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Profile: Bob Ricks

Bob Ricks was a participant or observer in the following events:

FBI agent Bob Ricks, surrounded by reporters during a press conference.FBI agent Bob Ricks, surrounded by reporters during a press conference. [Source: Life]A nine-year-old girl, Heather Jones, leaves the Branch Davidian compound near Waco, currently under siege by the FBI and other law enforcement authorities (see 5:00 A.M. - 9:30 A.M. February 28, 1993 and March 1, 1993). She has a note pinned to her jacket written by her mother; the note says that once the children have left the compound, the adults will die. FBI negotiators immediately contact Davidian leader David Koresh; both Koresh and his top aide, Steve Schneider, deny they are contemplating mass suicide. The FBI believes that the Davidian compound contains enough food to last the inhabitants a year. Profilers and experts, including some members of the Davidian sect not immured inside the compound, give conflicting opinions on whether Koresh will lead the group in a mass suicide (see March 5, 1993). [PBS Frontline, 10/1995] Federal agents tell reporters that in 1992 they received warnings that the Branch Davidian sect near Waco, Texas, was contemplating mass suicide. The warnings came from Australians formerly connected to the Waco group of the Davidians. An agent with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (BATF), the agency that raided the compound, says the Australians warned that Koresh was discussing mass suicide with his fellow members. Another BATF official says the tip, included in a State Department cable, was not a major factor in the bureau’s decision to raid the compound. FBI officials confirm that Koresh has assured them he is not contemplating mass suicide. “He indicates there is no intent on his part to order a suicide, nor does he contemplate suicide,” says FBI agent Bob Ricks. [New York Times, 3/6/1993; New York Times, 3/7/1993]

Entity Tags: US Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, Branch Davidians, Bob Ricks, David Koresh, Steve Schneider, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Heather Jones

Timeline Tags: 1993 Branch Davidian Crisis

Federal authorities plead with Branch Davidian leader David Koresh to let his 100 or so followers depart their besieged compound outside Waco, Texas (see 5:00 A.M. - 9:30 A.M. February 28, 1993 and March 1, 1993). “If he’s listening, we want to give him assurances that he and everyone involved will be treated fairly and humanely,” says the FBI’s Bob Ricks. “We appeal to Mr. Koresh to let those people go who want to go.” Ricks says that while Koresh has virtually complete control over the Davidians inside the compound, the FBI does not consider them hostages because many of them fired on federal agents during the abortive raid on February 28. Two elderly women (see March 2-3, 1993) and 21 children have left the compound so far. Ricks says negotiations are continuing, though little progress is being made. Koresh has reportedly asked negotiators how his personal safety will be ensured if he surrenders. Koresh and his aide, Steve Schneider, have also discussed removing the body of a Davidian slain during the raid. Ricks is perplexed as to why Koresh is only discussing the removal of a single corpse, when authorities believe several Davidians died in the gun battle. “We have no idea why only one body is brought up and not the others,” Ricks says. “We have no information on how those bodies are being handled.” Because of the risk of further gunfire from the compound, federal authorities are using armored Bradley fighting vehicles to deliver medical supplies to the compound. [New York Times, 3/7/1993; New York Times, 3/7/1993] During the negotiations, Koresh twice offers to release some or all of the Davidians if the FBI can show him religious signs. First, Koresh says, “You show me the Third Seal and I’ll release the kids.” Koresh is referring to the third of the Seven Seals of Biblical prophecy. FBI negotiators try to show Koresh something that will satisfy him, but Koresh says the FBI has failed and refuses to release anyone. An hour later, Koresh says, “You show me the Seven Seals and everyone will come out.” This time, the FBI refuses to make an attempt. [US Department of Justice, 10/8/1993]

Entity Tags: Steve Schneider, Branch Davidians, David Koresh, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Bob Ricks

Timeline Tags: 1993 Branch Davidian Crisis

A Bradley fighting vehicle.A Bradley fighting vehicle. [Source: Wired (.com)]Negotiations between the FBI and the besieged Branch Davidians in their compound outside Waco, Texas (see 5:00 A.M. - 9:30 A.M. February 28, 1993 and March 1, 1993), are deteriorating, an FBI spokesman says; federal authorities deploy Army-owned Bradley fighting vehicles and Abrams M-1 tanks outside the compound; FBI officials say the armored vehicles are strictly for defensive purposes. According to FBI spokesman Bob Ricks, Davidian leader David Koresh is talking about provoking a bloody confrontation that would fit with prophesies he has made about being a messiah. Negotiations veer between practical discussions and hour-long impromptu Bible study sessions. The New York Times observes, “It is not clear how much of the tough talk on both sides is real and how much is psychological gamesmanship.” Davidian Paul Fatta, who was outside the compound when federal agents raided it on February 28 (see March 5, 1993), says the Davidians have up to 100 guns and rifles, with perhaps 100,000 rounds of ammunition. Some officials say the Davidians’ arsenal may be even larger. Ricks says of Koresh: “He has indicated he would be most pleased if we would engage in a gun battle with him. He has made such statements as: ‘We are ready for war; let’s get it on. Your talk is becoming vain. I’m going to give you an opportunity to save yourself before you get blown away.’” Ricks says Koresh has boasted of having enough weapons and explosives to blow the Bradleys “40 to 50 feet” into the air. However, Fatta says that he believes FBI officials are misrepresenting Koresh’s words, tells a New York Times reporter that the Davidians have nothing remotely powerful enough to destroy a Bradley, and says: “I believe David is for a peaceful resolution. Maybe they’re trying to scare the people in there. I don’t know.” Ricks says that in his earlier statements (see March 5, 1993 and March 7, 1993) he tried to present as positive a face on the situation as possible. Now, he says, he feels it necessary to give what he calls a more complete view. “We have done everything we believe in our power to downplay the negative side of his personality,” Ricks tells reporters. “I think it’s important for you and the American public to maybe have a better understanding of what we are dealing with. It is our belief that he believes his prophecy will be fulfilled if the government engages in an all-out fire fight with him in which he is executed.” [New York Times, 3/8/1993]

