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Profile: Steve Schneider
Steve Schneider was a participant or observer in the following events:
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
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
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]
Steve Schneider, David Koresh’s top aide inside the besieged Branch Davidian compound (see 5:00 A.M. - 9:30 A.M. February 28, 1993 and March 1, 1993), suggests that federal agents might burn the compound down to destroy evidence. Both Koresh and Schneider are “highly agitated and upset,” according to a later Justice Department report, for most of the day. FBI negotiators privately say that the negotiations are at an impasse, and acknowledge their frustration at dealing with Koresh. Koresh offers to send out one of his followers, Melissa Morrison, if in turn he is allowed to talk to FBI informant Robert Rodriguez. The FBI refuses, and Koresh does not allow Morrison to leave the compound. [Moore, 1995; PBS Frontline, 10/1995]
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]
A Dallas Morning News investigation is unable to find definitive information about how the Branch Davidian sect, currently besieged by federal authorities after a shootout with BATF agents (see 5:00 A.M. - 9:30 A.M. February 28, 1993 and March 1, 1993), supports itself financially. “How did an obscure religious sect manage to feed, clothe, house, and heavily arm dozens of devotees, with no obvious source of income?” the article asks, and does not provide a conclusive answer. Some members tithe their income and others donate their belongings. Federal authorities suspect the Davidians, or some individual members such as leader David Koresh (see November 3, 1987 and After), of selling drugs and/or laundering money. Except for a large and expensive cache of weapons (see June-July 1992), the Davidians live modestly, according to court documents. They own a few old cars, use recycled and scavenged building materials to work on their ramshackle Mt. Carmel home (or “compound” as some call it), aren’t up-to-date on their property taxes, and use cash, food stamps, and other public aid to purchase bulk food. The furnishings in the main building are comfortable but not plush; they have a swimming pool and a satellite dish, but no indoor plumbing. Steve Schneider, Koresh’s close aide, told reporters the day after the siege began that the members “all tithe… we work hard and save money.” Some members work outside the compound. Rick Ross, a Phoenix “deprogrammer” who believes Koresh runs a cult and has worked to help former Davidians reintegrate into society, has told reporters that “good salaries earned on the outside were plowed back into the sect.” Koresh is “very much into money,” he said. A federal agent says that Koresh requires members to give up their personal goods and homes, and takes all of the money; however, a former Davidian says that Koresh does not solicit contributions, and paid $40/month for room and board. “I never saw any interaction of money between disciples and Koresh,” he says. “I don’t know where he got his money from.… That’s the weird thing. You see he can afford all these things, and none of his people seemed like they had a lot of money. There’s something fishy here.” The 77-acre compound is valued at $122,000, and contains a main building (described by the reporters as “fortresslike”) and a number of small, ramshackle outbuildings and freestanding houses. [Dallas Morning News, 3/8/1993]
Several former members of the Branch Davidian community outside Waco, Texas (see 5:00 A.M. - 9:30 A.M. February 28, 1993 and March 1, 1993), appear on the Phil Donahue morning talk show. The show opens with a wrenching interview with Kiri Jewell, a young woman who left the Waco group with her father. Donahue says to her: “[Y]ou lived in this compound from age six till about a year and a half ago. You’re no longer in the cult because your father [David Jewell] successfully sued your mother for custody and you made your way to freedom, we might say, a year and a half ago.” Donahue calls the Branch Davidians a “destructive cult,” noting leader David Koresh’s marathon Bible study sessions (see February 27 - March 3, 1993), and says: “So the pressure was enormous, wasn’t it? He was a very controlling person.” (Two years later, Kiri Jewell will tell of her repeated rapes at the hands of Koresh—see July 21, 1995.) Former Davidian Marc Breault, who left the community after losing a power struggle with Koresh (see Around 4:00 p.m. February 28, 1993), focuses on how “easy” it was for him to be “sucked in” by Koresh and his group. Cult expert Rick Ross draws a sharp line between the Davidians and Koresh, saying: “Many of the people in this compound are highly-educated, very intelligent people, many very idealistic, very loving, very kind. And the fact is that it’s sad to say, but we’re all vulnerable to the kind of mental manipulation that this man pulled on these people and he has exploited them, dominated them, and taken control of their lives.… The group’s got an absolute leader. Everything the leader says is right, is right. Whatever he says is wrong, is wrong. And if you think for yourself, you’re rebellious, you’re evil, and your family is, too.” [Tabor and Gallagher, 1995, pp. 120-121] Two days later, Koresh’s aide Steve Schneider will demand a transcript from the Donahue show; the FBI will deny the request. [US Department of Justice, 10/8/1993]
The FBI, in the midst of besieging the Branch Davidian compound near Waco, Texas (see 5:00 A.M. - 9:30 A.M. February 28, 1993 and March 1, 1993), turns two people away from a roadblock preventing private citizens from accessing the compound. The two are Bonnie Haldeman, the mother of Davidian leader David Koresh, and lawyer Richard DeGuerin, hired by Haldeman to represent her son. Judge Walter Smith refuses Haldeman’s request to allow Koresh to meet with DeGuerin. [New York Times, 3/12/1993; Moore, 1995] Davidian aide Steve Schneider tells authorities that Koresh will allow three Davidians to leave the compound, but this does not happen, possibly because of the FBI’s refusal to allow the Haldeman and DeGuerin meetings. [New York Times, 3/12/1993] DeGuerin will later begin representing Koresh (see March 29-31, 1993).
