Report to the Deputy Attorney General on the Events at Waco, Texas: Introduction

U.S. Department of Justice
Washington, D.C. 20530

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Report to the Deputy Attorney General on the Events at Waco, Texas
February 28 to April 19, 1993


I. Introduction

On the morning of Sunday, February 28, 1993, agents of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (ATF) attempted to serve an arrest warrant for Vernon Howell, a/k/a David Koresh, and a search warrant at the Branch Davidian compound near Waco, Texas. The arrest warrant charged Koresh with unlawful possession of a destructive device, in violation of 26 United States Code, section 5845(f). Both the search warrant and the arrest warrant were signed by a United States Magistrate Judge. The search warrant authorized a search of the premises of the 77 acre compound located at Route 7, Box 47-B (a/k/a The Mount Carmel Center), Waco, Texas for evidence relating to the unlawful possession of fully automatic machine guns and destructive devices. While attempting to serve these warrants, ATF agents came under heavy gunfire from individuals in the compound. As a result, four ATF agents were killed and fifteen wounded.

Between 10:00 a.m. and 11:00 a.m. Central Time,(1) Dan Hartnett, Deputy Director of ATF, contacted Douglas Gow, Associate Deputy Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), in Washington, D.C. requesting the assistance of FBI negotiators on the scene in Waco. It was agreed that the FBI would immediately send agents to Waco who were experienced in negotiations and in crisis management. In a meeting later that afternoon at ATF Headquarters, it was agreed that the FBI would send advance units of the Hostage Rescue Team (HRT) to Waco as well as several Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) teams from field offices in closest proximity to Waco. Special Agent-inCharge (SAC) Jeffrey Jamar of San Antonio was notified between 10:00 a.m. and 11:00 a.m. that he would be on-site commander for the FBI. He arrived in Waco at approximately 5:30 p.m. on February 28, and began assessing what would be needed to resolve the situation. The FBI was requested by the Treasury Department to take over the scene on the morning of March 1. By 5:00 p.m. that day, the FBI had a fully functioning command post, had consolidated all negotiations, and had tactical control of the area surrounding the Branch Davidian compound.

The stated objective of the FBI was to get everyone in the compound, especially the children, to come out without any further injuries or loss of life to either side. The HRT and the numerous SWAT teams were specifically ordered not to fire their weapons unless there was an immediate threat of serious bodily injury or death either to themselves or someone else. In this regard, it should be noted that after February 28, no weapons of any type were fired by any law enforcement officer, whether state, local, or federal.

During the next 51 days, between February 28 and April 19, the FBI committed approximately 668 personnel to the standoff at Waco, with an average of approximately 217 agents and 41 support personnel present on any given day. Additionally, other law enforcement agencies committed the following resources:
Agency Personnel
   
ATF 136
U.S. Customs 6
Waco Police Department 18
McLennan County Sheriff's office 17
Texas Rangers (Texas Department of Public Safety) 31
DPS Patrol (Texas Department of Public Safety) 131
U.S. Army 15
Texas National Guard 13

Not counting the hundreds of individuals involved in helping to resolve the standoff, who were located in other cities such as San Antonio, Dallas, Los Angeles, and Washington, D.C., there were a minimum of 719 law enforcement personnel committed on-site at Waco on any given day during the standoff.

Over the 51 day period, 25 trained FBI negotiators maintained daily contact with individuals in the compound, urging them to come out peacefully, and stressing that they would not be harmed. The negotiators spoke by telephone to approximately 54 individuals in the compound for a total, of approximately 215 hours of the individuals spoken to, Steve Schneider, the compound's second-in-command, was the most frequent with 459 conversations lasting approximately 96 hours. Vernon Howell, a/k/a David Koresh (2) engaged in 117 conversations with negotiators lasting approximately 60 hours.

Although, as will be discussed later in this report, there is some question whether or not there were ever any true negotiations with actual "give and take" on each side, a significant number of individuals did exit the compound. (3) These can be summarized as follows:
Date   Departed
     
February 28   4 children
March 1   10 children
March 2   4 children
2 adults
March 3   1 child
March 4   1 child
March 5   1 child
March 12   2 adults
March 19   2 adults
March 21   7 adults
March 23   1 adult
     
TOTALS:   21 Children
14 Adults

Additionally, 9 adults left the compound during the fire on April 19. Therefore, 44 people (21 children and 23 adults) left the compound at one time or another during the standoff.