Entity Tags: Federal Bureau of Investigation, Bob Ricks, Branch Davidians, David Koresh, Paul Gordon Fatta

Timeline Tags: 1993 Branch Davidian Crisis

After sundown, the FBI begins playing extremely loud music into the Branch Davidian compound, currently under siege (see March 1, 1993). Musical selections include chanting by Tibetan monks, Christmas carols, and an array of pop selections from the early 1960s. At dawn, a trumpet sounds reveille over and over again. The New York Times says the aural barrage is “apparently intended to somehow irritate the cult’s leader, David Koresh, into surrender,” and calls it “just one of many increasingly weird features of the nearly monthlong standoff.” Onlookers over two miles away, kept from coming closer by police barricades, can hear the music “when the winds are right—or wrong,” the Times observes; some federal agents choose to wear earplugs to protect themselves from the din. FBI agent Bob Ricks says the musical selections are made in a variety of ways: “Some of that is within the discretion of the people who are out there on the scene, some of it is intentional, and I won’t go into the intentional part.” Peter DiVasto, director of the Department of Energy’s hostage negotiations program and an Albuquerque, New Mexico, police psychologist, says the music is part of a psychological strategy to try to get the besieged Davidians to give up. “The purpose of playing the music is to be disruptive, to create mild discomfort without creating a precipitous event,” DiVasto says. He jokes that the FBI has not gotten serious about its musical assault yet. “If they go Barry Manilow,” he says, “it’s excessive force.” The Davidians are quite agitated by the music; Koresh informs the FBI that “[b]ecause of the loud music, nobody is coming out.” (That day, seven Davidians left the compound—see March 21, 1993.) The loudspeaker system malfunctions shortly after Koresh’s pronouncement, and the rest of the night passes quietly. Koresh’s aide Steve Schneider will complain about the music the next day; FBI negotiators blame the FBI tactical agents for the music. [New York Times, 3/25/1993; Moore, 1995; PBS Frontline, 10/1995] Robert Louden, a former hostage negotiator, says: “The idea is not so much to drive them from their lair as it is to reaffirm the communication process. Music and almost any other noise can have an effect, and what you’re looking for is a reaction to the noise. You’re not exactly sure what it’s going to do, and you want to be sure that it’s not going to set them off like a firecracker. There’s a calculated risk.” [New York Times, 3/28/1993] In 1995, author Carol Moore will speculate that the seven Davidians leaving may have been the beginning of what she calls a “mass exodus.” If that is true, then the FBI’s insistence on blasting loud music into the compound may have stymied that initiative. [Moore, 1995] A 1996 investigation by the House of Representatives cites expert opinions that the music and the encroachment of armored vehicles into the compound (see March 25-26, 1993) are “exactly the wrong tactics.” The report will conclude, “More than simply bonding the Davidians together, experts concluded that these actions proved Koresh right in the minds of the Davidians.” [House Committee on Government Reform and Oversight, 8/2/1996]

Entity Tags: Bob Ricks, David Koresh, Branch Davidians, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Carol Moore, Steve Schneider, New York Times, US House of Representatives, Peter DiVasto, Robert Louden

Timeline Tags: 1993 Branch Davidian Crisis

Six women and one man depart the besieged Branch Davidian compound (see 5:00 A.M. - 9:30 A.M. February 28, 1993 and March 1, 1993) and are taken into federal custody. Two women leave at 1:30 a.m. Davidian leader David Koresh again reneges on his previous promise to surrender (see March 19, 1993), telling FBI negotiators, “I told you my God says wait.” After Koresh’s statement, two more women leave around 10:30 a.m. During the afternoon, a woman and a man leave the compound. The seven Davidians to leave are Victoria Hollingsworth, James Lawton, Sheila Martin, Gladys Ottman, Annetta Richards, Rita Riddle, and Ofelia Santoya. FBI agents say the departures raise hopes that a large-scale surrender may be in the offing, but caution that they have no way to know if any such surrender is actually being planned. In recent days, Koresh has been allowing small numbers of Davidians to leave in return for delivery of items such as milk, medical supplies, and national news magazines with articles about the Davidians. FBI agent Bob Ricks says Koresh can be fractious and uncooperative: “It’s very difficult for him to handle anyone who puts a demand on him,” Ricks says. Koresh has suggested that “certain astrological things” may mean a large-scale surrender is forthcoming. “My understanding is he is relaying to us that certain events have occurred which he takes to be at least a sign, or signs have taken place, and he believes that other things are in motion that would fulfill his desire to have a sign,” Ricks says. Ricks says Koresh has indicated he wants to ensure that he stays alive to spread his message. He quotes Koresh as saying: “I have a great desire to settle this issue. I realize if I’m dead, my message will not come out.” [New York Times, 3/22/1993; Moore, 1995; PBS Frontline, 10/1995]

Entity Tags: Federal Bureau of Investigation, Bob Ricks, Annetta Richards, David Koresh, Victoria Hollingsworth, Rita Riddle, Branch Davidians, Gladys Ottman, James Lawton, Sheila Martin, Ofelia Santoya

Timeline Tags: 1993 Branch Davidian Crisis

Louis Alaniz, a Houston resident, sneaks into the Branch Davidian compound near Waco, Texas, evading capture by FBI agents besieging the compound (see 5:00 A.M. - 9:30 A.M. February 28, 1993 and March 1, 1993). The FBI describes Alaniz as a “religious fanatic” who eludes hundreds of agents to dash to the front door of the compound. Before letting him inside, the Davidians accuse Alaniz of being a double agent for the FBI, perhaps sent to murder Koresh. After a lengthy telephone conversation between Davidians and FBI negotiators, the Davidians relent and allow Alaniz inside, where he receives a lengthy session of Bible teaching from Koresh. The New York Times notes that the FBI claims to be in “complete control” of the compound perimeter, and calls Alaniz’s ability to make it through the FBI cordon “baffling.” FBI agent Bob Ricks tells reporters the supervisors decided not to allow their agents to chase Alaniz because they did not want to expose those agents to possible gunfire from the Davidians. [New York Times, 3/26/1993; Moore, 1995] Alaniz will leave the compound two days before the final assault (see April 17-19, 1993).

