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Profile: Rita Riddle

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Rita Riddle was a participant or observer in the following events:

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

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

Branch Davidian member Rita Riddle, who left the besieged Waco compound days before (see March 21, 1993), says that when Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (BATF) agents raided the compound (see 5:00 A.M. - 9:30 A.M. February 28, 1993 and March 1, 1993), she saw shots fired from BATF helicopters. BATF and Justice Department officials have denied that any gunfire was delivered from the helicopters, which they say served as observation posts and instruments of intimidation during the raid. Riddle says bullets were coming straight down through the roof, and could only have come from helicopters. “They say these helicopters were not armed. Bull puck,” she tells reporters. “I heard them spraying the building when they went over.” BATF spokesman David Troy says flatly that “the helicopters did not overfly the compound.” The helicopters were made available to the BATF by the Texas National Guard, which had been informed by BATF agents that the compound may have housed a methamphetamine laboratory. Drug interdiction is one reason the National Guard can loan helicopters to another agency. BATF agents told the National Guard that their evidence was based on infrared scans, which located two “hot spots” that sometimes indicate a place where drugs are being manufactured. Riddle says those “hot spots” were places where the Davidians have heaters. “Once they go in there, they’ll be in for a big surprise,” she says. “To my knowledge, there’s nothing illegal in there.” [Los Angeles Times, 3/30/1993]

Entity Tags: Rita Riddle, Branch Davidians, US Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, David Troy, US Department of Justice, Federal Bureau of Investigation

Timeline Tags: 1993 Branch Davidian Crisis

Lawyers for the two Branch Davidian leaders besieged along with almost 100 of their followers in their compound outside Waco, Texas (see March 29-31, 1993), make assertions about the February 28 raid on the compound (see 5:00 A.M. - 9:30 A.M. February 28, 1993) that contradict the government’s version of events. Richard DeGuerin represents Davidian leader David Koresh and Jack Zimmerman represents Koresh’s lieutenant, Steve Schneider. DeGuerin and Zimmerman say that, according to their clients, four federal agents were captured in the raid, disarmed, and later released, and that helicopters flying over the main compound building fired shots. Federal authorities deny both claims. Both lawyers have met with their clients today, and one says details of a surrender have been worked out, with a surrender coming after the group celebrates Passover. DeGuerin and Zimmerman refuse to provide any personal observations about conditions inside the compound, saying they fear that such reports could jeopardize their status as lawyers and force them to be witnesses. They refuse to confirm or deny reports by a Davidian who recently left the compound, Rita Riddle (see March 21, 1993), who has said that six Davidians were killed in the raid, including one woman who was slain in her bed.
Government Denies Helicopters Fired into Compound, BATF Agents Captured - A spokesman for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (BATF), Jerry Singer, denies that BATF helicopters had flown over the cult’s compound or fired into it (see March 30, 1993). He also denies that any BATF agents were either captured or released. “No,” he says. “It did not happen.” Both DeGuerin and Zimmerman believe that the helicopters did fire into the upper floors of the compound from above; Zimmerman says: “An expert will be able to tell from the angle of the trajectory plus the pattern whether there are entry or exit holes. If it’s in the ceiling and it’s clearly an exit hole, it had to have come from above. How else could it have come in?”
Koresh Wounded, Not in 'Great Pain' - Both confirm that Koresh was wounded during the firefignt (see April 1, 1993). “I saw the wounds and he did not appear to be in great pain,” Zimmermann says. “But he certainly had his movement restricted and had to shift positions carefully. The wound is a through-and-through flesh wound. For a layman, it would be a wound in the side.”
Lawyers: FBI 'Destroying Evidence' - Both lawyers are concerned with the FBI’s decision to use bulldozers and armored personnel carriers to remove trees, buses, automobiles, boats, and scrub brush from the area surrounding the main buildings. FBI officials say the efforts are “defensive maneuvers,” intended to provide a clear field of fire into the compound. Zimmerman says the FBI is destroying evidence. “When you clear a field of fire it can go both ways,” he says. “There is no question that the FBI is destroying evidence. If nothing else they’ve moved the location of physical objects from a crime scene before they had been photographed.” DeGuerin agrees, saying: “They’re destroying evidence with the bulldozers. That’s what they’re doing.”
Surrender Plans - The Davidians show some desire to surrender, but are “still intimidated by the FBI,” according to Zimmerman, who adds that the Davidians will not surrender “until we know the media are going to be there.” The plans for surrender, Zimmerman says, feature Koresh and DeGuerin walking out in front of the group, with the other sect members in the middle, and ending with Schneider walking out with Zimmerman. “They want the two leaders on either end with Mr. Koresh in front, so that symbolically everyone inside understands it’s okay,” Zimmerman says. “Everyone else comes out single-file and gets processed humanely one at a time. Mr. Schneider stays to the end with me and once we’re out, everyone knows everything is safe and clear and they can come in with their search teams.” Neither DeGuerin nor Zimmerman will say when the standoff may end, only saying that the surrender will come after Passover, and that the group does not celebrate Passover by the traditional Jewish calendar (see April 1-4, 1993). “They’re ready for this to be over but they have a very important agenda with Passover and their holiday,” DeGuerin says. [New York Times, 4/5/1993]