Jeff Jamar, the onsite commander of FBI forces besieging the Branch Davidian compound outside Waco, Texas (see 5:00 A.M. - 9:30 A.M. February 28, 1993 and March 1, 1993), ignores the objections of some negotiators who feel that the release of two Davidians (see March 12, 1993) is a sign of progress, and orders the electricity to the compound to be cut off for good (see March 9, 1993), saying he wants the Davidians to “experience the same wet and cold night as the tactical personnel outside.” Jamar’s rationale is that a cold night inside the compound will increase the stress levels among the Davidians, and work to destabilize leader David Koresh’s control of the situation. Steve Schneider, Koresh’s top aide, changes his mind about leaving the compound due to the power outage. The next day, Schneider relays the complaints of cold and discomfort from those inside to the FBI. Koresh will later upbraid Schneider for doing what he calls a poor job of representing the Davidians to the FBI. [New York Times, 3/13/1993; Moore, 1995; PBS Frontline, 10/1995]
Richard DeGuerin. [Source: University of Houston]Steve Schneider, the second in command to Branch Davidian leader David Koresh (see March 6, 1993 and March 1, 1993), charges for the second time that the government wants to kill all the Davidians and burn their compound (see March 6, 1993). Outside the compound, the FBI receives letters from two lawyers, Richard DeGuerin and Jack Zimmerman, asking that they be allowed to represent Koresh and Schneider (see March 29-31, 1993 and April 1-4, 1993). The FBI refuses to let the lawyers speak to their clients. [Moore, 1995]
The FBI modifies its negotiation strategy with the besieged Branch Davidian members (see 5:00 A.M. - 9:30 A.M. February 28, 1993 and March 1, 1993), saying it continues to insist on a peaceful resolution but will no longer listen to what some officials call “Bible babble.” FBI agent Richard Swenson tells reporters: “For an awful long period we listened literally for hours and hours. But after a cumulative period of time it became obvious that was not leading to a peaceful resolution. Frankly, we are not here to be converted.” Two Davidians, top aide Steve Schneider and Wayne Martin, meet with FBI senior agent Byron Sage and McLennan County Sheriff Jack Harwell (see March 11, 1993) outside the compound, in a conversation FBI commander Jeffrey Jamar later terms the “Dutch Uncle” discussion. Davidian leader David Koresh does not attend the negotiations, claiming to be “too sick to move.” Koresh has said he was wounded in the gunfight between Davidians and federal agents. [New York Times, 3/15/1993; New York Times, 3/16/1993; Moore, 1995; PBS Frontline, 10/1995] In a 1995 interview, Harwell will note that Schneider has a degree in theology and Martin is a lawyer. “I don’t know about all the people out there,” he will say, “but I know that there were some well-educated people there who, because of their religion, maybe were different, but otherwise, they were just normal, everyday good people.” [PBS Frontline, 10/1995] In a 1995 interview, Sage will discuss the conversation between the four. He will recall that he and Harwell hoped to talk with Koresh, and had compiled a large set of documents—search warrants, arrest warrants, and so forth—to prove to Martin that their intentions were genuine. Sage will characterize Koresh as an “obstructionist.” Sage will say that he believes Koresh is trying to rein in Schneider, whom Sage believes has “been won over a little too much” by the FBI negotiations. Sage will say that by this time, he has no belief that Koresh is trying to negotiate a surrender in good faith. He also has strong doubts as to Koresh’s assumed psychosis or state of delusion. “He does not buy off on his own con,” Sage will recall. Sage will add that Koresh does not react well to being “held accountable” and has the pressure escalated on him to conclude the standoff. [PBS Frontline, 10/1995]