Entity Tags: Federal Bureau of Investigation, Branch Davidians, Louis Alaniz, David Koresh, Bob Ricks

Timeline Tags: 1993 Branch Davidian Crisis

Jeff Jamar, the commander of FBI forces on the ground at the Branch Davidian siege near Waco, Texas (see 5:00 A.M. - 9:30 A.M. February 28, 1993 and March 1, 1993), overrules objections from US attorneys and Texas Rangers, and allows Davidian leader David Koresh to meet with his attorney, well-known Houston defense lawyer Richard DeGuerin (see March 11, 1993). After an initial telephone conversation, the two men meet at the door of the compound and talk for almost two hours. The next day, Koresh and DeGuerin meet two more times. DeGuerin will tell Jamar that he is “frustrated” in his attempts to negotiate a surrender. [New York Times, 3/31/1993; PBS Frontline, 10/1995] DeGuerin tells reporters that he is “very hopeful” of resolving the situation. Speaking of Koresh, he says: “My client wants everybody to be safe. And so do I.” FBI agent Bob Ricks says agents have an attitude of “guarded or cautious optimism” about the new development. “We are cautiously optimistic that this is one of the significant events necessary to bring this to final resolution,” he says of Koresh’s meetings with DeGuerin. “But we have been disappointed in the past.” Ricks emphasizes that DeGuerin is not negotiating on behalf of the FBI or anyone else. “At this point, he is not acting as a negotiator,” he says. “We have agreed to complete confidentiality and are treating the conversations that he is having with Mr. Koresh as privileged. We are not recording those conversations. We are removing ourselves to a sufficient distance, approximately 75 yards away from the compound, to insure that those conversations will not be overheard.” Ricks does not give details of the conversations between Koresh and DeGuerin. “They’ve been characterized in general terms as dealing with substantive matters and not religious matters,” he says. “That is, how does the system work and what his rights are under the criminal justice system.” [New York Times, 3/31/1993] Koresh also speaks with attorney Jack Zimmerman by phone. Zimmerman represents Koresh’s lieutenant, Steve Schneider. [New York Times, 3/31/1993; Moore, 1995]

Entity Tags: Branch Davidians, Bob Ricks, David Koresh, Jack Zimmerman, Steve Schneider, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Jeffrey Jamar, Richard DeGuerin

Timeline Tags: 1993 Branch Davidian Crisis

Lawyer Richard DeGuerin (see March 29-31, 1993) says that talks with his client, Branch Davidian leader David Koresh, have been hampered by Koresh’s gunshot wounds. Koresh was shot by federal agents during a raid on the Davidian compound outside Waco, Texas (see 5:00 A.M. - 9:30 A.M. February 28, 1993). The compound has been besieged for a month by the FBI (see March 1, 1993), with little progress made in negotiating a peaceful conclusion. DeGuerin says that he and his associate Jack Zimmerman, a lawyer representing Koresh’s aide Steve Schneider, have no plans for further discussions with their clients. “We’ve done about all a lawyer can do now,” DeGuerin says. According to federal agents, doctors say Koresh’s wounds are not life-threatening. DeGuerin says Koresh is “suffering from his wounds, and he’s a little tired” and “needs a doctor.” But FBI agent Bob Ricks says officials will not allow a doctor inside the compound. “There’s plenty of medical attention just a few hundred yards away, and that will all be provided when people come out of the compound,” he says. FBI doctors have examined videotapes of Koresh’s wounds. [New York Times, 4/2/1993]

Entity Tags: Richard DeGuerin, Bob Ricks, Branch Davidians, David Koresh, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Jack Zimmerman, Steve Schneider

Timeline Tags: 1993 Branch Davidian Crisis

Richard DeGuerin and Jack Zimmerman, the two attorneys representing Branch Davidian leader David Koresh (see March 29-31, 1993), spend the day of April 1 inside the Davidian compound with Koresh and other Davidians. After departing, the two attorneys inform FBI commander Jeffrey Jamar that the Davidians will leave the compound on either April 2 or April 10, depending on their Passover observance. The FBI says they will “step up” their pressure on the Davidians if they do not leave the compound by the promised date. On April 4, DeGuerin and Zimmerman meet again with Koresh, and reiterate that everyone will depart after Passover. [Moore, 1995; PBS Frontline, 10/1995] FBI agent Bob Ricks says officials are hoping for a resolution of the standoff during Passover. The observance begins at sunset April 5, but Ricks cautions that the Davidians may not be dependent on the traditional Jewish calendar. Koresh is “very flexible with regard to certain biblical events and time schedules,” he says. “He could interpret Passover as beginning right now.” [New York Times, 4/2/1993]

Entity Tags: Branch Davidians, Bob Ricks, Jeffrey Jamar, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Richard DeGuerin, Jack Zimmerman, David Koresh