Entity Tags: Jerry Singer, Branch Davidians, David Koresh, Jack Zimmerman, US Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, Richard DeGuerin, Rita Riddle, Steve Schneider, Federal Bureau of Investigation

Timeline Tags: 1993 Branch Davidian Crisis

After bringing religious audiotapes into the Branch Davidian compound near Waco, Texas (see 5:00 A.M. - 9:30 A.M. February 28, 1993 and March 1, 1993), Richard DeGuerin and Jack Zimmerman, two attorneys who represent Davidian leaders David Koresh and Steve Schneider (see April 1-4, 1993), tell New York Times reporters that agents from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (BATF) fired gunshots from helicopters into the compound during the February 28 raid, proven by bullet holes in the roof. The Times carries the story, along with denials from the BATF. DeGuerin’s and Zimmerman’s claims echo those made earlier by Davidian Rita Riddle (see March 30, 1993). [Moore, 1995]

Entity Tags: Rita Riddle, Branch Davidians, David Koresh, Jack Zimmerman, Richard DeGuerin, Steve Schneider, US Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives

Timeline Tags: 1993 Branch Davidian Crisis

A federal grand jury returns a 10-count indictment, charging 12 Branch Davidians with murder, firearms violations, and conspiracy to kill federal agents. The indictments come as a result of the April 1993 assault on the Davidian compound near Waco, Texas, that resulted in nearly 80 Davidians dying of fire, smoke inhalation, and gunshot wounds (see April 19, 1993), and the February 1993 raid on the compound by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (BATF) that left four BATF agents and six Davidians dead (see 5:00 A.M. - 9:30 A.M. February 28, 1993). Most of the Davidians charged left the compound at some time during the 51-day standoff between the Davidians and federal authorities; two of them, Rita Riddle and Renos Avraam, survived the assault itself. The defendants echo claims by their slain leader, David Koresh, that BATF agents fired the first shots and the Davidians were only protecting their home; journalists and federal agents say that the Davidians ambushed the agents as they attempted to surround and enter the compound to arrest Koresh. The defendants also insist that the FBI caused the fires that gutted the compound during the April assault, while FBI officials say the Davidians themselves set the fires. The indictment says that Koresh “gave instructions to spread flammable fuel within the Mount Carmel compound” after the FBI began its assault, with a CS gas barrage. “It was part of the conspiracy that an unidentified co-conspirator would and did give instructions at about noon on April 19, 1993, to start the fires.” Other Davidians facing charges aside from Riddle and Avraam include: Brad Eugene Branch, Kevin A. Whitecliff, Paul Gordon Fatta, Livingstone Fagan, Norman Washington Allison, Graeme Leonard Craddock, Clive J. Doyle, Woodrow Kendrick, Jaime Castillo, and Kathryn Schroeder. [US District Court for the Western District of Texas, 8/1993; Dallas Morning News, 8/7/1993] The trial takes place six months later (see January-February 1994).

