The Fate of April 19, 1998
The past can't be changed or deleted, but it can be used to help shape the future of who we become as individuals. For the children at Mt. Carmel, most of them were never given the opportunity to choose their own future. Their fate was decided for them by adults who believed that getting their point across was the only important thing that mattered.
The Waco Massacre began as a shootout between the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (BATF) and The Branch Davidians, on February 28, 1993. The BATF agents had finally received enough allegations about the compound's stash of illegal firearms, as well as their undergoing projects for converting A15-semiautomatics into machine guns, that they were able to obtain a warrant for searching the compound. When the word got out about their plan to catch the Branch Davidians off guard, ATF Agents arrived at what they had hoped and planned to be an unsuspecting group of people. Instead, they discovered that many news stations had caught wind and arrived early, already bringing the BATF's arrival to the Davidians' attention.
Needless to say, the plan was unsuccessful and the BATF quickly found themselves in a shootout with David Koresh and his followers. The combat lasted a total of fifty-one days, where both parties shot at each other through windows and doors of the compound. Much to the enforcement officers' surprise, the Davidians had enough power to force them into requesting backup from the FBI. For almost two months, nearly every department of law enforcement in the town of Waco, Texas, worked together around the clock, keeping guard outside the walls. But the Davidians stood strong. With both parties as adamant as they were, it was evident that neither side was backing down any time soon.
Finally, on April 19, 1998, a fire broke out inside the walls of Mt. Carmel, which brought the battle to an end by killing the remainder of 85 Branch Davidians, including 17 children under the age of ten. Ever since that day, rumor and speculation spread about the FBI being the actual suspects for killing so many innocent lives. But is it possible for anyone to prove who the true culprits are? And should that even be our main concern?
The blame shouldn't necessarily be laid on anyone other than the adults inside, who were responsible for their own lives, yes, but even more importantly they were responsible for the lives of their children. In addition, the focus shouldn't be on asking ourselves who or what caused the fire, but rather, it should be on asking what kind of innocent victim would choose to let their innocent children get killed just so they could justify their personal beliefs? Was there no way of escape for them? But in fact, there was a way of escape. As many children as were killed that day, there were also children who escaped death, thanks to their parents who nobly chose to send them outside of the compound before the battle got any worse. The children who left the compound were embraced by the BATF and FBI agents; they were not harmed or threatened in any way.
Perhaps the best way for anyone to draw their own conclusion would be to go back to the very beginning of the Branch Davidians' establishment; 34 years before the Waco Massacre even happened.
Where David Koresh Began
Born on August 17, 1959, in the Hermon Hospital of Houston, TX, David's birth certificate stated his original name as Vernon Howell. It would not be until many years later, after he joined the pre-existing Davidian group and began professing himself as "messiah," that he changed his name to David Koresh. Author David Thibodeau, one of the surviving Davidians, quoted Koresh in his book(A Place Called Waco: A Survivor's Story) for saying he had "relatives that were heavy," meaning relatives that were burdensome (pg. 39). Thibodeau continued to share Koresh's testimony by accusing his mother, Bonnie Haldeman (who was only fourteen years old at the time that she gave birth to Vernon Howell), for beating him "black and blue" at his thirteenth birthday party (pg. 39).
However, in her own autobiography (Memories of the Branch Davidians: The Autobiography of David Koresh's Mother), although she could not recall her reason why, Bonnie stated that she "whopped" young David for being bad, but she did not beat him black and blue (pg. 20). She went on to say, only a few paragraphs preceding that statement, that often times when she got mad at "Vernon" she would yell, holler and whop him; in fact, a couple times she "probably whopped him too hard" (pg 21).
Although she acknowledged that her son seemed a bit odd in his adolescence, Bonnie believed he was not as disturbed as people had accused him of being. According to her autobiography, around third grade Vernon's school diagnosed him with a "language disability" (pg. 15). And yet, Vernon grew up to become one of the best known manipulators and brain-washers in history, because of his smooth and convincing speech skills.
It seems a bit ironic that David Koresh, the man who earned his reputation for having gifts in double-talk, was claimed by his mother to just be suffering from a language disability. Perhaps, she was requesting that the world dismiss the devastating effects of her son's behavior simply because of his mental illness. Perhaps she was pleading insanity for him.
As Vernon grew into a young man, he spent many days with his childhood companion and cousin, Andy Leamon, doing typical young male stuff like shooting guns in the woods and exploring abandoned buildings. They remained close for years until Vernon approached the age of 21. His self-righteous behavior became unbearable for many people, and it put an end to the boys' friendship when a brawl broke out between them at a family reunion.