Timeline Tags: 1993 Branch Davidian Crisis

The day before the promised departure of the Branch Davidian sect members from their besieged compound (see April 1-4, 1993), Davidian leader David Koresh sends a four-page letter to the FBI, identifying himself as “Yahweh” (the Jewish name for God) and telling it that the “heavens are calling you to judgment.” The letter is written in first-person as if God penned it. “The letter is threatening and cites six Biblical passages,” says FBI spokesman Bob Ricks. “The gist of the letter, like the Biblical passages, conveys messages of a powerful, angry God empowering his chosen people to punish and harm those who oppose him.” Experts analyze the letter, along with others Koresh will send over the next few days (see April 10-11, 1993), and will conclude that Koresh is possibly psychotic and has no intention of leaving voluntarily. [New York Times, 4/10/1993; PBS Frontline, 10/1995]
Davidian Attacked with Stun Grenades - Steve Schneider, David Koresh’s lieutenant, is allowed to briefly leave the compound to deliver Koresh’s letter and to ignite seven smoke flares to commemorate Passover. In the process, FBI agents bombard him with stun grenades, sometimes called “flash-bangs,” to drive him back inside. Ricks explains, “Mr. Schneider, either through his own confusion or whatever, came out one occasion too many yesterday and we had to flash-bang him twice.” [New York Times, 4/10/1993]
Letter Helps Precipitate Decision to Assault Compound - Impelled in part by the letter, the FBI finalizes plans to use tear gas to flush the Davidians from the compound (see April 7, 1993), and begins moving to secure Attorney General Janet Reno’s approval to carry out these plans. [PBS Frontline, 10/1995] Some within the FBI feel that the tear-gas assault is the very worst thing that can be done to resolve the situation (see March 31, 1993). FBI profilers Peter Smerick and Mark Young (see March 3-4, 1993), who warned their superiors that increasing the pressure on Koresh and the Davidians would precipitate a bloody, violent end to the standoff (see March 7-8, 1993), say that the Hostage Rescue Team (HRT) personnel should withdraw from the compound, and that tactical pressure “should be the absolute last option we should consider.” The two experts who analyze the letter tend to agree with Smerick and Young. Clint Van Zandt, of the FBI’s National Center for the Analysis of Violent Crime—the so-called “Silence of the Lambs” team—and Dr. Joseph Krofcheck, a psychiatrist, conclude after reading the letter that an FBI confrontation with Koresh might “bring this matter to a ‘magnificent’ end, in his mind, a conclusion that could take the lives of all of his followers and as many of the authorities as possible.” [New Yorker, 5/15/1995]

Entity Tags: Bob Ricks, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Branch Davidians, David Koresh, Janet Reno, Clinton R. Van Zandt, Steve Schneider, Mark Young, Joseph Krofcheck, Peter Smerick, FBI Hostage Rescue Team

Timeline Tags: 1993 Branch Davidian Crisis

Attorney General Janet Reno, described by the New York Times as “shaken,” explains the decision to allow the FBI to assault the besieged Branch Davidian compound outside Waco, Texas (see March 1, 1993), a decision that resulted in an inferno of flames and almost 80 dead Davidians (see April 19, 1993). She says that in hindsight the order to assault the compound was a mistake. Reno takes responsibility for the assault and says that she regrets the loss of life. “Today was not meant to be D-Day,” she says. “This was just a step forward in trying to bring about a peaceful resolution by constantly exerting further pressure to shrink the perimeter.… Obviously, if I had thought that the chances were great of a mass suicide, I would never have approved the plan.” She says FBI officials in charge of the operation did not believe that Koresh’s reaction to the assault, which deployed tanks, armored vehicles, and a huge amount of tear gas, would be to order a mass suicide. In an interview on CNN, Reno says the decision “was based on what we knew then,” apparently referring to what she and FBI officials knew before the raid (see April 17-18, 1993). “Based on what we know now, it was obviously wrong.” FBI senior agent Bob Ricks, who was at the siege for almost all of its 51 days, concurs with Reno’s statements. “Our desire was to get them out, use nonlethal means in a systematic manner, so that they could come before the bar and face justice,” he says, not to precipitate their deaths. Reno says that one of the factors that led her to approve the assault was reports that the Davidians were physically abusing the children inside. “We had information that babies were being beaten” by Davidian leader David Koresh, she says. “I specifically asked, ‘You really mean babies?’ ‘Yes, that he’s slapping babies around.’ These are concerns that we had.” She also says that had the siege lasted much longer, most if not all of the FBI agents deployed around the compound would have needed to be withdrawn for rest and retraining, and replaced with a new team. “The experts advised us, advised me, that in those situations where you had to be constantly on the alert that it was in the best interests of everybody concerned, including the safety of the agents and others involved, to provide for really time off, and what I was told is that there were no backups,” she says. [New York Times, 4/20/1993; New York Times, 4/20/1993; New York Times, 4/20/1993]

Entity Tags: Janet Reno, Bob Ricks, Branch Davidians, David Koresh, Federal Bureau of Investigation