Steve Schneider, the second in command of the besieged Branch Davidians (see 5:00 A.M. - 9:30 A.M. February 28, 1993 and March 1, 1993), repeatedly requests that the FBI allow Dr. Philip Arnold, a religious expert from Houston (see March 7, 1993), to discuss the “Seven Seals” with Davidian leader David Koresh. The “Seven Seals” are referenced in the Bible as the items that must be broken to allow the end of the world—the Apocalypse—to commence. Koresh and other Davidians have heard Arnold on a local radio station, KRLD. The FBI refuses the request, though agents do contact Arnold about getting audiotapes of his radio program. The FBI will have no more contact with Arnold. [Moore, 1995]
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), refuses to allow his top aide Steve Schneider to talk further with FBI senior agent Byron Sage (see March 15, 1993). Instead, Sage urges Koresh to surrender, questioning his sincerity and challenging him to take some positive action. Sage and FBI commander Jeff Jamar decide to increase the pressure on Koresh, hoping to force him into surrendering; the next day, agents broadcast a message into the compound over loudspeakers, advising those inside that they will be treated fairly if they come out. FBI profiler Pete Smerick, frustrated at the increasingly aggressive tactics being employed (see March 3-4, 1993 and March 9, 1993), leaves the site. [PBS Frontline, 10/1995]
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]
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]
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]
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]
Steve Schneider, the aide to Branch Davidian leader David Koresh, protests the FBI’s barrage of bright lights and extremely loud music into the Davidian compound. Schneider says the FBI had agreed to ease its pressure tactics during Passover (see April 1-4, 1993). The FBI continues shining the the lights and playing music into the compound. [Moore, 1995]
Lawyers for two of the Branch Davidians currently besieged inside their compound by FBI forces ask a federal magistrate to impound a videotape of the federal raid on the compound (see 5:00 A.M. - 9:30 A.M. February 28, 1993 and March 1, 1993). Officials from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (BATF, also abbreviated as ATF) say they have already turned the videotape over to Texas law enforcement authorities. The videotape, shot from a National Guard helicopter which served as a BATF “command post” for the raid, may help determine whether the Davidians or BATF agents fired the first shots of the firefight, which claimed 10 lives. The tape has not been made public. BATF spokeswoman Sharon Wheeler says, “All I can tell you is that the tape is in the custody of the Texas Rangers.” The Rangers have been investigating the shootout as a possible prelude to state charges against cult members. Jack Zimmerman, representing Davidian aide Steve Schneider (see March 29-31, 1993), says the BATF “is not a disinterested party,” and may be attempting to edit or alter the videotape. “Should the videotapes and audiotapes reveal shortcomings on the part of the ATF,” Zimmerman says, “it would not be in the interest of the ATF to retain unaltered damning videotapes and audiotapes.” BATF officials say such assertions are groundless. [New York Times, 4/7/1993] Zimmerman and fellow lawyer Richard DeGuerin claim that BATF agents fired first, and that agents fired on the compound from helicopters; the bureau denies both assertions (see April 4-5, 1993).
