Report to the Deputy Attorney General on the Events at Waco, Texas: The Events of April 19, 1993
U.S. Department of Justice
Report to the Deputy Attorney General on the Events at Waco, Texas
February 28 to April 19, 1993
XII. The Events of April 19, 1993
- When the Attorney General called the President on Sunday, April 18 to inform him that she had decided to approve the FBI's request to use tear gas at Waco, she emphasized that the operation was intended to proceed incrementally, and that it might take two or three days before the Branch Davidians surrendered. The Attorney General told the President that Monday, April 19 was "not D-Day."
- The events of April 19 began at approximately 5:55 a.m., when the HRT Commander deployed two CEVs, or Combat Engineering Vehicles (M-60 tanks with booms attached) to the compound. The action ended a few minutes after 12:00 p.m., when the compound erupted in flames. This section of the report examines the events during that six-hour time period on April 19. We have found that (1) the Davidians began shooting at the FBI within minutes after the CEVs began delivering tear gas, and continued shooting at the FBI throughout the operation; (2) the FBI did not fire any shots during the entire operation; (3) under the approved operation plan, the FBI was justified in its decision to begin punching holes in the building and increasing the scope of gas delivery once the Davidians began using deadly force; (4) the Davidians had ample opportunity to evacuate the compound safely during the operation but chose not to, and the FBI did not intentionally deprive the Davidians of any avenues of escape; and [material redacted as required by statute]
B. Preparations to Implement the Plan
- On Saturday, April 17, at 5:00 p.m. Waco time, FBI headquarters advised the commanders in Waco that the Attorney General had authorized the tear gas plan, and that it would be implemented early in the morning on Monday, April 19. During the next 36 hours preparations to implement the plan proceeded. Local FBI SWAT teams were placed on standby to be deployed. Emergency preparations -- principally medical preparations -were finalized. The FBI also prepared two CEVs (for penetrating the building and delivering the liquid CS gas); one Abrams tank (for HRT Commander Rogers' use during the operation); nine Bradley vehicles (four for delivery of M-79 Ferret tear gas rounds, four for miscellaneous tactical purposes, and one for medical evacuations); and one FBI helicopter were all made ready for the operation.
- On Saturday night, April 17, FBI headquarters advised both SAC Jamar and HRT Commander Rogers of various stipulations regarding the use of the CS gas, and the rules of engagement that the Attorney General and the FBI had agreed to observe. Those rules were as follows:
- 1. If, during the insertion of the CS gas, the Davidians told the FBI to back off or they would harm the children, then the FBI should back off and continue to negotiate.
- 2. If a Davidian threatened a child, the FBI snipers were to shoot the threatening subject only if they had a clear shot; otherwise, the FBI was to back off and continue to negotiate.
- 3. Ensure that all those who leave the compound following the insertion of the CS gas were interviewed regarding the condition and location of the children and the other subjects still inside.
- 4. The mere presence of a child in plain view in a door or other opening would not require the FBI to cease the gas insertions. Instead, the gas should be injected at an alternate point, away from the child.
- 5. If mass suicides were indicated, then the FBI was to proceed with the emergency rescue plan.
- In addition to the tactical preparations, the FBI negotiators also prepared a written announcement to read to the Branch Davidians at the commencement of and throughout the operations. The announcement would first be read over the telephone, and then repeated continuously over the loudspeakers so that everyone could hear it.
- On Sunday, April 18, at approximately 1:53 p.m., the HRT began physical preparations for the tear gas plan, by removing vehicles from the front side of the compound. This was done to clear the area in front of the compound, to remove any barriers or obstructions that would impede the CEV's and the Bradleys in implementing the tear gas plan. To reassure the Davidians about the clearing operation, and to conceal the true purpose of the operation, the negotiators called the compound several minutes before the clearing operation began (1:45 p.m.), telling Schneider that the FBI was going to begin removing vehicles for safety purposes. The negotiator told Schneider that the FBI had decided to prohibit any Davidians from entering the tower, because of the threat posed to the FBI agents engaged in the clearing operations. Schneider said that he did not think the Davidians would comply with the FBI's request that they not enter the tower.