Timeline Tags: 1993 Branch Davidian Crisis

Combat engineering vehicles (CEVs) lined up outside the blazing Branch Davidian compound.Combat engineering vehicles (CEVs) lined up outside the blazing Branch Davidian compound. [Source: PBS]The FBI and local law enforcement officials begin their planned assault on the besieged Branch Davidian compound near Waco, Texas (see 5:00 A.M. - 9:30 A.M. February 28, 1993, March 1, 1993, and April 17-18, 1993), despite indications that the Davidians inside the compound will retaliate either by firing on the gathered law enforcement officials, by torching the main residential building, or perhaps both (see April 18, 1993). [PBS Frontline, 10/1995]
Warning - At 5:55 a.m., Richard Rogers, the commander of the FBI’s Hostage Rescue Team (HRT), orders two combat engineering vehicles (CEVs, unarmed modifications of Bradley fighting vehicles and the primary means for deplying CS “riot control agent” into the main building) deployed to the main building. One minute later, senior negotiator Byron Sage telephones the residence and speaks with Davidian Steve Schneider. At 5:59, Schneider comes to the phone. Sage tells him: “We are in the process of putting tear gas into the building. This is not an assault. We will not enter the building.” Schneider replies, “You are going to spray tear gas into the building?” Sage says, “In the building… no, we are not entering the building.” At the conclusion of the conversation, Schneider or another Davidian throws the telephone out of the building. [PBS Frontline, 10/1995; House Committee on Government Reform and Oversight, 8/2/1996; House Committee on Government Reform and Oversight, 8/2/1996] Minutes later, Schneider slips out, retrieves the phone, and ducks back inside. [Time, 5/3/1993]
Combat Vehicles Begin Deploying Gas, Davidians Open Fire - At 6:02 a.m., the two CEVs begin inserting CS gas into the compound, using spray nozzles attached to booms. The booms punch holes through the exterior walls of the building. The FBI uses unarmed Bradley Fighting Vehicles to deploy “ferret rounds,” military ammunition designed to release CS after penetrating a barricade such as a wall or window. As the CEVs and the Bradleys punch holes into the buildings for the deployment of the gas, Sage makes the following statement over the loudspeakers: “We are in the process of placing tear gas into the building. This is not an assault. We are not entering the building. This is not an assault. Do not fire your weapons. If you fire, fire will be returned. Do not shoot. This is not an assault. The gas you smell is a non-lethal tear gas. This gas will temporarily render the building uninhabitable. Exit the residence now and follow instructions. You are not to have anyone in the tower. The [guard] tower is off limits. No one is to be in the tower. Anyone observed to be in the tower will be considered to be an act of aggression [sic] and will be dealt with accordingly. If you come out now, you will not be harmed. Follow all instructions. Come out with your hands up. Carry nothing. Come out of the building and walk up the driveway toward the Double-E Ranch Road. Walk toward the large Red Cross flag. Follow all instructions of the FBI agents in the Bradleys. Follow all instructions. You are under arrest. This standoff is over. We do not want to hurt anyone. Follow all instructions. This is not an assault. Do not fire any weapons. We do not want anyone hurt. Gas will continue to be delivered until everyone is out of the building.” Two minutes later, Davidians begin firing on the vehicles from the windows. The gunfire from the Davidians prompts Rogers and FBI commander Jeffrey Jamar to decide to change tactics; at 6:07 a.m., the assault forces begin deploying all of the gas at once instead of dispersing it in a controlled manner over the course of 48-72 hours as originally envisioned. [Dean M. Kelley, 5/1995; PBS Frontline, 10/1995; House Committee on Government Reform and Oversight, 8/2/1996; House Committee on Government Reform and Oversight, 8/2/1996; USMC Weapons, 2002] (Jamar will later testify that before the assault even began, he was “99 percent certain” that the FBI would have to escalate its assault because the Davidians would open fire.) [House Committee on Government Reform and Oversight, 8/2/1996] As a CEV demolishes the back wall of the gymnasium area of the compound, negotiators broadcast: “David, we are facilitating you leaving the compound by enlarging the door.… Leave the building now.” [Cox News Service, 1/30/2000] Jamar will later explain that the Bradleys do not carry military weaponry. “Of course we had all the firepower removed,” he will say in a 1995 interview. “There were no cannons or anything on them. We used them for transportation. And they’re more than a personnel carrier—they’re a track vehicle. I mean it’s mud, just thick mud there the whole time. And the agents learned how to drive ‘em. But the idea was to protect them as best we could. And we didn’t know—they talked about blowing a 50—did they have rockets? Who knows? Did they have explosives buried in various vicinities? Are they prepared to run out with Molatov cocktails? What’s in their mind?” Jamar is referring to threats made by Koresh and other Davidians to blow up FBI vehicles. As for the CEVs, they are tanks modified for construction and engineering purposes, and are often used as bulldozers. Observers watching the events live on television or later on videotape will sometimes mistake the CEVs for actual tanks, though two M1A1 Abrams tanks are actually on site and take part in the assault. [PBS Frontline, 10/1995; PBS Frontline, 10/1995]
House Report: Davidians Would Certainly Consider FBI's Actions an Assault - A 1996 report by a House of Representatives investigative committee (see August 2, 1996) will note that it is almost impossible for the Davidians not to consider themselves under assault, with tank-like vehicles tearing holes in the building, CS being sprayed everywhere, grenade-like projectiles crashing through windows, men in body armor swarming around the compound, and the sounds of what seems like combat all around them. “Most people would consider this to be an attack on them—an ‘assault’ in the simplest terms,” the report will find. “If they then saw other military vehicles approaching, from which projectiles were fired through the windows of their home, most people are even more likely to believe that they were under an assault. If those vehicles then began to tear down their home there would be little doubt that they were being attacked. These events are what the Davidians inside the residence experienced on April 19, yet the FBI did not consider their actions an assault.” Moreover, the FBI did not consider the close-knit, home-centered community the Davidians have long since formed. “Their religious leader led them to believe that one day a group of outsiders, non-believers, most likely in the form of government agents, would come for them,” the report will state. “Indeed, they believed that this destiny had been predicted 2,000 years before in Biblical prophecy. Given this mindset, it can hardly be disputed that the Davidians thought they were under assault at 6 a.m. on April 19.” [House Committee on Government Reform and Oversight, 8/2/1996]
Monitoring from Washington - At 7:00 a.m., Attorney General Janet Reno and senior Justice Department and FBI officials go to the FBI situation room to monitor the assault. [PBS Frontline, 10/1995]