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
David Koresh, the increasingly unstable leader (see April 9, 1993) 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), informs FBI negotiators in a letter written to his lawyer Richard DeGuerin that God has finally spoken to him; he will leave the compound once he has written a manuscript explaining the Seven Seals, a Biblical concept that is associated with the Apocalypse. According to the book Snapping: America’s Epidemic of Sudden Personality Change, Koresh’s lieutenant Steve Schneider tells negotiators that it might take “six months or six years” to complete the manuscript. Other sources say that Koresh intends to finish the manuscript within several weeks. [US Department of Justice, 4/14/1993; Conway and Siegelman, 1995, pp. 244; Moore, 1995; New Yorker, 5/15/1995]
Religious Basis for Surrender? - The latest letter from Koresh is substantially different from his previous letters; while the earlier letters were primarily rambling Biblical dissertations, this letter states a deadline as to when the Davidians will leave and Koresh will surrender. Experts reading the letter note that it is far more prosaically written than the earlier letters, and states Koresh’s desire to leave the compound and “stand before man to answer any and all questions regarding my actions.” Some religious scholars, later reading the letter, will say that they believe Koresh has found a religious rationale for surrendering. James Tabor of the University of North Carolina will say, “Koresh used the religious arguments in this letter for why he had now seen that the scriptures told him to come out.” Tabor and his colleague, Philip Arnold of the Reunion Institute of Houston (see March 7, 1993), will note that Koresh now seems to believe that surrender is a viable option because he “could come out and preach his message.” [US Department of Justice, 4/14/1993; House Committee on Government Reform and Oversight, 8/2/1996]
Davidians 'Cheer' over Likelihood of Departure - DeGuerin, representing Koresh and the Davidians (see April 1-4, 1993), says that the Davidians are happy about the prospect of their imminent release. “[E]everyone was relieved they did not have to die,” DeGuerin will later recall. The Davidians obviously believe they are leaving; cheering can be heard on FBI surveillance audiotapes. Tabor will later testify: “You can exactly see the mental state of the people inside. It is buoyant. They are talking about coming out. They are excited about it.” Tabor will quote surviving Davidians as saying, “We were so joyful that weekend because we knew we were coming out, that finally David had got his word of how to do this legally, the lawyers, and theologically in terms of his system.” [House Committee on Government Reform and Oversight, 8/2/1996]
FBI, Justice Department Refuse to Countenance Idea, Continue with Plans to Assault Compound - In Washington, Attorney General Janet Reno continues to review plans to flush the Davidians out with tear gas (see April 12, 1993), and meets with members of the Army’s elite Delta Force to fine-tune the strategy. Senior White House and Justice Department officials conclude that there is no hope of Koresh surrendering peacefully, a conclusion reinforced by FBI senior agent Byron Sage, one of the principal negotiators, who tells officials that in his opinion further negotiations would be fruitless. The FBI agent in charge of the siege, Jeffrey Jamar, gives DeGuerin and his fellow lawyer Jack Zimmerman the impression that he takes Koresh’s offer of surrender seriously, but as Jamar will later testify, he does not. Jamar will later testify: “It was serious in [DeGuerin’s and Zimmerman’s] minds. I think they were earnest and really hopeful, but in Koresh’s mind, never a chance. I’m sorry.” The Delta Force members are present at the request of FBI Director William Sessions, to convince Reno to go along with the tear-gas plan. They reassure her that tear gas presents no danger to both the adults and the children in the compound, and that it cannot catch fire. Richard Rogers, the head of the Hostage Rescue Team (HRT—see March 31, 1993), says that if the situation in Waco is not resolved soon, he will have to withdraw his men for rest and retraining. Reno asks why, if the HRT teams must be withdrawn, local SWAT teams cannot be deployed in their place; Rogers and other FBI officials say the presence of the HRT teams is “essential.” However, even with the pressure from the FBI officials, Reno rejects the plan. [New Yorker, 5/15/1995; PBS Frontline, 10/1995] She will approve a modified version of the plan two days later (see April 17-18, 1993). She is apparently unaware that the FBI will lob pyrotechnic grenades either into or near the building (see August 25, 1999 and After).
