Waco Massacre and the FBI – 30 years ago


David Koresh wasn’t even his real name. Born Vernon Wayne Howell in Houston, Texas, to a 15-year-old unwed mother, he was raised by his grandparents. Vernon was given the nickname “Mr. Retardo” in school because of his dyslexia.

Obsessed with rock and roll music, Vernon moved to Hollywood in hopes of becoming a rock star. He actually recorded an album, but without any success. Reportedly he was also obsessed with girls and tried to attract groupies there. The Los Angeles Times reported he had several underage wives. So when his music career didn’t pan out, he moved back to Texas. Waco to be exact, home of the original Branch Davidian group.


Still going by his birth name, Vernon joined the Branch Dividians at age 22. He had an affair with the group’s leader, Lois Roden, who was in her 60s. Vernon tried to seize control of the group and the Mount Carmel Center from Lois’ son George Roden after her death. George and Vernon fought, literally, for control. Vernon shot George in the chest and was tried for attempted murder in 1988, but was released following a mistrial.

Shortly thereafter, Roden was confronted by a fellow Davidian named Wayman Dale Adair about Roden’s claims of being God’s chosen messiah. Roden killed Adair with an ax and was found guilty under an insanity defense. Roden was committed to a mental institution, which is when Howell raised enough money to pay off back taxes on the Mount Carmel property in Waco, finally gaining legal control.

On August 5, 1989, Vernon released an audiotape saying God told him to procreate with women in the group to re-establish a “House of David.” He separated the husbands, who were to remain celibate, while he had sexual relations with the wives. In 1990, Vernon Wayne Howell legally petitioned the court to change his name to David Koresh for “publicity and business purposes.” Koresh is Hebrew for “cultivator” or “farsighted.”

Fast forward to 1993. Mark England and Darlene McCormick began publishing a series of articles in the Waco Tribune-Herald alleging physical and sexual abuse of children by David Koresh. The articles claimed Koresh said he was entitled to at least 140 wives, that some of his wives were 12 or 13 years old, and that he had fathered at least a dozen children.


Koresh and his followers were also suspected of stockpiling illegal weapons. McLennan County Sheriff’s Department called the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (ATF) in May 1992. Initial contact was based on a UPS driver’s report that a broken package revealed hand grenades. Subsequent reports showed other explosives and weapons were delivered to the compound.

ATF opened an investigation after reports that automatic gunfire were heard and they began surveillance of the Branch Davidians at the Mount Carmel compound in June. Search and arrest warrants for Koresh and specific members of the Branch Davidians were obtained in February 1993. Assistance was requested from DEA and DOD, citing a drug connection based on deliveries of “chemicals, instruments, and glassware” used in operating a meth lab.

The ATF’s attempt to execute a surprise search warrant on February 28, 1993, was thwarted after a local reporter tipped off a post office employee, who was Koresh’s brother-in-law. With their cover blown, ATF agents retreated. Gunfire was heard, but there’s a controversy as to where the shots originated, and from whom.


AFT agents attempted to breach the compound, at which time several agents and Branch Davidian members were killed or wounded. The ensuing shootout lasted two hours. Although ATF subsequently established contact with Koresh, the FBI took control because of the deaths of federal agents.

Over the course of the next 51 days, a group of 25 FBI negotiators communicated with Koresh. Early on, negotiators managed to secure the release of 19 children, ages 5 months to 12 years. Telephone conversations and videos taken by Koresh from inside the compound confirmed the sexual abuse of minor children in the compound.

Water and power were eventually shut off. Negotiations broke down. Newly appointed Attorney General Janet Reno approved the recommendations by the FBI Hostage Rescue Team to mount an assault because of deteriorating condition in the compound.


The final assault started at 5:50 am on April 19, 1993, and escalated throughout the day. Images of the burning compound were broadcast around the world. Debate continues as to whether the explosions and fires in the compound were the result of the assault or if they were initiated by the members themselves.

Only nine people escaped the building. In all, 76 men, women, and children died. Autopsies revealed that at least 20 of the Branch Davidians were shot, including Koresh, either by suicide or execution. Found inside the compound were a cache of 305 weapons (including AK-47 and AR-15 automatic rifles), 100-round magazines, grenade launchers, bullet-proof vests, gas masks, chemical warfare suits, and other items.


Finger-pointing, accusations of excessive use of force, review of tactics, trials of Branch Davidian survivors, and lawsuits (criminal and civil) continued for years.

In September 1999, four and a half years after the Oklahoma City bombing (also on April 19th), Attorney Janet Reno appointed former Senator John C. Danforth as Special Counsel to investigate charges against government agent’s involvement in the Branch Davidian’s Mount Carmel compound fire in Waco. After interviewing over 1,000 witnesses and reviewing over 2 million pages of documents, Special Council Danforth released the final report in November 2000.

Although the report concluded the allegation against the FBI were meritless, the report found that certain government employees failed to disclose the use of pyrotechnic devices at the compound and obstructed the Special Counsel’s investigation. Disciplinary action was pursued against those individuals.

Thirty years later, one has to wonder if the seeds were sewn in Waco for a government agency that today feels it has a license to act outside the realm of established protocols and human decency.

Image from: PBS

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11 months ago

The result of WACO was Timothy McVeigh bombing the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in downtown Oklahoma City killing over 160 people. Basically, the Government was responsible for the worst act of homegrown terrorism in the nation’s history.

The Prisoner
The Prisoner
1 year ago

The DOJ botched the operation.The ATF military assault was far too aggressive. They could have arrested the leaders outside the compound ahead of time. Koresh had indicated he was willing to talk to them. Why would a reporter be tipped off, other than to cause a confrontation? Why would they raid a compound which was heavily armed and expose themselves to direct gunfire?

After the ATF took the hit, the FBI stepped in because Reno was in charge of them too. We then had a long episode. The FBI put out many lies, such as Koresh was abusing babies. They used psychological conditioning such as blasting recordings of animals being killed in the middle of the night. Turning off the utilities caused the compound to use fires for heat, The FBI then introduced a flammable substance into the compound. After the fire the FBI put out stories that the people had burned themselves to death.

I recall when WJC got off a plane and was asked about the fire he said you will have to ask Janet Reno.