schroeder, who was one of Koresh’s numerous wives and the only female member to be charged and imprisoned after the siege, says in an exclusive clip from the A&E documentary special Waco: Madman or Messiah.

The run-up to the siege and its deadly outcome are examined in the two-part, four-hour special that premieres Sunday and Monday, Jan. 28 and 29 (9 to 11 p.m. ET) on A&E.

“I think the FBI tried to figure out what tactic they could use against a group of people that they thought were crazy,” Schroeder says. “They didn’t have any idea that everyone in that building had complete and utter devotion to doing God’s will over man’s will. And that meant we were not coming out.”

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Koresh, born Vernon Wayne Howell, had gathered his followers at the compound they called Mount Carmel, which then attracted the attention of federal authorities who suspected the group’s members of weapons violations.

In February of 1993, those authorities attempted to raid the compound, with a clash of gunfire that left four government agents and six Branch Davidians dead.

The incident drew instant attention to what would be labeled and dissected as a debacle of federal law enforcement actions. The resulting 51-day standoff between cult members led by Koresh, 33, and the FBI and ATF ended on April 19, 1993, when the FBI launched an assault and initiated a tear gas attack on the compound.

The resulting fire that destroyed the compound led to the deaths of another 76 Branch Davidians, including Koresh himself. Among the victims were 23 children.

One of nine surviving Branch Davidians interviewed in the documentary, Livingstone Fagan, lost both his wife and his mother in the fire.

“Here you are in a situation where, under the Constitution of the United States, you’re free to practice your religion, and the very people that are supposed to defend you are the ones that are attacking you,” he says in the documentary. “Who defends you?”

Survivor Kat Schoeder says: “Watching everybody you know die when you know that dying is the right thing to do is actually a good thing. I should have died, too.”

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The documentary pulls from 247 tapes of FBI negotiations to offer a close look at Koresh, who joined the splinter group of the Seventh Day Adventists and proclaimed himself a prophet and the group’s leader. His control over cult members included both physical and sexual abuse, and he shared with his followers an apocalyptic vision: He told them the end of the world was imminent — and he prophesied the attack by the government as it ultimately unfolded.

Federal agents interviewed along with nine Branch Davidian survivors in the documentary also recall events from their perspective. High-profile federal inquiries and inconsistent disclosures in the aftermath would come to feed a distrust of government among far-right movements.

Local media had been tipped off to the raid on the morning it was scheduled, McLenna County Sheriff Parnell McNamara says in the documentary.

Heather Burson, another Branch Davidian, says of that morning: 𠇊 news person got lost and had asked my dad if they knew where Mount Carmel was and told him what they were doing, and that was when my dad went straight to Mount Carmel and told David and warned everybody about it.”

A member of the ATF raid team, Keith Constantino, recalls: “The Branch Davidians knew we were coming, but we were told ‘hurry up, we’re going.’ If the element of surprise was the paramount factor, the mission should have been aborted.”

Noesner was only involved in the first 25 days of the standoff.

Although the series makes it appear as though the FBI agent was involved with the siege the entire time, it turns out that wasn't true. According to a 2018 interview with Time, Noesner was removed from the case 25 days into the standoff because other members of the FBI thought of him as an &ldquoimpediment to those who wanted to take a more aggressive role.&rdquo Noesner also pointed out that the agency called him into headquarters on the final day to watch the tragedy on the monitors. &ldquoI watched the fire,&rdquo he told Time. &ldquoI got angry and walked out. I got more angry than I had ever been in my life.&rdquo


For the next 51 days, a dramatic standoff played out on television and in news headlines across the world. Audiences watched live as sect followers unfurled sheets scrawled with defiant messages and federal agents held news conferences condemning them.

On April 19, 1993, federal agents raided the chapel, using tanks and teargas. The sect followers fought back and a huge blaze erupted, destroying the building.

Doyle escaped but his teenage daughter died in the fire. At the end of siege, investigators found 76 sect members dead - 18 of whom were later determined to have been killed by gunshots. Koresh, 33 at the time, was found with a gunshot to his forehead.

In all, 82 sect members, including 23 children, and four federal agents died at Waco.

The official stand of the U.S. government remains that Koresh was a danger and needed to be taken down.

“Responsibility for the tragedy at Waco rests with certain of the Branch Davidians and their leader, David Koresh, who shot and killed four (federal) agents, wounded 20 others, shot at FBI agents trying to insert tear gas into the complex, burned down the complex and shot at least 20 of their own people, including five children,” said the final report of a special counsel investigating the tragedy.

The stunning event touched off resentment toward government power. Many people believe there was a government cover-up. They are still writing books, making movies and commenting on the saga.

“What I fear is those kinds of events are going to be repeated, because people are (angry) and they are going to resist all of this Obama gun control craziness, and they’ll resist in different ways,” said filmmaker Mike McNulty, referring to President Barack Obama’s gun control proposals.

McNulty’s “Waco: Rules of Engagement” documentary, along with follow-ups “A New Revelation” and “The FLIR Project,” became a touchstone for critics of the government’s actions.

The symposium and the endless media interviews Doyle has done in the months leading up to the anniversary are a way to keep the event in the public mind, Doyle said.

Doyle still holds Bible study with some survivors on Saturdays, and has become the unofficial spokesman of the group. He wrote a book about his life, released in September 2012, called “A Journey to Waco: Autobiography of a Branch Davidian.”

He hopes to be an inspiration for a new generation, who were not born yet when the siege happened, to question authority.

