- The standoff at the Branch Davidian compound lasted 51 days and began on February 28, 1993.
- The violent shootout occurred after agents attempted to execute an arrest warrant for Koresh.
- Prior to the standoff, it was discovered the compound had stockpiled numerous weapons, weapon parts, and explosives.
- The siege claimed the lives of 4 federal agents and 76 Branch Davidians.
The Waco siege, known also as the Waco Massacre, was a siege carried out by law enforcement in 1993 after a standoff at Mount Carmel outside of Waco Texas. It was one of the first events of its kind to feature 24/7 news coverage and lasted a whopping 51 days. The massive compound, used by David Koresh and the religious group Branch Davidians, was located in Axtell, Texas – only 20 miles northeast of Waco. The infamous siege saw the deaths of multiple men, women, and children and is considered a highly controversial moment in the federal government’s history. Keep reading for the full story on Waco siege house and more on how the event unfolded below.
Where Is the Waco Siege House?
The site of the Waco siege is located at 1781 Double EE Ranch Rd, Waco, TX. Despite being considered the “Waco massacre” it is actually located around 20 minutes outside of Waco.
Mount Carmel Compound Waco TX
The Mount Carmel Center used by Koresh and the Branch Davidians was located 20 miles Northeast of Waco near Axtell, Texas. According to one of Koresh’s followers, the 77-acre compound had no running water, electric, or heating – though conflicting statements in the past suggest otherwise.
The compound was constructed by the Branch Davidians themselves, meaning little was known about the compound’s interior. A floorplan created by the ATF, however, does give us somewhat of an idea of what the property looked like inside before the siege.
The property housed around 120 of the Branch Davidians, with many residents consisting of women and children. While this was the property where Koresh’s Branch Davidians lived, it was not the first of its kind for the religious group.
The original Mount Carmel Center was founded by Victor T. Houteff in 1935 and was only 2 miles outside of Waco. The 189-acres contained forests, a river, and ample land for homes and farms (pictured below).
Who Were the Branch Davidians?
The General Association of Branch Davidian Seventh-Day Adventists was a religious movement established by Benjamin Roden in 1955. They were a branch off of the General Association of Davidian Seventh-Day Adventists that was founded by Victor Houteff in 1935.
Victor Houteff Branch
Houteff was a Bulgarian immigrant as well as a Seventh-Day Adventist and wrote several tracts known as the “Shepherd’s Rod” – writings that called for reform in the Seventh-day Adventist Church.
After his ideas were shut down by Adventist leaders, however, Houteff would take his followers and form his own group that would later be known as the Davidians. Some of this group would move onto land just outside of Waco and it was here they built the first Mount Carmel Center – headquarters for their new religious movement.
Benjamin Roden Branch
When Houteff passed away in 1955, his wife Florence took over the religious organization. That same year, Benjamin Roden wrote several letters on what he believed was a new message from God and presented it to the Davidians. Those that believed in Roden’s teachings would go on to become the Branch Davidians.
Florence would go on to sell the original Mount Carmel Center in 1957 and purchase 941 acres near Elk, Texas. This property became known as New Mount Carmel Center. She would later dissolve the Davidian Association, however, and sell all but 77.86 acres of the plot in 1962 after her religious prophecies failed to manifest.
Roden would take possession of New Mount Carmel in 1962 and was able to purchase the remaining 77.86 acres in 1973. Following his purchase, the property simply became known as Mount Carmel.
Lois Roden Branch
When Benjamin Roden died in 1978, his wife Lois became the Davidian prophet within the compound. In 1981, a young Vernon Howell (Koresh) came to the compound and studied biblical prophecy under Lois’ guidance. According to several sources, Lois felt that her son, George, was unfit to run the organization in the event of her passing and she began to see Howell as a protégé. There are also some reports that state that Howell and Lois had a romantic relationship.