The fight had begun because of Vernon's obsessive and insensitive nagging to his relatives about their sins. To Vernon, he viewed his behavior as sharing the truth about the Bible, but to everyone else he was simply a wacko. After David Koresh (the estranged man that Andy Leamon only knew as Vernon) died at Mt. Carmel, Leamon shared some truths about him as a young man, including Andy's opinion on Vernon's language disability. "Neither one of us did worth a crap in school," he recalled, "He could read and write and everything. He just didn't have no interest in it, just like me. Neither one of us were worried about what happened in school until report cards came out, and we'd come home with bad cards and get our asses beat. (quoted in Madigan, pg. 20)."
As we can see, 2 close family members can not agree as they recall the same child for having two completely different character traits, as far as intellect and discipline were concerned.
"Watch out that no one deceives you. For many will come in my name, claiming, 'I am Christ,' and will deceive many..."
— Matthew 24:4
The Truth Behind David
One thing everyone seems to agree in remembering about Vernon, however, was his obsession with the Bible, rock & roll, and his lust for women. If Vernon had just switched his interest in the Bible to drugs he would have made the perfect Rock Star. Well, he may not have gone down in history for writing one of the world's greatest rock songs, but "David Koresh" certainly succeeded at having his name known throughout most households across the nation, as well as in other parts of the world. He received far more than just ten minutes of fame by the time his life came to an end. It didn't seem to phase him that his reputation with the majority of the world was more bad than good, and that even most Christians titled him "the Sinful Messiah."
It can only be assumed that many Christians have wondered how David could believe himself to be the reincarnation of Christ, yet most of his teachings did not comply with the Holy Bible from which he gave all of his sermons. One of the greatest examples for this is when Jesus Christ himself said,
"Watch out that no one deceives you. For many will come in my name, claiming, 'I am the Christ,' and will deceive many. You will hear of wars and rumors of wars, but see to it that you are not alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come. Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be famines and earthquakes in various places... At that time many will turn away from the faith and will betray and hate each other, and many false prophets will appear and deceive many people. Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold, but he who stands firm to the end will be saved. And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come. So when you see standing in the holy place 'the abomination that causes desolation,' spoken of through the prophet Daniel---let the reader understand---then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains... At that time if anyone says to you, 'Look, here is the Christ!' or, 'There he is!' do not believe it. For false Christs and false prophets will appear and perform great signs and miracles to deceive even the elect---if that were possible. See, I have told you ahead of time. So if anyone tells you, 'There he is, out in the desert,' do not go out; or, 'Here he is, in the inner rooms,' do not believe it... At that time the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky, and all the nations of the earth will mourn. They will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of the sky, with power and great glory." (Matthew 24:4-26,30)
As we see in Matthew 24, Christ said the whole earth will know He is the Messiah when he appears to us in the sky. David Koresh did not appear on the clouds and although he did demonstrate an element of "power," he did not appear to have much glory. David came to the world through what sounds like it could have been a broken, neglected, semi-abusive home. He had to legally change his birth name in order to possess a new one that he considered to hold more spiritual meaning. In my opinion, this man was the epitome of the false prophets whom Christ warned the world against.
David Koresh Giving One of His Sermons
Of course, as we all know, there are plenty of good people who had terrible childhoods. Vernon Howell grew up making mistakes that may have reflected his mother's parenting styles, or lack thereof. David Koresh, on the other hand, was nobody's son and he personally chose to turn himself into that man.
That does not mean it can be dismissed that the influences from our tender ages can impact our lives, forever. Subconsciously, we could harbor emotions that we never even realized we had, and reflect them as part of our character and by our behavior. In other cases, it could be a biological discrepancy that we inherit as a personality trait, addiction, or possibly mental disorder. The past can not be changed or deleted, but it can be used to help shape the future of who we become as individuals.
David's Followers and Worshippers
WACO: Rules of Engagement is a movie which provides real video and audio pieces from the shootout and the trial that preceded. In it, we are shown a lot of footage from inside the hearing, and one in particular sticks out like a soar thumb. A young girl shares her testimony of her encounters with David Koresh. She tells of how her mother left her alone at home with him and during that time, he took the little girl to bed and stole her innocence. The defense attorneys interject that this young girl's very own mother, as well as many other Branch Davidians, did not believe the girl's story.
What would have been the purpose for this young girl's testimony if it were not true? Why would she make something like that up? By the time she shared her story with the court, "David Koresh had already died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head." (A Place Called Waco: A Survivor's Story, pg. 276). This girl could no longer hurt Koresh; her testimony could not have resulted in sentencing him to prison. It could not have brought her the justice she deserved. Was it possible her mother and other followers were still that brainwashed after Koresh's passing that they would defend him to their own death? What may or may not come as a huge surprise is that the court chose to dismiss the young girl's testimony as irrelevant. It was not important to them.
