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The City of Waco has remained famous for its frontier heritage, its place on the Chisholm Trail and the construction of the longest suspension bridge in the mid-19th century, and much more. The Branch Davidian Massacre, also known as the “Waco Siege,” has unfortunately given the city its infamous status as the location of one of the deadliest massacres in recent history. The Branch Davidians, led by self-proclaimed prophet David Koresh, took refuge in the New Mount Carmel Center about nine miles east-northeast of Waco. From February 28th to April 19th, 1993, the ATF and Texas law enforcement were caught in a violent standoff with the Davidians at the Mt. Carmel Center after a siege left four agents and six Davidians dead. On April 19th, the FBI launched an assault, resulting in a fire that engulfed the entirety of the Mt. Carmel Center, killing 76 people (including Koresh). Controversy has followed the Waco siege since 1993, and Timothy McVeigh cited the siege as his primary motivation for the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995. Nowadays, visitors can come to the Mt. Carmel Center site and find a memorial erected by surviving “Koreshians,” and the site includes a memorial to the ATF agents and the men, women, and children who died during the siege. There’s also a memorial to the victims of the Oklahoma City bombings.

  • The fire at Mt. Carmel during the April 19th siege
  • David Koresh
  • Mt. Carmel Center in flames
  • Current sign outside the Branch Davidian massacre site

History of the Branch Davidians

The Branch Davidians are actually an offshoot branch of the Davidian Seventh-day Adventists, a religious organization not affiliated with the Davidians of the 1993 Waco Siege. Following a schism caused by differing opinion in 1955, the Branch Davidians moved to a church atop a hill outside of Waco, which the Davidian leaders named “Mt. Carmel,” after a mountain in Israel mentioned in Joshua 19:26 of the Old Testament. 

The church soon moved east of Waco, and in 1959, the wife of the deceased Davidian Seventh-day Adventists founder, Florence Houteff, claimed the end of the world was about to come. It didn’t, and control of the Mt. Carmel Center fell to Benjamin Roden. After his death, his wife Lois Roden eventually gave control of the church to Vernon Howell, who later changed his name to David Koresh. 

In 1984, the group divided again, with Koresh leading one faction and George Roden leading the other at the Mt. Carmel Center. In 1987, Koresh tried retaking the Center by force, and he and his seven companions in the raid were tried of attempted murder in 1988 (the jury was hung on Koresh’s conviction). In 1989, Roden killed another Davidian with an ax and was committed to a mental hospital, leaving Koresh to pay the back taxes on the Mt. Carmel Center and taking legal control of the property.

The Waco Siege

David Koresh was a man shrouded by serious controversy. After Koresh took control of Mt. Carmel, he released the 1989 “New Light” audio tape that stated he was told by God to procreate with Davidian women. On February 27th, the Waco Tribune-Herald published the “Sinful Messiah” series, in which journalists Mark England and Darlene McCormick claimed that Koresh was involved in promoting polygamy, statutory rape by taking multiple underage brides, physically abusing children, and so forth. 

Beginning around 1992 and leading up to the siege, the ATF was also watching Mt. Carmel because the federal organization suspected that Koresh and his followers were stockpiling weapons. This was, essentially, the first stages leading up to the siege.

ATF obtained search and arrest warrants for Koresh and several followers, and the ATF attempted to arrest them on February 28th. There is speculation about who fired first, whether it was the ATF or the Davidians. In total, four ATF agents died and 16 were injured. Six Davidians were also killed in the failed raid. 

The infamous 51-day standoff then occurred after the failed raid. The FBI cut off all communications from the Davidians to the outside world. Koresh convinced 11 followers to leave, but many of the children were willing to stay in the compound. The FBI also wasn’t sure whether to continue negotiating or take Mt. Carmel by force. This culminated in the April 19th raid and the subsequent fire, in which 76 Branch Davidians died with nine surviving. 

"Waco: The Inside Story." PBS Frontline, 1995. Accessed July 18th, 2015.