Near the end of 1983, however, Vernon Howell would separate from Lois’s group and form a new organization with his own followers – calling it The Davidian Branch Davidian Seventh Day Adventist Association.
David Koresh Branch
After Lois’s death in 1987, Howell attempted to file documents stating that he was the president of Lois’s branch, even though both groups had been competing with one another for years at this point.
George had taken over his mother’s position in the church by this time and would force Howell and his group out of the Elk compound by gunpoint. Howell would eventually return to the site and engage in a shootout at Mt. Carmel center with George Roden and followers. Despite the violent altercation, Howell and his people would dodge the attempted murder charges against them.
Since George was in his own mess of legal issues and owed thousands in unpaid taxes for the Mount Carmel property, Howell and his branch were eventually able to raise enough money to reclaim the land.
Those who stayed true to Lois’s teachings did not support Koresh’s actions and did not associate their organization with his.
Who Was David Koresh?
Vernon Wayne Howell, aka David Koresh, was born in Houston, TX in 1959. His mother was only 15 years of age at the time of his birth and he never knew his father, so he would go on to be raised by his grandparents.
Growing up, Koresh suffered from dyslexia and did poorly in school – leading him to drop out of high school. Though he struggled with his education, David enjoyed playing music and had a deep interest in the bible.
At age 20, Koresh began participating in his mother’s church – the Church of the Seventh Day Adventists, but he was kicked out for being considered a bad influence on young members. Within the years that followed, David Koresh moved to Hollywood in hopes of making it big in the music scene, but failed in his endeavor. In 1981, Koresh traveled to Waco, Texas and would eventually form his own sect off of the Branch Davidians.
To his followers, Koresh was believed to be the only being worthy of unlocking the Seven Seals and revealing the bible’s real teachings to the world. Some saw him as a messiah-like figure – a position which allowed Koresh to carry out controversial practices without consequence in the church, such as selecting several “spiritual wives” from the women and young girls allegedly as young as 11. One of the surviving children from the siege would later testify that Koresh had abused her in a motel at age 10.
What Happened at Waco Siege?
In 1992, the ATF launched an investigation into claims that David Koresh and the Branch Davidians were illegally manufacturing and stockpiling high powered machine guns, bombs, and grenades.
Upon closer inspection, it was found that the group possessed 136 firearms, 700+ magazines, 200,000+ rounds of ammo, attachments for assault rifles and grenade launchers, and explosive chemicals.
After interviewing former members and gathering sufficient evidence against the Branch Davidians, the ATF was granted an arrest warrant for Koresh as well as a search warrant for the compound. ATF special agents out of Houston, Dallas, and New Orleans were assigned to execute these warrants at the compound on February 28, 1993.
The Waco Compound Standoff
According to ATF, a local mailman, who was later discovered to be a Branch Davidian, tipped off Koresh about an impending raid on his property. When law enforcement arrived, Koresh was standing on his porch and quickly retreated into the house. It was here that authorities say the gunfire began from the compound – though there was much debate over the years as to who actually fired first.
A near three-hour gunfight ensued, leaving 4 agents dead and 20 wounded as well as 6 Branch Davidians dead. When the firing ends, both Koresh and his followers refuse to leave the compound. A team specializing in hostage rescue began communicating with Koresh from outside of the compound. It’s here that Koresh tells authorities he was hit in the hip and wrist during the shootout.
David Koresh FBI Negotiations
During the 51-day standoff, Koresh had stated several times that he was not contemplating murder suicide, though his erratic behavior in those days became increasingly alarming. He often claimed he was a messiah-like figure prophesied in the bible and God had given him his new surname.
Rocky negotiations with Koresh saw the release of around 44 hostages in exchange for various supplies and food. Though many men, women, and children were still inside the compound.
As time passed and people grew more impatient with Koresh and the standoff at the compound, law enforcement began using more aggressive tactics to try and coerce Mt. Carmel’s residents out. Agents played loud music for hours on end and began crushing cars that belonged to Davidian members – tactics which negotiators from the Hostage Rescue Team disagreed with.