However, what the court had evidence of and knew to be concrete fact was that David Koresh claimed to be the reincarnated messiah. They also knew that he convinced all husbands in the compound to turn celibate and surrender their wives to David "the Messiah" so he could take them as his own wife. Any man who didn't agree to these terms would be forced to leave the compound and bring his family with him. Finally, they also knew that David had numerous wives, ranging as young in age as 14 (some speculation states as young as 12). Were these facts not enough for the courts to take deeper consideration into account for the young girl's story of being raped by David Koresh?
Considering what we know Koresh was capable of doing and saying to convince others to follow him, it wouldn't be too outrageous for him to have counseled his followers to deny any accusations placed against him. But in fact, there were other testimonies of David Koresh having sexual encounters with minor women. David Koresh boasted about having multiple wives and seventeen children. On their official website, PBS Frontline quoted James D. Tabor and Eugene V. Gallagher from their book Why Waco?, saying "Koresh acknowledged on a videotape sent out of the compound during the standoff that he had fathered more than 12 children by several 'wives' who were as young as 12 or 13 when they became pregnant." To this man and his followers, that sounded like a wonderful thing, to the rest of the world it sounded like statutory rape willingly given by the parents of the minors.
Koresh also taught the members of the "House of David" that the Bible showed women were ready to become wives once they reached their child bearing age. He used this teaching to convince his followers that young girls were ready for intercourse and mothering children. What he conveniently left out is that the world in biblical days was very different from the 20th century. Multiple studies have been done to find what the acceptable age was in B.C./early A.D. for marriage, but the conclusions have often contradicted each other. The bottom line is, David Koresh and the Branch Davidians were living in a time where laws prohibited sexual intercourse with children. They could not go by the laws that may or may not have been set at younger ages during biblical times.
Even if they were set at younger ages, one would then have to consider the change in human development. Women and men, alike, were given greater responsibility as well as independence at younger ages during historical times. It is mainly because of society and hormonal changes that girls and boys mature later today than they typically did in older days. In other words, a 17 year old girl during the time of Christ would probably have lived a much more mature lifestyle for her age than a 17 year old girl in the 20th century, and today. Koresh was not persuing old-fashioned women, he was toying with modern-day children. He was stealing their ability to live as other kids and teens were living in the world, innocently. He was manipulating parents to let him be a child predator on their own kin. He was a control freak.
The BATF made holes in the side of Mt. Carmel's walls with their Abrams Tanks, in order to insert nonlethal tear gas into the compound, just enough to drive the Branch Davidians out. From the beginning of the battle, the choice was given to the Branch Davidians, whether to end it with peace or end it with death. In almost every negotiation that went on between Koresh and the outside world during the 51-day siege, he promised either to surrender his people or to surrender himself, by exiting Mt. Carmel. Tim Madigan shares in his book, a copy of the transcript made from Koresh's "final message," a sermon that Koresh gave soon before his death, which was broadcasted over radio stations across the country on March 2, 1993.
The very first line of his address stated, "I, David Koresh, agree upon the broadcast of this tape to come out peacefully with all the people, immediately" (quoted in Madigan, pg. 226). There were no ifs, ands, or buts, to follow that statement; no stipulations to his agreement for surrendering. Yet, after he continued to ramble on for 58 minutes about his prophecies on the seven seals, there was no sign of David or his followers exiting the compound like he had promised. However, it was emphasized in more than one conversation between him and the FBI that David would allow his followers to leave Mt. Carmel at any time; he claimed that nobody was being held there against their will. Some followers did end up leaving, and a few parents were even kind enough to send their children out while they, themselves remained inside the compound. But why did the majority of parents choose not to do the same for their own children? Over 20 kids died at Mt. Carmel, on April 19, 1993. Is it a coincidence that the majority of them were the sons and daughters of David Koresh, himself?
There is no doubt that dying for faith is considered an honorable thing to do by many. In fact, that is what makes a person a martyr. However, it is only honored when someone is faced with the choice to curse their god and live, or proudly acknowledge their faith and die. As a Christian, I believe that my salvation is based off of one man's life, which He gave in order to save mine and everyone else in the world who believes and accepts Him as their Savior. When you put Christianity in that perspective, it may appear that Christianity in general is no less extreme than the Branch Davidians' beliefs. After all, we both study from the Bible, we follow a man who claimed to be the Messiah, and many unbelievers like to ridicule, poke fun, and judge us for the things we do and say because of our faith.
However, the issue here wasn't about the Davidians' choice to follow David Koresh as their savior. God gives everyone the freedom to choose what they want to believe, whether it is accurate or not. The Branch Davidians chose to believe a man who claimed to be the reincarnated Christ. If they wanted to follow a self-proclaimed savior, that was their prerogative and it wasn't necessarily a bad thing. What made it wrong was when the signs of potential harm towards themselves and others become evident. Especially when the majority of those "others" were young, innocent children; babies. What also made it wrong was David's encouragement for them to plan war and mass deaths in the name of the Father.