“What happened to us is one of the biggest things in the history of this country. People need to know about it because all of us go around with our head in the sand,” Doyle said.

Survivors of 1993 Waco siege describe what happened in fire that ended the 51-day standoff

— -- When the sun rose on April 19, 1993, it marked the 51st day of a standoff between dozens of federal agents and members of an apocalyptic religious sect called the Branch Davidians, who had barricaded themselves in their compound outside Waco, Texas.

“Nothing about April 19th started normal, nothing,” said Waco survivor and former Branch Davidian member David Thibodeau. “It was windy.”

The winds were as high as 30 to 35 miles per hour that morning, said FBI agent Jeff Allovio, so strong that it was hard to hear anything outside of his vehicle.

Mary Garofalo, a journalist who covered the events at Waco for the news program, “A Current Affair,” said she thought it was just going to be like any other day in the past weeks of the standoff.

“Except this time, when I looked through the binoculars. I saw a tank with an extended arm,” she said. “Then we realized they were going in.”

Watch "Truth and Lies: Waco," the documentary event, on Thursday, Jan. 4 at 9 p.m. ET on ABC

The siege began on Feb. 28, 1993, when 76 agents from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms arrived at the Mount Carmel Center compound with a search warrant to look for illegal weapons. A shootout between federal agents and Branch Davidians ensued, killing four ATF agents and six Davidians.

“Everyone thinks that we’re monsters, that we attacked innocent people,” said ATF agent Robert Elder. “We didn’t drive up there and start shooting and killing people. We responded with deadly force because deadly force was used against us.”

It led to a 51-day standoff with FBI negotiators making several attempts to reach a peaceful outcome with the sect’s leader David Koresh, especially for the release of the 46 children inside the compound.

The Branch Davidians had stockpiled food, water, firearms and gas masks for weeks. Within the first five days, 21 children were released and taken to Methodist Children’s Home in Waco.

Psychiatrist Bruce Perry, who volunteered to help counsel the children, told ABC News that it was immediately clear that the children were afraid. He said their resting heart rates were twice as high as expected for a normal child.

“While we watched them, we learned a lot about the belief system of the Davidians,” Perry said. “One of the things that all of these kids had learned to do, even the really young kids, was march and handle a gun.”

Former Davidian Joann Vaega, 6 years old at the time, was one of the children released early in the standoff. Once she was on the outside, she said, “Everything was different.”

“Trying to understand what it’s like to take a bath just seemed very scary to me, flushing toilets scared the bejeebers out of me,” Vaega continued. “I had no idea what the heck a basketball was.”

Former Davidian David Bunds said Koresh wouldn’t let his own children go. Believing himself to be the next messiah, Bunds said Koresh saw his children as “special” because they were “born from the message of God.”

On April 19, 1993, federal agents decided to make their move. An FBI agent got on the loudspeaker and told Koresh that this was his final chance to surrender. Then, agents began moving towards the compound with modified tanks and firing tear gas.

“The tank came into the front doors, the two double doors… and they just blew everything back,” said Thibodeau, who was inside the compound when the agents stormed in. “It was amazing to see a tank come through your living room.”

“There were no gas masks for the children so the parents were soaking towels in buckets of water,” said Clive Doyle, another Davidian inside during the siege.

Around 12 p.m., four hours into the tear gas operation, a set of fires broke out within the compound. The fire moved quickly engulfing everything in flames.

Davidians can be heard discussing “the lighting of fires” in bugging devices that the FBI had smuggled inside. An overhead aerial infrared camera shows the fire starting simultaneously in three different locations and a Congressional investigation concluded that Koresh and his followers set the fire themselves.

Despite this evidence, speculation over whether federal agents or the Davidians are responsible for the fire continues. Conspiracy theorists are likely spurred on by government missteps during the raid and the subsequent standoff. Thibodeau and others are still adamant that the fault remains with the FBI.

Bunds believed Koresh had started it on purpose to be “in control” of the situation, but Doyle said he didn’t see where the fire was started.

“[I] didn’t see where it started or who lit it or didn’t light it, whether it was an accident, whether it was deliberate,” Dolye said. “David had told the mothers to take all the children into the vault, which was the bottom part of the four-story tower.”

Davidians had a bunker that they practiced going into, Vaega said, “in the event that the end of the world were coming.”

The remains of 18 children and nine women were later found inside this bunker vault. The majority had died of smoke inhalation.

Those inside say the tanks destroyed the interior staircases, trapping many on the second floor. David Thibodeau says he barely escaped.

“The wall started to catch fire and I could feel the heat,” Thibodeau said. “It singed the side of my face… I could hear my hair crackle.”

As the fire closed in, both Doyle and Thibodeau said they ran to escape the swirling inferno, jumping through a hole ripped open in the building by one of the government tanks.

“I could hear some of the ones that were further back into the building behind me screaming,” Doyle said. “I thought, ‘Nobody's getting out of there now.’”

In the end, about 80 people, including more than 20 children, died in the fire. Only nine people survived.

After the fire was put out, federal agents combed the scene and found Koresh’s body. Bob Ricks, one of the FBI's Assistant Special Agents in Charge, told ABC News that “Koresh had a bullet wound right in his forehead which came from a rifle.”

But for many of the agents, when it comes to the tragedy now known as the Waco massacre, it’s the children’s deaths they think about most.

“These children, they’re innocent, they don’t know,” Robert Elder said. “These children being killed, that didn’t have to happen. David Koresh is the cause of why it all happened.”