Branch Davidian Massacre Site
The fire at Mt. Carmel during the April 19th siege
Mt. Carmel Center in flames
Current sign outside the Branch Davidian massacre site
Backstory and Context
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.