- At 2:15 p.m. Koresh called the negotiators and said that he was upset about the clearing operation, and that "if you don't stop what you're doing, this could be the worst day in law enforcement history." At 2P47 p.m. the negotiators called the compound and spoke to Schneider in an attempt to reassure him and Koresh about the clearing operation and the (ostensible) reasons for it. The negotiators told Schneider that the vehicles were being removed to facilitate the safe exit from the compound of anyone who wanted to leave, as well as to improve the safety of the FBI agents. The negotiators reiterated that no one should enter the tower. Schneider replied that "You guys will have to do what you have to do. If you want to shoot anyone up there, go ahead. As far as I'm concerned, I don't care if this all comes to an end."
- [Material redacted as required by statute.] Following the fire on April 19 an HRT sniper told the Texas Rangers that on April 18 he had seen a sign in one of the' windows at the compound that read "Flames Await." A similar sign had been placed in one of the windows two days earlier.
- At approximately 3:45 p.m., the negotiators continued talking to Schneider, and he appeared to calm down. When the phone call ended 33 minutes later, Schneider said that he understood and accepted the FBI's reasons for removing the vehicles, and that he was no longer as agitated as Koresh had been. In keeping with the facade that-nothing unusual was occurring, the negotiators called Schneider early Sunday evening (5:32 p.m.) and told him that the FBI was going to send milk and a typewriter ribbon into the compound, as the Davidians had previously requested.
- [Material redacted as required by statute]. The command post advised that at 5:00 a.m. Central Time SAC's Jamar, Schwein and Swensen would take their posts at the Forward Command Post and maintain an open line with SIOC throughout the operation.
C. Initial Implementation of the Tear Gas Plan
- On Monday Morning, the Attorney General and several senior Justice Department representatives gathered with senior FBI officials in the FBI SIOC, where they monitored events throughout the morning via CNN footage and a live audio feed directly from the FBI forward command post in Waco.
- The weather conditions in Waco that morning did not work in the FBI's favor. Strong, gusty winds prevailed, which probably helped to disperse the tear gas and fan the flames once the fire started.
- The tear gas action began at 5:55 a.m., when HRT Commander Rogers ordered the two CEVs deployed to the compound, with CEV-1 proceeding to the front-left corner of the building, and CEV-2 proceeding to the right side of the building. At 5:56 a.m., lead negotiator Byron Sage telephoned the compound and asked to speak with Schneider. It took approximately three minutes for Schneider to come to the phone.
- At 5:57 a.m., Rogers moved his command tank to a position approximately 240 yards directly in front of the compound, providing him with an unobstructed view of the entire compound.
- At 5:59 a.m., an individual answered the phone, where Sage had been waiting on the other end of the line. The ensuing conversation was short. Sage said "[W]e're in the process of putting tear gas into the building. This is not an assault. We will not enter the building." The individual responded, "You are going to spray tear gas into the building?" Sage replied, "In the building . . . no, we are not entering the building." The telephone was subsequently thrown outside.
- As soon as the phone was thrown out the window Sage began broadcasting the following message, read from a prepared script, over the loudspeakers to all the occupants of the compound:
We are in the process of placing tear gas into the building. This is not an assault. We are not entering the building. This is not an assault. Do not fire your weapons. If you fire, fire will be returned. Do not shoot. This is not an assault. The gas you smell is a non-lethal tear gas. This gas will temporarily render the building uninhabitable. Exit the compound now and follow instructions.
You are not to have anyone in the tower. The tower is off limits. No one is to be in the tower. Anyone observed to be in the tower will be considered to be an act of aggression and will be dealt with accordingly.
If you come out now, you will not be harmed. Follow all instructions. Come out with your hands up. Carry nothing. Come out of the building and walk up the driveway toward the Double-E Ranch Road. Walk toward the large Red Cross flag.
Follow all instructions of the FBI agents in the Bradleys. Follow all instructions.
You are under arrest. This standoff is over.
We do not want anyone hurt. Follow all instructions. This is not an assault. Do not fire any weapons. We do not want anyone hurt.
Gas will continue to be delivered until everyone is out of the building.
- Sage repeated this message, over and over again, until the fire finished burning later that day.
- [Material redacted as required by statute.] In the meantime, at 6:00 a.m. HRT Commander Rogers received confirmation that Sage had made telephonic contact with the compound. Rogers ordered CEV-1 to insert gas, using the Mark-V liquid injection system to insert CS gas at the front-left corner of the building. The Mark-V system is a liquid tear gas dispenser that shoots a stream of liquid tear gas (propelled by noncombustible carbon dioxide) approximately 50 feet for a duration of approximately 15 seconds. The boom was positioned at the level of the first floor windows, and there were four Mark-V bottles attached to the boom. Each bottle could be delivered independently from within the CEV. Rogers ordered CEV-1 to deliver two bottles of gas and to await further orders before inserting additional gas.