Opinions Vary on Koresh's Intentions, Sincerity - Sage will later say that in his opinion, Koresh never intended to follow through with the proposed surrender. He will say that Koresh turns down offers to provide typists and word processors to help him complete his manuscript, though the FBI provides equipment to let Davidian Ruth Riddle begin typing transcripts for him. Sage is convinced, he will say, that the entire manuscript proposal is “just another delaying tactic.” [Dick J. Reavis, 7/19/1995; PBS Frontline, 10/1995] Others have a different opinion. Two religious scholars, Arnold and Tabor, have studied Koresh’s earlier broadcast (see March 2, 1993), and believe that Koresh has decided that the Apocalypse he believes is unfolding at Mt. Carmel still has a year or so before it concludes; Koresh’s decision to write the manuscript about the Seven Seals indicates to them that he has changed his mind about the timeframe of the End Days. They believe that Koresh means what he says and does intend to surrender after completing the manuscript. [Dean M. Kelley, 5/1995]
Entity Tags: Federal Bureau of Investigation, Byron Sage, David Koresh, Clinton administration, FBI Hostage Rescue Team, William S. Sessions, Steve Schneider, Branch Davidians, Richard Rogers, Ruth Riddle, James Tabor, Janet Reno, Jack Zimmerman, Philip Arnold, Richard DeGuerin, Jeffrey Jamar
Timeline Tags: 1993 Branch Davidian Crisis
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
Ten men and one woman, survivors of the Branch Davidian debacle near Waco (see March 1, 1993 and April 19, 1993), are tried for an array of crimes allegedly committed during the initial federal assault on the Mt. Carmel compound (see 5:00 A.M. - 9:30 A.M. February 28, 1993) and the ensuing siege (see August 7, 1993). (Fourteen other survivors face no charges.) All 11 are charged with conspiring to kill federal agents “with malice aforethought,” and for aiding and abetting such killing. A twelfth defendant, Kathryn Schroeder, pleads guilty to a lesser charge and testifies for the government. Some of the defendants also face charges such as using or carrying firearms in the commission of a violent crime. Ten lawyers represent the defendants. The trial takes place in San Antonio and lasts for seven weeks. Trial testimony casts doubt on the government’s tale of a vicious, unprovoked attack on the agents of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (BATF) who raided the compiund, and the cool, entirely professional response of the BATF and FBI. [Dean M. Kelley, 5/1995; Houston Chronicle, 4/21/1997] The defendants accuse the FBI of persecuting them for their unorthodox religious beliefs and for not respecting their constitutional right to bear arms. [Conway and Siegelman, 1995, pp. 244]
Bullet Holes in Door - Attorney Jack Zimmerman, who represented Davidian Steve Schneider and who met with Schneider during the siege, testifies that he saw the double front door of the compound riddled with bullet holes on the outside, presumably from shots fired by the BATF during its February raid. The door was not recovered from the compound after fire destroyed much of it, even though it was made of steel and presumably would not have vaporized in the flames. Texas Ranger Fred Cummings, who testifies about the details of the Rangers’ search for evidence after the fire, cannot explain what happened to the door, though he does acknowledge that FBI and BATF agents had access to the area between the time that the fire subsided and the time the Rangers took over. Presumably, the defense is trying to give the idea that either FBI or BATF agents absconded with the door in order to conceal evidence. Zimmerman also testifies that he saw eight or nine bullet holes in the roof that “caused the building material to be pooched in or down” showing that “the rounds came from above the ceiling down into the room.” Evidence that would confirm or disprove this claim was destroyed in the fire. BATF agent Roger Ballesteros, the agent assigned to lead the assault on the compound through the front door, testifies that he emerged from the cattle trailer carrying the assembled agents and charged for the front door, in full SWAT gear and carrying a shotgun across his chest. Balesteros testifies that Davidian leader David Koresh opened the door and asked, “What’s going on?” (Koresh and the Davidians were aware that an assault by federal agents was underway.) Balesteros testifies that he shouted: “Police! Lay down! Search warrant!” though he admits not mentioning these statements when he discussed the raid with Texas Rangers afterwards. He says bullets, fired from inside the compound by the Davidians, began spraying through the door moments later, and one struck him in the thumb. Asked how he knows that, he says that he saw holes in the door and splinters of wood pointing outward. The door, as established earlier, was steel and not wood.
Davidians Had Guns for Business Purposes, Gun Dealers Say - Testimony from gun dealers shows that the Davidians were acting as gun dealers themselves, buying and selling weapons for profit at gun shows. The prosecution introduces into evidence dozens of guns found in the ashes of Mt. Carmel that had been illegally converted into fully automatic weapons (see May 26, 1993); some of these weapons are proven by their serial numbers to have been sold to the Davidians by the testifying gun dealers. Photographs of engine lathes, a hydraulic press, and a milling machine show that the Davidians had the equipment to modify legal firearms to make them into illegal versions of those weapons. However, the prosecution fails to unequivocally prove that the illegally modified weapons were modified by the Davidians. Two heavy .50-caliber guns are introduced into evidence, along with the appropriate ammunition, but the defense argues that it is not illegal for citizens to own such guns, nor could it be proven that those weapons had been fired.
