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Context of '12:00 p.m. February 28, 1993: FBI Surrounds Davidian Compound after Botched Raid'

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BATF agents surround the Branch Davidian compound in the first minutes of the raid.BATF agents surround the Branch Davidian compound in the first minutes of the raid. [Source: Associated Press]Agents of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (BATF, sometimes abbreviated ATF) prepare to serve arrest and search warrants against members of the Branch Davidian religious sect, housed in a compound they call Mt. Carmel, on a hill just outside Waco, Texas (see November 1992 - January 1993). The Branch Davidians are a Christian group currently led by David Koresh (see November 3, 1987 and After), who is the prime focus of the arrest and search warrants. Koresh and the Davidians are known to have large stashes of firearms, many of which authorities suspect are illegal to own by US citizens—automatic rifles, machine guns, and the like. Koresh has preached that the End Times, or Apocalypse, will begin sometime around 1995, and the Davidians must arm themselves to prepare for the coming conflict. As a result, Koresh and a number of Davidians have been amassing weapons since 1991, along with gas masks, bulletproof vests, and military-issue MREs, or “meals ready to eat.” [Dean M. Kelley, 5/1995; US Department of Justice, 7/16/1995; PBS Frontline, 10/1995; PBS Frontline, 10/1995]
Large-Scale Raid Launched - After four days of preparation (see February 24-27, 1993), the BATF forces close on the compound: some 80 government vehicles, including two covered cattle trailers containing 70 BATF agents in full SWAT gear, reach the staging area near the compound by 7:30 a.m. Two or perhaps three Texas National Guard helicopters are deployed. [New York Times, 3/27/1993; Dean M. Kelley, 5/1995; Austin Chronicle, 6/23/2000] The raid was originally planned for March 1, but was moved forward when the Waco Tribune-Herald began publishing its “Sinful Messiah” series about Koresh (see February 27 - March 3, 1993). BATF spokesman John Killorin will later say the BATF feared the cult might become more alert to the possibility of a raid once the series started. Tribune-Herald editor Bob Lott will say that the newspaper alerted federal authorities the day before the first installment ran, giving the BATF a chance to review its raid plans. [New York Times, 3/27/1993]
Davidians Alerted - A local news reporter’s discussion with a US postal official inadvertently “tips off” the Davidians to the impending raid (see Before 9:45 a.m. February 28, 1993).
BATF Decides Element of Surprise Unnecessary - Koresh is visibly agitated at the news of the impending raid; he tells Robert Rodriguez, whom many Davidians correctly suspect to be a BATF undercover agent (see January 11, 1993 and After): “Neither the ATF nor the National Guard will ever get me. They got me once, and they’ll never get me again.” Looking out of a window, he adds: “They’re coming, Robert, they’re coming.… The time has come.” Fearing that he will be caught on the premises when the raid begins, Rodriguez makes an excuse and hurriedly leaves. Once off the grounds, he alerts the BATF raid commanders that Koresh knows the agents are on their way. Rodriguez reports via telephone to his immediate superior, BATF tactical coordinator Charles Sarabyn, who relays word to Philip Chojnacki, the agent in charge of the raid. The commanders ask if Rodriguez has seen any signs of alarm or guns being distributed. Rodriguez says he has not, though he tells them that Koresh is so agitated that he is having trouble speaking and holding on to his Bible. According to a Treasury Department report (see Late September - October 1993): “Sarabyn expressed his belief that the raid could still be executed successfully if they hurried. Chojnacki responded, ‘Let’s go.’ A number of agents informed the Treasury investigative panel that Sarabyn said things like, ‘Get ready to go; they know we are coming.’” Chojnacki and Sarabyn decide to rush the raid, hoping to deploy before the Davidians are mobilized. [Newsweek, 5/3/1993; Dallas Morning News, 8/28/1993; Time, 10/11/1993; Dean M. Kelley, 5/1995; House Committee on Government Reform and Oversight, 8/2/1996] Rodriguez will testify that he attempts to find Sarabyn and appraise him of his fears that the Davidians are preparing to resist with violence, but will say that by the time he arrives at the BATF command post, on the Texas State Technical College campus, Sarabyn and his companions have already departed. Rodriguez will testify: “At that time, I started yelling and I said: ‘Why, why, why? They know we’re coming, they know we’re coming.‘… [E]verything was very quiet, very quiet, and if I remember right, everybody was really concerned. I went outside and I sat down and I remember starting to cry.” Sarabyn and Chojnacki will later testify that while they understood Rodriguez’s fears, neither of them believe Koresh is aware of the impending raid; testimony from Rodriguez and another BATF agent, Roger Ballesteros, will contradict their claims. [House Committee on Government Reform and Oversight, 8/2/1996] A Los Angeles Times report later makes a similar claim, apparently based on Rodriguez’s recollections; the BATF will deny that report entirely. A Waco Tribune-Herald article later reports that just before the raid, a voice comes over BATF radios saying: “There no guns in the windows. Tell them it’s a go.” Two weeks after the raid, Newsweek will incorrectly report that Rodriguez, whom the article does not identify, “apparently thought little of the call [alerting Koresh of the impending raid] at the time,” left the compound, and reported an “all clear” to his colleagues. [Newsweek, 3/15/1993] Other reports have Davidians telling one another, “The Assyrians are coming,” and making preparations to resist an assault. [Newsweek, 5/3/1993] In 1996, a Congressional investigation will find that Chojnacki and Sarabyn’s decision to go ahead with the raid even though the element of surprise had been lost was a “reckless” error: “This, more than any other factor, led to the deaths of the four ATF agents killed on February 28” (see August 2, 1996). [House Committee on Government Reform and Oversight, 8/2/1996]
Davidians Resist - The Davidians successfully resist the raid (see 9:30 A.M. and After, February 28, 1993), in the process killing four BATF agents (see 11:00 A.M. and After, February 28, 1993) and bringing about a standoff between themselves and the FBI (see 12:00 p.m. February 28, 1993).