D. The Gassing Escalates
- At 6:04 a.m., an FBI agent stationed at the Sierra One post broadcast the code word "compromise" over the radio, meaning that he could see shots from inside the compound directed at the CEV's. Rogers requested confirmation. At 6:06 a.m. the rear tactical operations post reported that the Sierra One post had reported seeing rounds hitting a CEV. [Material redacted as required by statute.]
- At 6:07 a.m., a forward HRT observer (located at the "Sierra one" post) broadcast the "compromise" code word, providing the confirmation Rogers had requested three minutes earlier. The forward observer reported that many rounds were ricocheting off the CEVs. The gunfire included fire from automatic weapons. Rogers then broadcast the "compromise" code word to all his personnel.
- When the Davidians started shooting the scope and pace of the operation changed. Although envisioned originally as an incremental operation which could take as long as two to three days to complete, the operations plan took account of the possibility that the Davidians might respond to the limited nature of the initial gassing operations by opening-fire. Under that operations plan, as approved by the Attorney General, "If during any tear gas delivery operations, subjects open fire with a weapon, then the FBI rules of engagement will apply and appropriate deadly force will be used. Additionally, tear gas will immediately be inserted into all windows of the compound utilizing the four BV's as well as the CEVs." (Emphasis in original.) The FBI opted to escalate the gassing operation but not to shoot back at the compound. In fact, the FBI did not fire a shot during the entire operation.(42)
- Between 6:07 and 6:31 the HRT escalated the pace of tear gas delivery pursuant to the "compromise" order from Rogers. The CEVs inserted gas at their designated positions, while the four Bradleys deployed Ferret rounds through the windows into the building. At 6:14 and 6:18, the Sierra One post reported that the Davidians were still shooting at the CEVs. At 6:31 the HRT reported that the entire building had been gassed. Rogers halted the gas insertions and ordered his units to stand by. The CEVs were sent to reload the Mark-V systems, a process requiring approximately one hour.
- [Material redacted as required by statute.] At 6:12 a.m. the negotiators attempted to reestablish contact with the Davidians by phone. At 6:24 a.m. they instructed the Davidians, over the loudspeakers, to display a white flag from the window or the front door in order to signal that their phone was not working and that they wanted to reestablish phone contact. [Material redacted as required by statute.]
- The Davidians hung a white banner outside the window, but immediately pulled it back inside and replaced it (apparently so as not to suggest they were surrendering) with a darker colored blanket. At 6:45 a.m. Sage notified the compound members over the loudspeakers that if they did not come out in two minutes the FBI would insert more gas into the compound. At 6:47 Commander Rogers ordered the Bradleys to deliver Ferret rounds into the compound, through windows where movements or gunfire were detected. Between 6:50 and 6:53 shots were seen fired at the Bradleys from the back and left sides of the compound. Sporadic shooting continued from the compound over the next several minutes. At 7:04, the HRT reported that it completed gassing all sides of the compound. At 7:09 the HRT reported that the Ferret rounds had been delivered through all the windows, but that the rounds were not successfully penetrating any of the compound walls, except on the left side.
- [Material redacted as required by statute]. At 7:30 a.m. SAC Jamar authorized Commander Rogers to redeploy the two CEVs, which had finished reloading tear gas. It was also decided that Ferret rounds would continue to be delivered through all openings in the building structure to increase the intensity of the tear gas. CEV-1 approached the front-right corner, time breaching the front side of the building on the first floor as it injected the gas. Seconds later the Davidians fired shots at CEV-1. At 7:58 a.m. CEV-2 breached a hole in the second floor of the back-right corner of the building.
- At 7:45 a.m. senior FBI officials in the SIOC requested that Quantico canvass all FBI field offices to locate more Ferret rounds. Given the number of rounds that had been fired during the first two hours of the operation and the apparently minimal effect they were having, the FBI evidently expected the operation to continue for quite some time, and it needed to obtain more gas rounds. (At 9:20 a.m. the Houston FBI delivered an extra 48 ferret rounds to the HRT in Waco.) In addition, at 8:01 a.m., the FBI asked the National Guard to make arrangements to refuel the CEVs and the Bradleys at 2:00 p.m., indicating that even after the FBI had escalated the pace of the gas insertions it expected the standoff to last many more hours.