Unable to Escape - The FBI has always maintained that it took steps to ensure that any Davidian who wanted to leave the compound during the last assault could do so. Tarrant County medical examiner Dr. Nizam Peerwani, testifying about the condition of the bodies found, notes that some Davidians, such as Schneider and Koresh, died from close-range bullet wounds in the head, indicating that they had no intention of trying to escape. However, several women’s bodies were found in the hallway leading to the trapdoor access to the underground school bus at the north end of the building that had been constructed as a tornado shelter. Apparently the women were trying to leave, but they could not because the trapdoor had been buried by debris from the collapsing of the wall pushed in by a tank prior to the fire. All of the children who died in the conflagration, and many of the women, were found in a cinderblock room used for cold storage of food. The room, located under the four-story guard tower, was the strongest and safest area of the compound, furthest from the gas and the FBI armored vehicles. Around 30 bodies were recovered from that room; many, especially the smaller children, were covered with blankets, sleeping bags, and extra clothing, apparently due to attempts by the women to protect the children from the gas and fire. When the room collapsed in on itself, the tower fell on it. Those inside the room died from suffocation, blunt trauma from debris impact, close-range gunshot wounds, and/or smoke and fire.
Gas, Armored Vehicles - FBI agents testify that hundreds of canisters and “ferret rounds” containing CS gas were “inserted,” or fired into, the compound. Some of the ferret rounds bounced off the frame walls, but many entered through windows and other openings. FBI testimony shows that the Davidians began to fire at the agents, or their armored vehicles, after the gas was introduced. When the Davidians began shooting, agents testify, they abandoned the plan to slowly and measuredly introduce gas into the compound over a matter of hours, and began firing gas into the compound as quickly as possible. The order to use CEVs (combat engineering vehicles) to push in walls of the compound were given in order to allow observers to see inside. The CEVs also pressed forward through the compound towards the guard tower (where, unbeknownst to the agents, the women and children were gathering to escape the assault). By that point, the original plans for a gradual and careful assault had been all but abandoned.
Fire - The government prosecutors introduce a plethora of evidence that shows the Davidians themselves set the fires that eventually burned the compound to the ground. High winds aided the spread of the flames. The defense claims that Davidians did not start the fires, but instead the tanks and CEVs knocked over Coleman lanterns, being used for light because the FBI had cut the electricity to the compound. Prosecutors play audiotapes and enter transcripts of the Davidians allegedly making preparations to set the compound afire, obtained through electronic surveillance. 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.” The defense argues that if the Davidians indeed poured lantern fuel or other accelerants through the compound, they were doing so in an attempt to stave off the incoming armored vehicles. Defendant Graeme Craddock told a Texas Ranger that he was ordered by one Davidian, Wayne Martin, to pour lantern fuel on any tank that came in through the wall and to light it—a last-ditch tactic that might result in the defenders’ death as well as the attackers’. Testimony shows that the FBI had alerted the Burn Unit at Parkland Memorial Hospital early that morning to be prepared to receive burn victims, and asked for directions as to how to land helicopters bearing burn victims at the hospital. FBI agents wore fireproof suits for the assault. And a helicopter carrying a Forward-Looking Infra-Red (FLIR) camera circled over the complex, ready to photograph any outbreak of fire. The FBI maintains that it was prepared for fire, but had no intention of actually causing a fire. The defense notes that the FBI did not initially bring up fire-fighting equipment to the compound. A government witness, arson investigator William Cass, says that films taken at the time of the fire show fire starting almost simultaneously at 12:11 p.m. The strong winds, aided by the holes punched in the walls by the CEVs, helped the fire engulf most of the compound within five minutes. The defense shows an earlier portion of the FLIR video showing a flash or flare of heat in the gymnasium area taking place at 12:08 p.m. Cass testifies that he has never seen that video. Observer logs show that two reports of fire in the gym were made at 12:11; Cass testifies he has never seen those logs. The logs were handled by Paul Gray, chief of the arson investigating team. The defense shows that Gray often testifies on arson incidents on behalf of the BATF, and his wife works in the BATF’s Houston office. Gray’s final report claims that CN tear gas is not flammable and would have actually impeded the spread of fire; testimony shows that the assault did not use CN tear gas, but a very different substance, CS gas delivered by a rather flammable propellant. In 1995, a surviving Davidian will confirm that the sect members, and not the FBI, actually set the fires (see August 4, 1995). In 1999, the FBI will admit to firing pyrotechnic gas canisters into the compound, but will deny that the devices started the fires (see August 25, 1999 and After). In 2000, a prosecutor will be charged with hiding evidence about the canisters from the defense and from a subsequent government investigation (see November 9, 2000).