Entity Tags: Charles Sarabyn, Texas National Guard, John Killorin, Philip Chojnacki, Branch Davidians, David Koresh, Waco Tribune-Herald, Texas State Technical College, Bob Lott, Robert Rodriguez, US Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives

Timeline Tags: 1993 Branch Davidian Crisis

A cease-fire ends a violent, bloody conflict between the Branch Davidians, a group of religious separatists in their Waco, Texas, compound, and agents from the Bureau of Tobacco, Alcohol and Firearms (BATF, sometimes abbreviated ATF), who launched a raid on the compound to serve search and arrest warrants on Davidian leader David Koresh (see 5:00 A.M. - 9:30 A.M. February 28, 1993 and 9:30 A.M. and After, February 28, 1993). The cease-fire goes into effect after about 90 minutes of the two sides exchanging gunfire. Four BATF agents are dead and 16 are wounded, some severely. The agents retreat to a safe distance, where they mill around aimlessly; the commanders have not given the agents a plan for retreat or failure. The Davidians also withdraw inside their compound. Five Davidians, including a woman nursing her baby, are dead, and several, including Koresh, are wounded; Koresh suffers gunshot wounds in the hand and the side. (Two of the Davidians may have been killed by their fellows after being gravely wounded by BATF fire.) Three Davidians attempting to get to the main building from a warehouse on the property are apprehended by BATF agents; one is killed, one is arrested, and one escapes. In total, six Davidians are killed. [Dean M. Kelley, 5/1995; PBS Frontline, 10/1995; House Committee on Government Reform and Oversight, 8/2/1996]
Media Contacts - During the raid, CNN receives calls from Davidian Steve Schneider. CNN producers verify that Schneider is indeed inside the compound, and set up an interview with Koresh for this evening (see 5:00 p.m. February 28, 1993 and After). [New York Times, 3/1/1993]
Negotiations and Implementation - The cease-fire takes some time to implement. Senior BATF agent James Cavanaugh succeeds in convincing Koresh and Schneider to agree to a cease-fire. Schneider has to walk through the main building to tell his people to stop firing; Cavanaugh has no direct radio link to his agents, and has to go through team leaders to tell them to stop firing. The cease-fire has been agreed upon for several minutes before the shooting finally concludes. As part of a 1996 House investigation of the Davidian debacle (see August 2, 1996), Cavanaugh will say: “I called the compound directly on the phone from the undercover house. I reached… Schneider. I told him I was an ATF agent and I wanted to talk to him about this situation. As should be expected, the activity inside the compound was very frantic, people were screaming and yelling, and there was still shooting going on both sides. Steve was very excited and very hostile. I wanted to negotiate a cease-fire, and he [Schneider] was agreeable. I am not going to be good on the time of how long it took, but it took a little while to negotiate that. He had to go throughout the compound, which is very large, telling everyone not to shoot. While he was doing this, there was still shooting going on both sides. I had to get on the command net frequency and tell the commanders on