- At 9:10 a.m., the Davidians unfurled a banner from a window on the front side reading "We want our phone fixed." At 9:17 a.m., CEV-1 (which had reloaded and was now back in action) broke through the front door. The HRT snipers reported they could now see inside the building, both downstairs and upstairs. [Material redacted as required by statute.]
- At 9:28 a.m., Rogers consulted with SACs Jamar and Swensen about how to proceed. The HRT was running out of Ferret rounds (although the FBI's Houston office had just rushed 48 more rounds to the scene), and CEV-2 was experiencing mechanical trouble and could not continue. The high winds (gusts up to 35 knots had been reported) were diminishing the effectiveness of the gas. It was agreed that CEV-1 should enlarge the opening in the middle of the front side of the building, to provide a larger opening from which the Davidians could leave the compound. The crew of CEV-2 was ordered to redeploy to another CEV that was also equipped with a boom, but lacked a gas delivery system. That CEV was ordered to breach the rear side of the building to create escape openings near the gymnasium area.
- At 9:35 a.m., the negotiators broadcast instructions to the compound to send out one person to retrieve the telephone that Schneider had thrown out of the building earlier that morning. [Material redacted as required by statute.]
- From 9:49 to 9:54 a.m., the negotiators broadcast instructions into the compound regarding efforts to reestablish telephone contact. The negotiators said the phone would be reconnected only if the Davidians clearly indicated they intended to use the phone to make surrender arrangements. In order to reconnect the phone, the FBI would have been required to send an agent on foot into the open area outside the compound, an area where the agent would have been an easy target for the Davidians, who had been shooting at the CEVs and the Bradleys all morning. The FBI was unwilling to expose its agents such a risk absent a clear signal from the Davidians that they would use the reconnected phone to make surrender agents with the FBI.
- The Davidians never provided such a signal. Graeme Craddock went outside to retrieve the phone, holding it up to indicate the line had been severed. Craddock returned to the compound, without giving any signal that the Davidians wanted to use the phone to make surrender arrangements. [Material redacted as required by statute.] Accordingly, the phone line was not reconnected.
- Over the next hour there was a relative lull in activity., The Bradleys continued delivering Ferret rounds into the compound. At 10:00 a.m. the Attorney General left the SIOC to keep a speaking engagement at the-Third circuit judicial conference in Baltimore. The Attorney General believed it was not necessary to remain in the SIOC because it appeared that the operation would continue for many more hours.
- At 11:30 a.m., the pace of activity resumed. The substitute CEV-2 breached the back side of the compound (to open avenues of escape, as well as areas into which tear gas could be deployed by CEV-1 and the M-79 Ferret launchers), concentrating on the back-right corner of the building, near the warehouse/gymnasium. The negotiators tried to call inside the compound. At 11:27 a.m., the negotiators tried calling inside the compound, even though the phone probably was not working. They let the phone ring 20 times; no one answered. At 11:30 a.m., they tried calling again, without success. At 11:45 a.m., a wall on the right-rear side of the building collapsed as a result of substitute CEV-21s breaching activity. The forward command post reported that it now could see inside the compound. The negotiators continued to broadcast announcements over the loudspeakers, imploring the Davidians to leave the compound immediately. [Material redacted as required by statute.] At 12:01 p.m., the negotiators broadcast the following message over the loudspeakers: "David, we are facilitating you leaving the compound by enlarging the door. David, you have had your 15 minutes of fame. Vernon is no longer the Messiah. Leave the building now."
- As of 12:00 p.m. the CEVs had made a total of six gas deliveries during the six hours that the operation had been in effect. The last ferret rounds had been delivered at approximately 11:40 a.m. At approximately 12:08 p.m., CEV-1 backed away from the front-right side of the building. Two minutes later, at 12:10 p.m., smoke was seen coming from the second floor, on the right side of the building, as well as from the back side of the building near the kitchen.
E. The Fire
- [Material redacted as required by statute.] Other evidence also demonstrates conclusively that the fire was set by the Davidians from within the compound.