Buildings Breached - At 7:30 a.m., a CEV breaches the side of one of the main buildings and injects large amounts of tear gas into the interior of the compound. At 7:58 a.m., gas is fired into the second floor of the back-right corner of the building. The FBI asks for more ferret rounds, and by 9:30 a.m., 48 more ferret rounds arrive from Houston. The assault is hampered by the FBI’s dwindling supply of ferret rounds, a CEV with mechanical difficulties, and high winds dispersing the gas. Another CEV enlarges the opening in the center-front of the building, with the idea of providing an escape route for the trapped Davidians. A third CEV breaches the rear of the building, according to a later Justice Department report, “to create openings near the gymnasium.” [PBS Frontline, 10/1995]
Clinton Told Assault Progressing Well - At about 11 a.m., Reno briefs President Clinton, tells him that the assault seems to be going well, and leaves for a judicial conference in Baltimore. During this time, a CEV breaches the back side of the compound. At 11:40 a.m., the FBI fires the last of the ferret rounds into the building. At 11:45 a.m., one wall of the compound collapses. [PBS Frontline, 10/1995]
Transcriptionist Escapes - Ruth Riddle, the typist and transcriptionist sent inside the compound by the FBI to help Koresh finish his “Seven Seals” manuscript (see April 18, 1993), escapes the compound before the fire. She brings out a computer disk containing the unfinished manuscript. [Dean M. Kelley, 5/1995]
Davidians Set Fires throughout Compound - At 12:07 p.m., according to the Justice Department and House reports, the Davidians start “simultaneous fires at three or more different locations within the compound.” An FBI Hostage Rescue Team member reports seeing “a male starting a fire” in the front of the building. Later analyses show that the first fire begins in a second-floor bedroom, the second in the first floor dining room, and the third in the first floor chapel. Evidence also shows that the fires spread according to “accelerant trails,” such as a trail of flammable liquid being poured on the floor. Some of the Davidians’ clothing found in the rubble also shows traces of gasoline, kerosene, Coleman fuel (liquid petroleum, sometimes called “white gas”), and lighter fluid, further suggesting that the Davidians use accelerants to start and spread the fires. [PBS Frontline, 10/1995; House Committee on Government Reform and Oversight, 8/2/1996] Within eight minutes, the main building is engulfed in flames. One explosion, probably from a propane gas tank, is observed. Later investigation will find a propane tank with its top blown off in the debris. [House Committee on Government Reform and Oversight, 8/2/1996; House Committee on Government Reform and Oversight, 8/2/1996] After the compound burns to the ground, FBI agent Bob Ricks tells reporters, “David Koresh, we believe, gave the order to commit suicide and they all willingly followed.” [New York Times, 4/20/1993] Some of the Davidians who survive the conflagration later claim that the Davidians did not start the fires, but arson investigators with the Justice Department and the Texas Rangers, as well as an independent investigator, will conclude that Davidians did indeed start the fires in at least three different areas of the main building. [PBS Frontline, 10/1995] A 1993 Treasury Department report (see Late September - October 1993) will produce audiotapes of Davidians inside the compound and transcripts of conversations, secured via electronic surveillance, discussing the means of setting the fires. Voices on the tapes and in the transcripts say such things as: “The fuel has to go all around to get started.” “Got to put enough fuel in there.” “So, we only light ‘em as they come in,” or as a slightly different version has it, “So, we only light ‘em as soon as they tell me.” Once the fires begin, high winds and the breaches in the walls cause the flames to almost immediately begin consuming the compound. [Dean M. Kelley, 5/1995] In 1999, Colonel Rodney Rawlings, the senior military liaison to the HRT, will tell reporters that he heard Koresh give the orders to start the fires over FBI surveillance “bugs” (see October 8, 1999). Sage later describes the horror that goes through him and his fellow agents when they realize that the Davidians have torched the compound. He will recall “pleading” with the Davidians to leave the compound, and say: “I can’t express the emotions that goes through you. I had to physically turn around away from the monitor to keep my mind focused on what I was trying to broadcast to those people.” He will recall being horrified by the failure of people to flee the compound. “I fully anticipated those people would come pouring out of there,” he says. “I’d been through CS teargas on numerous occasions [in training exercises]. And I would move heaven and earth to get my kids out of that kind of an environment. And that’s frankly what we were banking on. That at least the parents would remove their children from that kind of situation.” Of Koresh, he will say: “By him intentionally lighting that place afire and consuming the lives of 78 people, including over 20 young children, was just inconceivable to me. In 25 years of law enforcement I’ve never been faced with someone that was capable of doing that.” [PBS Frontline, 10/1995] Six years later, the FBI will admit to releasing two pyrotechnic grenades into the compound, but insists the grenades did not start the fires (see August 25, 1999 and After).
Plea for Release - At 12:12 p.m., Sage calls on Koresh to lead the Davidians to safety. Nine Davidians flee the compound and are arrested [PBS Frontline, 10/1995] , including one woman who leaves, attempts to return to the burning building, and tries unsuccessfully to fight off a federal agent who comes to her aid. [New York Times, 4/20/1993] One of the nine runs out of the building at around 12:28 p.m., indicating that even 21 minutes after the fire, it is possible for some of the inhabitants to make their escape. However, most of the Davidians retreat to areas in the center of the building and do not attempt to get out. [House Committee on Government Reform and Oversight, 8/2/1996]
'Systematic Gunfire' - At 12:25 p.m., FBI agents hear “systematic gunfire” coming from inside of the building; some agents believe that the Davidians are either killing themselves or each other. The House committee investigation later finds that FBI agents hear rapid-fire gunshots coming from the compound; while many of the gunshots are probably caused by exploding ammunition, “other sounds were methodical and evenly-spaced, indicating the deliberate firing of weapons.”
Fire Department Responds; Search for Survivors - At 12:41 p.m., fire trucks and firefighters begin attempting to put out the flames. HRT agents enter tunnels to search for survivors, particularly children. [Dean M. Kelley, 5/1995; PBS Frontline, 10/1995; House Committee on Government Reform and Oversight, 8/2/1996] No fire trucks are at the scene when the assault begins, and it takes around 25 minutes for the first fire department vehicles to respond to emergency calls from their stations in Waco. Bob Sheehy, mayor of Waco, later says the city fire department “first got a call after the fire had already started.” Ricks explains that fire engines were not brought to the compound earlier for fear that firefighters might have been exposed to gunfire from the compound, and because FBI officials did not expect a fire. “We did not introduce fire to this compound, and it was not our intention that this compound be burned down. I can’t tell you the shock and the horror that all of us felt when we saw those flames coming out of there. It was, ‘Oh, my God, they’re killing themselves.’” [New York Times, 4/20/1993]