Estimates vary as to the total number of people who perished in the compound during the April 19 fire. The latest count according to FBI records is 75, 41 of whom have been identified.

The 51 day standoff at the Branch Davidian compound was unprecedented in the annals of American law enforcement. Never before have so many heavily armed and totally committed individuals barricaded themselves in a fortified compound in a direct challenge to lawful federal warrants, and to duly authorized law enforcement officials.

What follows is an attempt to explain what actually happened at the Branch Davidian compound between the arrival of the FBI on February 28, and the aftermath of the fire that occurred on April 19. As of the date of this report, the federal trial of the 12 individuals charged with the responsibility for the incidents in Waco has not yet occurred. Therefore, it can be anticipated that many additional facts will come out at trial which are not contained in this report. Nevertheless, we believe this report to be accurate and based upon solid evidentiary grounds; we expect additional details to be revealed at trial.

This report has been prepared with the cooperation of literally hundreds of individuals. Approximately 950 interviews were conducted, and tens of thousands of pages of documents and transcripts were read and analyzed. This underlying documentation will be made available to the public, subject to the protection of information relating to sensitive law enforcement sources and methods, and personal privacy concerns, upon the completion of the pending prosecutions in the Western District of Texas.

The report begins with a brief history of the Branch Davidian sect and the teachings of David Koresh. There follows a day-by-day chronology of the relevant events during the 51-day standoff. After this chronology, the report will address in more detail numerous areas of particular interest, such as negotiation strategies, the attitudes of individuals in the compound, the decision-making process within law enforcement, the planning for the April 19 insertion of gas, and the aftermath of the fire.

An additional report has been prepared by Edward S.G. Dennis, Jr., a former Assistant Attorney General of the Criminal Division and former United States Attorney for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, containing his analysis of the law enforcement efforts in Waco. Mr. Dennis had full access to all documents and evidence developed during the course of the investigation of the Branch Davidians, as well as all information and materials developed during the present inquiry. He also participated in the interviews of several key officials.

Finally, nine noted and highly respected experts have prepared reports with their recommendations concerning what we as law enforcement, and we as citizens, can learn from this tragedy.

A. The Branch Davidians

The Branch Davidians are generally considered to be a splinter group of the Seventh Day Adventists. In 1934, Victor Houteff founded a sect known as the Davidian Seventh Day Adventists. In 1935, Houteff moved to the outskirts of Waco, Texas where he started a commune. The group established itself at that original location to await the Second Coming of Christ. Houteff died in 1955. His wife Florence became the leader of the sect, and predicted that the Second Coming would occur on April 22, 1959. When this failed to occur, a majority of the sect, under the leadership of Ben Roden, split and formed a new sect known as the Branch Davidians.

Roden and the new sect acquired the property which eventually became the Mt. Carmel Center. Ben Roden died in 1978, passing leadership of the sect to his wife Lois. Lois died in 1986. A clash for control of the Branch Davidians between Lois' son George and Vernon Howell ensued. When George was committed to a Texas state mental hospital in 1987, Vernon Howell became the leader of the Branch Davidians.

The Branch Davidians believed strongly in the imminence of both the Second Coming of Christ, and the battle of Armageddon. They segregated themselves from the world of non-believers and became obsessed with their earthly deaths and the end of the world. Additionally, the Branch Davidians have always looked to a "prophet" to lead them and to teach them his or her view of the scriptures.

Between 1987 and 1993, Vernon Howell changed his name to David Koresh (David for King David and Koresh for "Cyrus"), and he established absolute control over the sect. He and his chief lieutenant Steve Schneider traveled throughout the United States, Israel, Australia, and Great Britain, seeking converts to come to their compound outside Waco, Texas. They were successful in obtaining followers from all of these countries.

As the sect grew, so did Koresh's control over its members' lives. He would preach for hours, while depriving his listeners of food, sleep, and bathroom breaks. He established rules of behavior for those living at the compound, and publicly berated those who broke these rules. Whenever possible, he urged members of the sect to turn over their worldly possessions and funds to his control. He also controlled what they ate and read, what they viewed as entertainment, and where they traveled.