The Dangers of David and The Davidians to the Outside World
A lot of people believed that as long as David and the Branch Davidians kept their beliefs and practices to themselves that they should have been left alone and allowed to go on about their business. But after the Waco Massacre, the court hearings found many pieces of evidence which pointed to David Koresh being a brain-washing cult leader. His firm belief that it was his duty to gather enough followers and weapons to take over the land of Israel proves within itself that this man was well beyond a harmless soul. Whether people agree that he was crazy, controlling, abusive, etc., it would not matter, because it would be very difficult to argue that he was not dangerous. The fact that he had enough ammo within his compound to last 51 days in a shootout against the FBI, BATF, helicopters, snipers, and tanks, says enough about David Koresh's power. He not only influenced people in religious and spiritual ways, but he influenced them in violent ways as well.
According to American History's online article about Timothy McVeigh,
The August 1992 shootout involving federal agents at Ruby Ridge and the standoff with the Branch Davidians at Waco, Texas in 1993 spurred the groups on, and McVeigh was right with them in their anti-government activities. He became increasingly fascinated with the date April 19, the date of the Waco attack and of the battle that opened the American Revolution. He and Nichols laid plans for their own act of war and assembled the explosives and weapons that they would use. On April 19, 1995 (exactly two years to the date after Mt. Carmel burned down), McVeigh blew up the Murrah Federal Building, killing 168 people.
Was it coincidence that these massacres took place on the same dates? The answer is no. In fact, Timothy McVeigh idolized David Koresh for his war antics, which supports the fact that Koresh's influenced did in fact reach outside of his own compound.
The True Victims of April 19, 1998
Recall high school shooting massacres, like the Columbine Shooting, and other attacks by teenagers or even younger children. Recall even more recently, the teens worldwide who have ran away and secretly joined the terrorist group ISIS to train for war and killing. Once these horrifying images are taken into account it becomes more evident how easily persuaded young minds can be; how easily impressionable they are.
Kids need guidance, to mature properly and make the right choices. Their pre-mature minds are not as ready to make wise decisions as they, themselves often think that they are. A typical 14-year-old child, when given the choice between homework and television, will almost always choose the latter. Television and video games, alone, can have a huge impact on a child's future. Many parents throw their hands up and say, "Oh well, all of the other kids are doing it so I'll let mine do it, too." I, on the other hand, choose to be the horrible mom who limits her children's electronic exposure, strictly.
I care about my children enough to not always give them what they want. I give them what they need, first and foremost, and sometimes what they need conflicts with what they want. But that is why I am the parent and they are still living in their adolescence. As parents, it is our job to teach our children and also to protect them. I may not always choose to spoil my child, but if I were faced with a choice to save their life I wouldn't think twice about it.
On the final day of the 51-day siege, the Branch Davidians no longer had an excuse to not exit the compound and surrender, after the FBI broke their walls and injected nonlethal gas. The only possibility to holding them back was if David lied to the FBI agents when he said that his people were free to leave if they pleased. But perhaps they really were just brainwashed enough to stay committed to David to their death. But why force 17 young children to die with them? Even if the children wanted to stay, why let those young impressionable minds make the decision on their own? Why not insist that they go and live their lives? Heck, why not encourage them to go and rebuild the Davidian compound, to be the future of their church?
The Survivors and New Branch Davidians, Today
Twenty-two years have passed since that fateful day, but for some it is a day that will continue to play over in their minds forever. It is horrifying and at the same time, truly haunting that so many parents, including David Koresh himself, chose to let the only true innocent victims involved in the battle, die. Most religious parents (Christian, Pagan, Buddhist, Jewish, etc.) as well as non-religious parents can agree on one thing; that it is their responsibility to protect their children, not to destroy them.
It is probably no coincidence that David Koresh was buried in an unmarked grave at Memorial Park Cemetery in Tyler, Texas. Meanwhile, many of the survivors have continued to believe and even rebuild their compound. Today, at Mt. Carmel in Waco, Texas, you will find multiple mobile homes where 12 people live, and a new church led by Charles Pace who emphatically states he does not claim to be a prophet but he does believe God anointed and appointed him to be the new Branch Davidian leader. Many of the survivors still believe they will witness a resurrection of their former leader and messiah, David Koresh, as well as the other fallen.
There are multiple resources that can be found which trace the steps of survivors, including some of the children who made it out alive. There are also books that have been written in support of David Koresh and his followers, for any open minds who want to read and study both sides of the story. The only thing that can not be found are the thoughts and emotions of the 17 children who were wrongfully allowed to be victimized and killed, 22 years ago. Unfortunately, their imperative insights were not protected and have been buried deep under the dust and rubble along with their futures. May those poor children, the true victims of the Waco Massacre, forever rest in peace.
© 2015 April