Entity Tags: Jaime Castillo, David Koresh, Clive J. Doyle, Branch Davidians, Brad Eugene Branch, Graeme Leonard Craddock, Woodrow Kendrick, Renos Avraam, Rita Riddle, Livingstone Fagan, Kevin A. Whitecliff, Kathryn Schroeder, Norman Washington Allison, Paul Gordon Fatta, Federal Bureau of Investigation, US Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives

Timeline Tags: 1993 Branch Davidian Crisis

Testimony begins in the civil suit filed by the survivors of the Branch Davidian conflagration outside Waco, Texas (see April 19, 1993), and the family members of those killed in the fire. The plaintiffs claim the government is responsible for the wrongful death of some 80 Davidians (see April 1995). The lead attorney for the plaintiffs, Michael Caddell, shows pictures of 15 children who died in the fire, and tells the jury that each of the children “never owned a gun. Never broke the law. Never hurt anyone.” For his part, US Attorney Michael Bradford, heading the government defense team, calls the Mt. Carmel compound of the Davidians an “armed encampment,” and says the Davidians ambushed agents of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (BATF, sometimes abbreviated ATF) when those agents presented search and arrest warrants to the residents (see 5:00 A.M. - 9:30 A.M. February 28, 1993 and March 1, 1993). Bradford tells the jury that Davidian leader David Koresh is responsible for the fire, not the FBI agents who assaulted the compound with tear gas and assault vehicles (see Late September - October 1993, August 2, 1996, and July 21, 2000). “The responsibility for those tragic events should not be placed upon the shoulders of the brave men and women of the ATF and the FBI,” Bradford says. “The responsibility for what happened at Mount Carmel is on David Koresh and the Branch Davidians. They caused this dangerous situation to occur, and they brought it to a tragic end.” The first to testify are three survivors of the conflagration, marking the first time any survivors have testified in the five-year legal proceedings. The survivors say that government reports of the Davidians being “armed to the teeth” are wrong, and depict the community as a happy, peaceful group. “There were people from all over the world: different personalities, different families, different interests, different likes and dislikes. We were all there for one purpose, and that was the Bible studies,” says Rita Riddle, who lost her brother Jimmy Riddle in the final fire. “David [Koresh] was my teacher.” Jaunessa Wendel, one of the children who left the compound before the fire, says: “It was our home. It was like an apartment building, a community center.” She testifies about bullets smashing through a window during the initial BATF raid, coming perilously close to striking her three younger siblings. “There was glass in my brother’s crib,” she recalls. Wendel’s mother, Jaydean Wendel, died in the shootout. Her father, Mark Wendel, died in the final fire. The three say they never learned to use guns from Koresh and other Davidians, disputing government testimony to the contrary, but admit that Koresh took other men’s wives as his own and fathered many of the community’s children (see February 27 - March 3, 1993). The government lawyers note that Wendel and another adult survivor previously told authorities that, contrary to their testimony today, they saw Riddle carrying or shooting a gun during the BATF raid, a contention that Riddle denies. Wendel says she lied during that testimony for fear that her family “might be split up” by the authorities if she did not tell them what she believed they wanted to hear. Government lawyers repeat earlier testimony from Wendel saying that she saw her mother fire on BATF agents. “You just made all that up?” Bradford asks. [Dallas Morning News, 6/6/2000]

Entity Tags: Mark Wendel, David Koresh, Branch Davidians, Jaunessa Wendel, Jimmy Riddle, Michael Caddell, US Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, Michael Bradford, Jaydean Wendel, Rita Riddle

Timeline Tags: 1993 Branch Davidian Crisis

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