Finally, in 1989, Koresh announced that he was the "Lamb of God" and was the chosen one to interpret the Seven Seals. The Seven Seals were most important to the sect, since they explained the Book of Revelations and predicted the end of the world. As the "Lamb," Koresh ordered that the women and men be separated with no sexual relations, even between husbands and wives. Only Koresh could have sexual relations with the women, who were considered his "carnal" wives. All the women in the group were considered "spiritual" wives of Koresh; however, Koresh had sexual relations only with a smaller number of "carnal" wives. Koresh selected his "carnal" wives as early as age 10, and he had sexual relations with these girls at some point between the ages of 10 and 14. By February 1993, Koresh had approximately ten "carnal" wives, with an unknown number in waiting.

Koresh had an extensive knowledge of the Bible, and he had substantial portions of it memorized. His ability to quote from numerous chapters and verses of the Bible in his attempt to "explain" the Seven Seals and predict the end of the world mesmerized his followers. They were so convinced of his superior knowledge and understanding, that their genuine belief in his divine status should in no way be discounted. They believed he could "unlock the future," and "guarantee" his follower's immortality. For them, the "coming" of law enforcement signaled the beginning of the end. Koresh viewed the standoff as the prelude to the end of the world.

FBI negotiators spent the entire 51 days of the standoff attempting to talk Koresh into leading his followers out of the compound. The negotiations were frustrating and futile. The FBI has questioned whether its negotiations with Koresh could even be characterized as "negotiations" at all, but rather as Koresh's attempt to convert the agents before it was too late and God destroyed them.

This is, unavoidably, an overly simplified analysis of a group about which volumes could be written. We hope, however, that it will provide a basic background for the events leading to the tragedy which occurred between February 28 and April 19, 1993. By the time the FBI arrived on the scene during the afternoon of February 28, the Branch Davidians believed that the ATF had fulfilled Koresh's prophesies, and had signalled the imminent end of the world.

B. The FBI's Response to Crisis Situations

The FBI has a detailed crisis management program that is specifically designed to identify, acquire, and plan for the use of all available resources to resolve a crisis situation. The necessary resources are then formed into a crisis management team which may include numerous specialized components such as negotiators, investigators, tactical personnel such as the HRT and SWAT teams, managerial personnel, media representatives, and technical support personnel. There are also many other components available to provide a variety of specialized skills when needed. The FBI's crisis management program is discussed in greater detail at pages 114-117 of this report; however, a general introduction may help clarify the chronology which follows.

In Waco, the FBI had two command posts. The main command post was located in a hangar at a former air force base, while the forward command post was located in a recreational vehicle near the Branch Davidian compound. The main command post was used by the commanders, negotiators, behavioral scientists, investigators and administrative personnel. The forward command post was used mainly by tactical personnel.

At FBI Headquarters in Washington, D.C., the crisis was managed at the Strategic Information Operations Center (SIOC). Representatives of the Critical Incident Negotiation Team (CINT) in Waco handled or supervised the negotiations. The members of this team have extensive training and experience in negotiations and negotiation techniques. Initially, there were two shifts, or cells, of negotiations at Waco with approximately five individuals assigned to each cell. One of these five would be the primary negotiator, and would have the responsibility of direct communications with those inside the compound. After a few weeks, it was decided to increase the number of negotiation cells to three. Twenty-five different individuals, both male and female, served~as primary negotiators.

The tactical components included the HRT and several SWAT teams. The HRT is FBI's dedicated, full-time counterterrorist unit which has the responsibility for high-threat tactical missions. Each FBI field office has a SWAT team which is composed of specially-trained individuals-who can be detailed from their usual investigative responsibilities to act as a team to handle dangerous operations. SWAT teams from several FBI field offices were utilized in Waco.

The overall, on-site commander was Special Agent-in-Charge (SAC) Jeffrey Jamar from the San Antonio Office of the FBI. His jurisdiction normally included the areas in and around San Antonio, Austin, and Waco. SACs from three other offices also assisted SAC Jamar. These were SAC Robert Ricks, Oklahoma City, Richard Schwein, El Paso Division, and Richard Swensen, New Orleans Division.

There were numerous other units, offices, and individuals involved in the situation at Waco. Their various roles will be discussed in detail later in this report.

 

  1. All times listed will be Central Time unless otherwise indicated.

  2. Although his name at birth was Vernon Wayne Howell, he had his name legally changed to David Koresh. He will be referred to throughout this report as David Koresh.

  3. As will be discussed below, the children and-adults who left the compound prior to April 19 either left or were sent out by Koresh to thin his ranks and strengthen the group that remained. The children were children other than those either fathered by or adopted by Koresh, while the adults were either old, weak, or had "discipline" problems.

 

Continue... II. Chronology: February 28 to April 19, 1993 ->