the ground there not to shoot, and they had to relay that to all 100 agents, who were around there, so it took a little time to arrange it. Once I returned to the rear command post I called back in on the telephone to the residence about 2:00 p.m. and I spoke with Steve and David Koresh about what was going on. We had long conversations about the warrant, and we also had a lot of conversations about Biblical passages and Mr. Koresh’s belief that he was the Lamb of God, who would open the Seven Seals. As you might assume, he was very hostile, very angry, and very upset.” [House Committee on Government Reform and Oversight, 8/2/1996] In the following days, Koresh will tell local reporters by phone that he is shot in the “gut” and his two-year-old daughter is dead from BATF gunfire. He will also leave a message on his mother’s answering machine in Chandler, Texas, which says in part: “Hello, Mama. It’s your boy.… They shot me and I’m dying, all right? But I’ll be back real soon, OK? I’ll see y’all in the skies.” [Newsweek, 3/15/1993] The body of the Davidian slain while trying to return to the compound, Michael Schroeder, will lie untouched in a gully for four days before authorities retrieve it; those authorities will wait 11 days before informing Schroeder’s parents of his death (see March 11, 1993).
Death Toll - The four BATF agents slain in the raid are: Conway LeBleu, Todd McKeehan, Robert Williams, and Steve Willis. The six Davidians slain in the raid are Schroeder, Winston Blake, Peter Gent, Peter Hipsman, Perry Jones, and Jaydean Wendell. [Dallas Morning News, 2/27/2003] (Initial reports of the death toll inside the Davidian compound range from seven to 15; those reports are later determined to be wrong.) [New York Times, 3/3/1993]
FBI Takes Control - Within hours of the raid’s conclusion, the FBI will take control of the situation and besiege the compound (see 12:00 p.m. February 28, 1993).
Criticism of BATF Tactics - Soon after, the FBI publicly criticizes the BATF’s decision to storm the compound in a frontal assault. “It’s against our doctrine to do a frontal assault when women and children are present,” one FBI agent says. BATF spokeswoman Sharon Wheeler explains: “We were outgunned. They had bigger firearms than we did.” But former New York City Police Commissioner Benjamin Ward says of that explanation: “‘Outgunned’ is a euphemism for ‘outplanned,’ or ‘unplanned.’ They did it backwards. The accepted way is to talk first and shoot second.” Vic Feazell, a former district attorney for the area, says of Koresh and the Davidians, “They’re peaceful and nonaggressive unless they are attacked.” By going in, guns blazing, the BATF played right into the group’s apocalyptic vision, he says. “They would see this as a holy war provoked by an oppressive government.” [Newsweek, 3/15/1993]
Standoff Will End in Fiery Conflagration - Most of the Davidians, including Koresh, will die in a fiery conflagration after a 51-day standoff with FBI agents (see April 19, 1993). After the site is secured, Texas law enforcement officials will recover over 300 firearms from the compound, as well as numerous live grenades, grenade components, and hundreds of thousands of rounds of ammunition. [US Department of Justice, 7/16/1995; PBS Frontline, 10/1995]