Death Toll - In all, 78 Branch Davidians, including over 20 children, two pregnant women, and Koresh himself, die in the fire. Nineteen of the dead are killed by close-range gunshot wounds. Almost all of the others either die from smoke inhalation, burns, or both. [PBS Frontline, 10/1995; House Committee on Government Reform and Oversight, 8/2/1996] The number is improperly reported in a number of media sources, and varies from 75 to 81. Even the House committee report does not cite a definitive total. [House Committee on Government Reform and Oversight, 8/2/1996] Some of the FBI negotiators involved in the siege later say that they feel continued negotiations might have saved many, perhaps all, of the lives of those inside the compound. In an interview later in the year, one negotiator tells a reporter, “I’ll always, in my own mind, feel like maybe we could have gotten some more people out.” [New Yorker, 5/15/1995] But HRT member Barry Higginbotham, one of the snipers who observes the Davidians throughout the siege, will later state that neither he nor anyone on his team believed the Davidians would ever willingly surrender. Higginbotham will say: “We just felt that if you make them suffer a little more, deny them perhaps a little more food, lighting, power, things like that inside, that would cause more pressure on their leadership inside. And perhaps their leadership would go to Koresh and pressure him to start negotiating in good faith. It was hard to believe that Koresh was ever negotiating in good faith.” [PBS Frontline, 10/1995] In the hours after the conflagration, Ricks tells reporters: “We had hoped the women would grab their children and flee. That did not occur and they bunkered down the children and allowed them to go up in flames with them.… It was truly an inferno of flames.” Ricks says that authorities receive reports, perhaps from some of the survivors, that the children had been injected with some kind of poison to ease their pain. This claim is never confirmed. [New York Times, 4/20/1993]
In the Bunker - FBI investigators combing the building after the conflagration find an enormous amount of guns and other weaponry inside. Dr. Rodney Crow, the FBI’s chief of identification services and one of the officials who examine the bodies of the Davidians, spends much of his time in the compound’s underground bunker, where many of the bodies are found. Crow later says: “There were weapons everywhere. I don’t remember moving a body that didn’t have a gun melted to it, intertwined with it, between the legs, under the arm, or in close proximity. And I’d say 18 inches to 20 inches would be close proximity.… The women were probably more immersed in the weapons than anyone else, because there was so much weaponry inside the bunker. It was like sea shells on a beach, but they were spent casings and spent bullets. If you had rubber gloves and tried to smooth it away, you’d tear your gloves away from the bullet points that are unexploded, or unspent ammunition. Then as you went through layer after layer, you came upon weapons that were totally burned. Until we got down to the floor, and it was mint condition ammunition there. Ammunition boxes not even singed.” The most powerful weapon Crow finds is a .50-caliber machine gun. Some of the bodies have gunshot wounds. Crow will say: “My theory is there was a lot of euthanasia and mercy killing. That group probably were just about as active as anywhere in the compound, mercifully putting each other out of misery in the last moments.” In total, 33 bodies are found inside the bunker; almost all the women and children found inside the compound are in the bunker. Many are found to have died from suffocation or smoke inhalation (two died from falling debris), but some died from gunshot wounds, and one woman was stabbed to death. [PBS Frontline, 10/1995; PBS Frontline, 10/1995] Local medical examiner Nizam Peerwani later says he does not believe the people in the bunker committed suicide, saying: “There has been a lot of speculation if this is a mass suicide or not. And—did they all go there to die? Ah, we don’t really think so. What I feel personally is that they tried to escape. A bunker was perhaps the safest area in the compound.” [PBS Frontline, 10/1995] Sage will say that he knew the children were dead sometime around 12:30 p.m. He recalls terminating the negotiations at that time, “because I didn’t want the loudspeaker bank to interfere with instructions being given on the ground. At that point in time, I walked over to the site in shock, basically. And, uh, the first thing I asked is, ‘Where are the kids?’” He is told, “Nowhere.” Sage will say: “They had not come out. They had been consumed.” [PBS Frontline, 10/1995]
Koresh's Fate - Koresh and Schneider are found in a small room the authorities call “the communication room.” Koresh is dead of a single gunshot wound to the forehead. Schneider is dead from a gunshot wound in the mouth. Peerwani later says: “Did David Koresh shoot himself and Schneider shoot himself? Or did Schneider shoot David Koresh and then turn around and shoot himself? Certainly both are possible. We cannot be certain as to what really transpired.” [PBS Frontline, 10/1995]
No Ill Effects from Gas - Peerwani and his colleagues examine the bodies for damage caused by the CS gas used in the assault, and find none. While many of the Davidians were exposed to the gas, according to tissue and blood studies, none inhaled enough of it to cause anything more than short-term discomfort. Concurrently, Peerwani and his colleagues find no damage from the propellant used in the ferret rounds. A fire report later written by Texas-based investigators will call the tear gas operation a failure at dispersing the Davidians. [PBS Frontline, 10/1995; PBS Frontline, 10/1995] Medical examinations show that some of the children may well have been overcome by the gas, and rendered unable to escape, but the compound had not been gassed for an hour before the fires began, and CS has a persistence factor of only 10 minutes—in other words, the effects should have worn off by the time the fires broke out. The gas proves ineffective against the adults, because the adult Davidians are equipped with gas masks. [PBS Frontline, 10/1995]
Wrongly Executed Plan - The plan as signed by Reno called on law enforcement forces to deploy tear gas into the compound at stated intervals, then have agents retreat to await evacuees before approaching again. This “passive,” “restrained” approach was to have been followed for up to 72 hours before using assault vehicles to force entry. Instead, the agents wait only 12 minutes before beginning a motorized vehicle assault. [New Yorker, 5/15/1995]
Taking Responsibility - One of the unlikely “heroes” of the debacle is Reno. She signed off on the attack (see April 17-18, 1993), and within hours of the attacks, she holds a televised press conference where she says: “I made the decision. I am accountable . The buck stops here” (see April 19, 1993). She repeats this statement over and over again on national television. [New Yorker, 5/15/1995]