The End of the Waco siege
After speaking to religious scholars over the radio about the teachings of Revelation, David Koresh sent word through his lawyer that he had received a message from God and was writing that message on the Seven Seals.
Upon completion of this writing, Koresh said that he and his followers would surrender to authorities, though law enforcement on the scene were unconvinced. In the past, Koresh had spoken of surrendering under specific conditions but plans would somehow fall through due to issues with both parties.
In a rush to end the siege, FBI convinced a reluctant Attorney General, Janet Reno, to approve their plan to fire CS gas (a type of tear gas) into the compound to try and force out Koresh and other Davidians. The agency had told Reno at the time that children were being abused inside the compound, though material evidence of such abuse was lacking at that point.
A little after 6 a.m. on April, 19, 1993, FBI employed two tanks to breach the compound walls and release around 400 containers of the gas inside the building. Shortly after the attack ended around noon that day, gunfire could be heard from inside the compound and several fires began to erupt throughout the home. Firefighters were unable to enter the compound immediately due to safety concerns, and the building was quickly engulfed in flames.
Only 9 of the Branch Davidians escaped the flames.
How Many Died at Waco siege?
The events that played out at the Mt. Carmel compound saw numerous causalities – including 4 federal agents and 76 Branch Davidians, some of which were Koresh’s own children.
How Did David Koresh Die?
Most of the Branch Davidians reportedly died of smoke inhalation or being crushed from debris when the fires broke out, though some – like Koresh – died of a gunshot wound to the head.
It’s still unknown whether Koresh shot himself or had one of his followers do it.
Were the Branch Davidians Really Going to Surrender?
David Koresh and his Branch Davidian followers had agreed to surrender to authorities around 10 days before the siege ended in bloodshed. The plan was that once Koresh had finished his writings about the Seven Seals, he would exit the compound first and his followers second. While there was proof that Koresh was actually working on his writings, there is no absolute proof the Branch Davidians intended on surrendering.
Attorneys Jack Zimmermann and Dick DeGuerin, who were the only outsiders allowed inside the compound, both stated that they believed Koresh was on his way to a peaceful resolution.
One former Branch Davidian by the name of Kiri Jewell, however, stated that she was convinced that Koresh and Branch Davidian members were planning a mass suicide as soon as agents arrived on the property.
Who Started the Fires at Waco?
This was one of the most debated subjects in regard to the siege of Waco. Many at the time initially believed that the FBI’s assault on the compound led to the fires, though transcripts released by the Justice Dept pointed to the contrary.
In the audio recordings from the morning of April 19 (6 hours before the siege) Branch Davidian members can be heard discussing the distribution of accelerant around Mt. Carmel compound. Some members’ remains also showed traces of lighter fluid and other flammable chemicals upon examination.
What Happened to Mount Carmel Waco TX?
The Branch Davidian’s compound where so many lost their lives was burnt to the ground in the fire. All that remains of the original structure is an unused swimming pool.
A chapel sits in place of Koresh’s compound, managed by a pastor Charles Pace and his wife. Surrounding the chapel are numerous trees planted in 1994 – each representing one of the Branch Davidians that died at the scene in 1993. Though one of the trees (for Koresh himself) was chopped down by Pace.
The new church on the site opened its doors in 2000 and it relies mostly on donations and memorabilia sales to stay open. Apparently, Pace sells everything from pro-Waco products to politically-motivated T-shirts and a bizarre blend of both.
Waco Siege House Conclusion
The story of Koresh and the siege of Mt. Carmel is not a story that can be told in its entirety in one simple article. Additionally, given that there were so many people involved in the standoff, and so many conflicting versions of events, it’s near impossible to write about the “real” story of Waco today when so much is still debated or speculative.
In the end, it’s believed that mishandlings on both sides led to the disastrous events that unfolded at the compound.