Entity Tags: Peter Hipsman, Sharon Wheeler, Robert Williams, Steve Schneider, Vic Feazell, Todd McKeehan, Steve Willis, Winston Blake, Peter Gent, Perry Jones, US Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, Jaydean Wendel, Benjamin Ward, CNN, Conway LeBleu, Branch Davidians, Federal Bureau of Investigation, David Koresh, Michael Schroeder, James Cavanaugh

Timeline Tags: 1993 Branch Davidian Crisis

FBI agent in charge Jeffrey Jamar.FBI agent in charge Jeffrey Jamar. [Source: PBS]The FBI dispatches agents to the Branch Davidian compound outside Waco, Texas, the scene of a bloody standoff this morning between the Davidian sect members and a large force of agents from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (BATF), which resulted in the deaths of four BATF agents and six Davidians (see 5:00 A.M. - 9:30 A.M. February 28, 1993). By the afternoon, the FBI becomes the lead agency for resolving the standoff. [PBS Frontline, 10/1995] Jeffrey Jamar, head of the FBI’s San Antonio office, is named the on-site commander. The bureau quickly deploys its own agents, and local law enforcement officials, around the compound to ensure no one tries to escape. The deployment quickly becomes an all-out siege. [PBS Frontline, 10/1995] President Clinton was reportedly angered at reports of the botched raid. His chief of staff, Mack McLarty, demanded of a senior Justice Department official, “What the hell happened here?” The order to replace the BATF with the FBI came from Clinton. [Newsweek, 3/15/1993] FBI Hostage Rescue Team (HRT) personnel are in place by the afternoon, and hostage negotiators spend much of the afternoon talking on the telephone with Koresh. Some bring Bibles, later telling reporters: “This guy’s a Bible-citing machine. We have to speak his language.” As part of the negotiations to persuade Koresh to allow some of the sect members to leave safely, Koresh will be allowed to broadcast his religious teachings on a local radio station (see March 2, 1993) and to give an interview to a CNN reporter (see 5:00 p.m. February 28, 1993 and After). Texas Rangers attempt to begin their own investigation, but are barred by the FBI from continuing. Clinton closely follows the events as they progress. [Newsweek, 3/15/1993; PBS Frontline, 10/1995; PBS Frontline, 10/1995]

Entity Tags: Branch Davidians, David Koresh, FBI Hostage Rescue Team, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Mack McLarty, William Jefferson (“Bill”) Clinton, Texas Rangers, US Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, Vic Feazell, Jeffrey Jamar

Timeline Tags: 1993 Branch Davidian Crisis

The evening after the failed raid on the Branch Davidian compound near Waco, Texas (see 5:00 A.M. - 9:30 A.M. February 28, 1993), Davidian leader David Koresh gives three interviews: two with Dallas radio station KRLD and a nationally broadcast telephone interview on CNN. [New York Times, 3/1/1993; Moore, 1995] The interviews follow a demand from Koresh that KRLD broadcast a statement saying that federal agents are holding their fire and will not attack further, a demand that was granted. [US Department of Justice, 10/8/1993] During one of the radio interviews, he says, “All that is happening here is the fulfillment of prophecy!” In the CNN interview, he tells viewers: “If the scholars of this world, if anybody, ministers that claim that God talks to them, will contact me, and I hope it’s soon. If they’ll call me and show the world what the Seven Seals are and where they’re at in the prophecies, then I’ll be satisfied. And then we’ll all come out to you.” Koresh promises to begin releasing children “two by two” if his religious message is broadcast over Dallas radio station KRLD (see March 1, 1993). The CNN interview lasts about 20 minutes, and is rebroadcast periodically throughout the night. The same evening, the syndicated television show A Current Affair conducts a telephone interview with Koresh, and broadcasts it the evening of March 1. The Current Affair program also reports a threat from Koresh’s aide Steve Schneider, who says if federal agents attempt to conduct a second raid, the Davidians will again fire on them. In 1995, author Carol Moore will explain that Koresh and some Davidians believe that the raid on their compound comprises the opening of the Fifth Seal of the Book of Revelation, one of the so-called “Seven Seals” that must be breached for the Apocalypse to begin, and that they are living the events predicted in that seal. Koresh and his most devoted followers believe that the Davidians killed during the raid were slaughtered for “preaching God’s word” and the surviving Davidians only would have to “rest a little longer” until the “remainder” also were put to death. “Thus would begin the countdown to the Apocalypse and the Second Coming of Christ,” she will write. “Davidians believed that the siege was a God-given opportunity to spread Koresh’s message to the world and that humanity was being given its last opportunity to hear God’s word and repent.” [New York Times, 3/1/1993; US Department of Justice, 10/8/1993; Moore, 1995] Koresh tells telephone interviewers that he has been shot in the stomach and is bleeding badly. But, the New York Times will report, during his Tuesday audio broadcast (see March 2, 1993), “his voice sounded strong and firm.” [New York Times, 3/1/1993] Former Davidian Marc Breault tells the Waco Tribune-Herald that Koresh might be indulging in what he calls a “bit of theatrics” with his claim of being wounded. “Vernon [Howell, Koresh’s given name] was always saying he was sick and near death,” Breault says. “He’s real big on stomach sickness. He always complained about his stomach, saying he was in pain because of the people’s sins.” [New York Times, 3/2/1993]