Entity Tags: Bob Ricks, Bob Sheehy, Branch Davidians, David Koresh, FBI Hostage Rescue Team, Barry Higginbotham, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Janet Reno, Jeffrey Jamar, Byron Sage, US Department of Justice, Nizam Peerwani, William Jefferson (“Bill”) Clinton, Richard Rogers, Rodney Rawlings, Rodney Crow, Ruth Riddle, Texas Rangers, Steve Schneider

Timeline Tags: 1993 Branch Davidian Crisis

The government’s explanation that the besieged Branch Davidians chose to commit mass suicide in response to an FBI assault (see April 19, 1993) is disputed by friends and family members of the Davidians who died in the conflagration. FBI agent Bob Ricks tells reporters, “David Koresh, we believe, gave the order to commit suicide, and they all followed his order.” Koresh was the leader of the Branch Davidians. But Koresh’s grandmother, Jean Holub (see (March 18, 1993)), tells a reporter: “No, no way. He wouldn’t do that to those children.” Seventeen children died in the fire that consumed the Davidian compound; most, if not all, of them were believed to be Koresh’s own children. Koresh’s mother, Bonnie Haldeman, blames federal authorities for the fire. “I am scared to death,” she says. “Where’s our civil rights? It’s just terrible. The way they handled this whole thing has been wrong.” Davidian Karen Doyle, who lost her father and sister in the fire, says her faith in Koresh is not shaken by the tragedy. “I know that God will take care of them,” she says of those who died. “Even in ordinary death, you know, we all put off the body.” Robyn Bunds, a former Davidian who left the sect (see February 27 - March 3, 1993 and March 25, 1993), says that she never heard Koresh speak of mass suicide, but often heard him talk about his own death: “He used to prophesize that he would be murdered, and I believe he would want to make his prophesy come true.” [New York Times, 4/19/1993]

Entity Tags: Karen Doyle, Bob Ricks, Bonnie Haldeman, Branch Davidians, David Koresh, Jean Holub, Robyn Bunds

Timeline Tags: 1993 Branch Davidian Crisis

The rear axle of the Ryder truck from the bombing (foreground), used by the FBI to identify the truck and discover the identity of the bomber. The axle was blown 575 feet and crushed the Ford Festiva depicted in the photo.The rear axle of the Ryder truck from the bombing (foreground), used by the FBI to identify the truck and discover the identity of the bomber. The axle was blown 575 feet and crushed the Ford Festiva depicted in the photo. [Source: Associated Press]The White House announces that the FBI will be the lead investigative agency for the Oklahoma City bombing (see 8:35 a.m. - 9:02 a.m. April 19, 1995). Some in federal law enforcement feel that the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (BATF) is the better choice to conduct the investigation, considering that agency’s expertise with explosives, but the White House wants to avoid the infighting and turf wars that ensued after the Branch Davidian raid (see 5:00 A.M. - 9:30 A.M. February 28, 1993) and culminated in the tragedy that claimed 78 lives (see April 19, 1993). The FBI has also been training intensively since the Davidian tragedy on handling major events such as this one. The BATF will be involved, and some internal bickering will take place. FBI supervisor Weldon Kennedy, who runs the Phoenix FBI office, is named lead agent. Kennedy supplants Robert “Bob” Ricks, the FBI’s special agent in charge of Oklahoma City. Ricks had worked on the Branch Davidian siege. FBI Director Louis Freeh names Kennedy, not Ricks, to lead the investigation because of new FBI procedures, implemented after the Davidian tragedy, that call for increased group responses to major crisis situations. Kennedy has been training other agents in the new system and has experience working with a recent series of prison riots in Atlanta. Moreover, Kennedy has no connection to Oklahoma City and therefore does not know any of the victims or the law enforcement officials involved. [Serrano, 1998, pp. 184, 191-192] Some 350 agents and specialists, many of whom have friends and co-workers in the Murrah Building, are assigned to the investigative task force. [Stickney, 1996, pp. 33] In the following days, the FBI will perform intensive searches of the site of the bombing and of the surrounding area, marking off the areas in small grids and questioning everyone available. Gas stations and truck stops on highways leading in and out of Oklahoma City will be searched, and their employees questioned. A hundred and twenty-nine dump truck loads of debris will be carted to a sifting site at the county sheriff’s gun range 10 miles away, and the debris examined and sorted. In all, 1,035 tons of debris will be examined, much of it by hand. Telephone leads are followed up. The Justice Department’s Merrick Garland will spend the next three months leading the investigation until a group of US Attorneys named by Attorney General Janet Reno takes over. [Serrano, 1998, pp. 221]

Entity Tags: US Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, Merrick Garland, Weldon Kennedy, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Bob Ricks, Louis J. Freeh, Janet Reno, Clinton administration

Timeline Tags: US Domestic Terrorism

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