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1993 - Cult Compound in Waco, Texas Raided


Branch Davidian Compound Outside Waco

Edna Doyle, 85, stands on what is left of the Branch Davidian compound outside Waco, Texas, March 14, 2000. The compound stands as it was left after the final raid by federal agents on April 19, 1993. In the background is a new church being built on the site. Doyle had lived with the Branch Davidians since 1976 and had known David Koresh for 10 years before he died in the fire at the compound. The surviving members of the Branch Davidians and relatives of those who died claim that the federal agents shot at sect members, preventing their escape. The judge in the case has ordered a resentment to be held on March 19, 2000 at Fort Hood, Texas, to see if flashes seen from an FBI Nightstalker airplane infrared video are from gunfire, which may have caused the fire.

Joe Raedle / Staff/ Hulton Archives/ Getty Images

Cult Compound in Waco, Texas Raided (1993): After hearing reports that Branch Davidian cult leader David Koresh had been abusing children and amassing a store of weapons, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) gathered resources and planned to raid the Branch Davidian compound, known as the Mount Carmel Center located just outside of Waco, Texas. With a warrant to search for illegal firearms in hand, the ATF attempted to storm the compound on February 28, 1993.

A gunfight ensued (debate continues over which side fired the first shot). The shooting lasted nearly two hours, leaving four ATF agents and five Branch Davidians dead.

For 51 days, the ATF and the FBI waited outside the compound, using negotiators to try to end the stand-off peacefully. (There has been much criticism as to how the government handled the negotiations.)

Although a number of children and a few adults were released during this period, 84 men, women, and children stayed in the compound.

On April 19, 1993, the ATF and FBI attempted to end the siege by using a form of tear gas (called CS gas), a decision approved by US Attorney General Janet Reno. Early in the morning, specialized tank-like vehicles (Combat Engineering Vehicles) punctured holes in the compound's walls and inserted CS gas. The government was hoping that the gas would safely push the Branch Davidians out of the compound.

In response to the gas, the Branch Davidians shot back. Just after noon, the wooden compound caught on fire.

While nine people escaped the blaze, 75 perished either by gunshot or by fire inside the compound. Twenty-five of the dead were children. Koresh was also found dead, from a gunshot wound to the head.

Nearly immediately, questions were raised as to how the fire was started and who was responsible.

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