Entity Tags: Marc Breault, David Koresh, Carol Moore, Branch Davidians, CNN, KRLD-TV

Timeline Tags: 1993 Branch Davidian Crisis

Sheriff James Harwell. The FBI allows him to negotiate with the Davidians, but only for a brief period.Sheriff James Harwell. The FBI allows him to negotiate with the Davidians, but only for a brief period. [Source: PBS]President Clinton gives his implicit endorsement for a negotiated solution to the standoff between federal agents and the Branch Davidian sect members near Waco (see 5:00 A.M. - 9:30 A.M. February 28, 1993 and 12:00 p.m. February 28, 1993). By 6:00 a.m., the FBI has assumed formal control of the situation. FBI agents set up a fully functioning command post by the afternoon, and FBI agents in armored vehicles surround the compound. FBI Special Agent in Charge Jeffrey Jamar, named site commander, arrives to take charge. Daniel Hartnett, the associate director of enforcement for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (BATF) also arrives. The Davidians allow 10 children to leave the compound, apparently as a result of intense hostage negotiations between the Davidians and the FBI’s Hostage Rescue Team (HRT) personnel, who have just arrived on-scene. Deputy Treasury Secretary Roger Altman goes to Waco and meets with BATF agent Bill Buford. Davidian leader David Koresh becomes agitated when he sees the vehicles moving in; he is further angered when he learns that the FBI has blocked all incoming and outgoing telephone calls except for communications between him and the negotiators. Koresh assures the negotiatiors that his Davidians are not contemplating mass suicide. FBI Director William Sessions advises Clinton that a “waiting strategy” to handle the situation is best, and Clinton agrees. [Moore, 1995; PBS Frontline, 10/1995; House Committee on Government Reform and Oversight, 8/2/1996] Some of the agents who surround the compound have black ribbons on their identification badges to memorialize the four BATF agents slain during the raid. [New York Times, 3/3/1993]
Supplies and Surveillance - Starting today and for weeks to follow, FBI negotiators will provide the besieged Davidians with some requested items, including food and supplies for the children. In some of these provisions, FBI agents insert listening devices, which give the agents a limited amount of knowledge as to topics being discussed among the Davidians. [Dean M. Kelley, 5/1995]
Negotiations - The FBI chooses not to retain the services of BATF agent James Cavanaugh, who successfully negotiated the cease-fire between the BATF and the Davidians; Cavanaugh has already gained a measure of trust from Koresh and his aide Steve Schneider, and had successfully convinced the two to let some children leave the compound. The FBI does allow McLennan County Sheriff Jack Harwell to speak with the Davidians, as the Davidians know him and trust him to an extent. The FBI comes to consider Harwell a “natural” at low-key negotiations. However, within two days, it will prevent him from any further contact with the Davidians. The FBI never allows the Texas Rangers to speak with the Davidians, though the Davidians say they trust the Rangers to treat them fairly; Jamar refuses to speak to Rangers chief David Byrnes. The FBI will later say that it was concerned that “third party” negotiators did not have training in FBI negotiation tactics. [House Committee on Government Reform and Oversight, 8/2/1996]