Verdicts - The jury finds the defendants not guilty of the two most serious crimes, conspiracy to murder federal agents, and aiding and abetting such a conspiracy. The jury convicts five defendants of voluntary manslaughter, defined by Judge Walter Smith as acting “in the sudden heat of passion caused by adequate provocation.” Two defendants are convicted of firearms charges. Seven defendants are convicted of using and carrying firearms “during and in relation to a crime of violence,” convictions set aside by the judge because of the jury’s failure to convict the defendants of guilt in committing those crimes of violence. (The judge later reinstates those convictions.) In all, four are acquitted of all charges and seven are convicted of various crimes. Davidians Renos Avraam, Brad Eugene Branch, Jaime Castillo, Livingstone Fagan, and Kevin A. Whitecliff receive 10-year sentences for voluntary manslaughter, and additional 30-year sentences for using a firearm in a violent crime. Craddock receives 20 years for possessing a grenade and using a firearm in a violent crime. Paul Gordon Fatta receives a 15-year sentence for possessing and conspiring to possess machine guns, though he was not present during the siege. Ruth Riddle is convicted of using or carrying a weapon during a crime. And Schroeder, who cooperated with the prosecution, is convicted of forcibly resisting arrest. [Dean M. Kelley, 5/1995; Houston Chronicle, 4/21/1997; Associated Press, 4/19/2006]
Entity Tags: Fred Cummings, US Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, David Koresh, Wayne Martin, William Cass, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Steve Schneider, Brad Eugene Branch, Branch Davidians, Ruth Riddle, Walter Smith, Renos Avraam, Graeme Leonard Craddock, Jack Zimmerman, Jaime Castillo, Roger Ballesteros, Kathryn Schroeder, Livingstone Fagan, Kevin A. Whitecliff, Paul Gray, Nizam Peerwani, Paul Gordon Fatta
Timeline Tags: 1993 Branch Davidian Crisis
A former Army colonel tells a Dallas reporter that the FBI overheard Branch Davidian leader David Koresh ordering the fires that consumed the Davidian compound and killed almost 80 of Koresh’s followers (see April 19, 1993). For years, many have accused the FBI of causing the fires that culminated the April 19, 1993 assault on the Davidian compound. Now, Colonel Rodney Rawlings, a former military adviser, says that he was in the FBI monitoring room outside the compound on the day of the assault, and he and several FBI agents overheard Koresh give the orders to fire the compound. The FBI had surveillance “bugs” in several places inside the compound, but FBI and Justice Department officials, including Attorney General Janet Reno, have said that they did not know if Koresh ordered the fires. In recent weeks, the FBI has come under heavy criticism for having to admit that its agents fired incendiary tear gas rounds at a bunker near the compound during the assault (see August 25, 1999 and After). Rawlings tells the Dallas Morning News that as the Army’s senior liaison to the FBI’s Hostage Rescue Team (HRT), he was in the monitoring room during the assault. He says: “You could hear everything from the very beginning, as it was happening. Anyone who says you couldn’t at the time is being less than truthful.” Rawlings says the FBI surveillance bugs picked up Koresh’s orders to set the fires. Shortly afterwards, he says, the bugs picked up the sound of gunfire. The bugs then recorded Koresh declaring that God did not want him to die, and Koresh’s chief lieutenant, Steve Schneider, saying that Koresh “wasn’t going to get out of this.” Both Koresh and Schneider were later found dead in a room of the compound, both dead of gunshot wounds. FBI officials have previously testified that transmissions from the eavesdropping devices were too garbled to allow agents to hear discussions about spreading fuel and setting fires. Rawlings says that the FBI’s denials bother him “to no end. They’ve had the opportunity to say, ‘We knew.’ We’ve not gotten a straightforward answer.” [Reuters, 10/8/1999]
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