Entity Tags: FBI Hostage Rescue Team, David Koresh, Dan Hartnett, Branch Davidians, Bill Buford, William S. Sessions, David Byrnes, William Jefferson (“Bill”) Clinton, Texas Rangers, James Cavanaugh, Jeffrey Jamar, Roger Altman, Steve Schneider, Jack Harwell, US Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, Federal Bureau of Investigation

Timeline Tags: 1993 Branch Davidian Crisis

David Koresh, the leader of the besieged Branch Davidian sect near Waco, Texas (see 5:00 A.M. - 9:30 A.M. February 28, 1993 and March 1, 1993), promises the FBI that if an audiotape of his religious teachings is broadcast nationally, he will surrender. Davidian Scott Sonobe tells FBI negotiators, “Play Koresh’s tape on national TV and we will come out.” Shortly afterwards, another Davidian, Rita Riddle, tells negotiators, “Play [the] tape during prime time and the remaining women and children will exit.” The FBI agrees to have a one-hour audio recording of a Koresh sermon broadcast over local radio stations and, according to some sources, the Christian Broadcasting Network (CBN). The audiotape of the sermon is carried out of the compound by one of the children, in a pre-arranged exchange with negotiators. The recording begins with Koresh’s promise to peacefully lead the Davidians out of the compound upon its broadcast. Koresh says, “I, David Koresh, agree upon the broadcasting of this tape to come out peacefully with all the people immediately.” Koresh claims to be the “lamb” in the Book of Revelation, and says of people’s refusal to believe in his divinity, “Even a man like Christ has to meet with unbelief.” In his recording, he says he is “involved in a very serious thing right now,” but is more concerned “about the lives of my brethren here and also really concerned even greater about the lives of all those in the world.” The New York Times characterizes the sermon as “rambling.” [New York Times, 3/3/1993; US Department of Justice, 10/8/1993; PBS Frontline, 10/1995] During the 58-minute broadcast, Koresh says that while he is concerned about the lives of his fellow Davidians, “I am really concerned even greater about the lives of all those in this world. Without Christ, without Jesus, we have no hope.… It would be so awesome if everyone could just sit down and have one honest Bible study in this great nation of America.… America does not have to be humiliated or destroyed.” In the Justice Department report on the siege issued months later (see October 8, 1993), the authors will admit that it is possible Koresh was not negotiating at all, but trying to convert the FBI agents to his beliefs before they were doomed to an eternity of divine punishment. [Moore, 1995] Shortly after the broadcast, Koresh reneges on the agreement, saying that God has told him to wait. Acting Attorney General Stuart Gerson reiterates that authorities will “talk them out, no matter how long it” takes (see March 1, 1993). President Clinton takes Gerson’s advice, and has military vehicles deployed near the compound for what are called safety purposes. [PBS Frontline, 10/1995] Koresh’s refusal to surrender is based in part on his claim that his sermon is not broadcast nationally, but only locally; Koresh’s sermon is played over only two radio stations in Waco and Dallas. Additionally, subsequent examination of Koresh’s audiotape and the letters he is regularly sending out finds that the FBI may be ignoring or failing to recognize key clues in Koresh’s rhetoric (see October 8, 1993). Harvard religions expert Lawrence Sullivan, in an analysis of Koresh’s letters and broadcast, will later note that Koresh is implicitly equating the wounds in the hand and side he suffered during the initial assault with the wounds suffered by Jesus Christ during the Crucifixion; Sullivan will suggest that Koresh sees his wounds as evidence of his strength, and therefore is less likely to surrender due to pressure from federal agencies than the FBI believes. [Moore, 1995; Dean M. Kelley, 5/1995]

Entity Tags: Lawrence Sullivan, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Christian Broadcasting Network, Rita Riddle, Branch Davidians, William Jefferson (“Bill”) Clinton, David Koresh, Scott Sonobe, Stuart Gerson, New York Times

Timeline Tags: 1993 Branch Davidian Crisis

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