- 1. Infrared Aerial Video and Still Photos
- The first indication that fire had started inside the compound appears on the aerial infrared tape, photographed from an FBI plane that had been circling over the compound during the fire. Still photographs taken from the infrared videotape establish that the fire started in three separate and nearly simultaneous points of origin. (See discussion of arson report below). The fire began at 12:07:41 Central Time on the second floor, front section of the building, in the southeast corner. Just over one minute later a fire that had already started was detected in the first floor, mid-section of the building in or near the dining room. By 12:09:30 the initial fire had increased in intensity, to the point of full room involvement. At 12:09:45, or just over two minutes after the start of the first fire, a third fire was detected at the first floor, right side (east side) of the building in the chapel area. This fire spread very quickly, and in less than 40 seconds it had fully involved both the chapel and the gymnasium. By 12:11:00 the fire had spread rapidly throughout the entire building.
- This account is corroborated by a split-screen video prepared by the FBI laboratory, containing the infrared footage from the air on one side, with the televised footage from the ground on the other.
- 2. Eyewitness Observations from outside the Compound
- Several of the HRT personnel who participated in the tear gas operation -- particularly snipers who were observing activity inside the compound through scopes -- saw the beginnings of the fire. one sniper saw smoke coming from the second floor windows (Bravo 1 and 2) on the right side. other snipers saw smoke coming from the front of the building, near the kitchen area. At 12:10 p.m. another HRT agent, who was 300 yards away from the compound at the Sierra One post, actually saw a Branch Davidian start the fire. The agent later reported to investigators what he had seen:
"[At 12:10 p.m.] he was able to identify and observe [a] male who was behind a piano inside the front door of the compound. This individual was wearing a dark mask and was carrying a long gun. Seconds after noticing this individual he noticed the man was moving back and forth behind the piano and the individual then assumed a kneeling position. [The HRT agent] noticed the man's hands moving and immediately after that [he] noticed that a fire started in that position. The man immediately departed the area of the piano. At the same time [the HRT agent] noticed a fire start on the red or right side of the building."
- The HRT agent reported what he had seen over the radio. Two HRT snipers simultaneously noticed fire breaking out in two different parts of the building -- at the front-right corner, and at the third or fourth floor of the tower on the back-left side. Another HRT sniper thought it odd that, from his vantage point, the fire appeared to spread in the opposite direction of the wind, which was blowing from the right side to the left side of the complex.
- 3. Reports of Shooting During the Fire
- Shortly after the fire started several of the HRT agents who were near the compound heard the sound of gunfire from inside the compound. One agent said that after the first report of smoke coming from inside the compound, he could hear the sound of small arms fire. One round passed over his head within 10-15 seconds after he first saw smoke. The agent believed that the Davidians "were shooting each other because there were so many rounds heard and so few that appeared directed to the exterior . . . the sounds were steady and [were a] rhythmic series of shots rather than sporadic firing." At least six other agents noted that there were "popping sounds" and "multiple gunshots" coming from inside the building. Some of the "pops" had the distinct sound of rounds cooking off, while others had the distinct sound of rounds being fired. One agent heard the distinct pattern of gunfire from inside the compound at approximately 12:30 p.m., when only a small portion of the structure remained intact.
- 4. Davidians Escaping and Being Rescued During the Fire
- After the fire started a total of nine Davidians left the compound. One (Renos Avraam) as seen on the roof of the front part of the building. Several HRT agents saw Avraam take two clips out of his pocket and drop them while he was on the roof. A Bradley drove up to assist him in escaping, but Avraam waved the Bradley off. Avraam then jumped off the roof, and walked toward one of the Bradleys with his hands up. Four other Davidians (David Thibodeau, Derek Lovelock, Jaime Castillo, and Clive Doyle) escaped through the front-right area of the building. Lovelock was wearing a holster and holding a gas mask. Lovelock had a slight burn on his right arm. Castillo was wearing a vest. Castillo had a slight burn on his left hand, and his hair was singed. Doyle was wearing a holster, and his hands were burned.
- Misty Ferguson emerged from the front left corner of the burning compound. Her hands, face and hair were burned. Graeme Craddock was the last survivor to leave the compound. At approximately 3:10 p.m., three hours after the fire had started, Craddock emerged from a concrete room adjacent to the water tower. Craddock was wearing green camouflage pants, and a black shirt with the words "David Koresh God Rocks."
- In addition to those Davidians who were able to walk away, the HRT rescued Marjorie Thomas, who was seen laying face down near the front of the building, her body on fire. Another HRT agent risked his life to rescue Ruth Riddle, who jumped off the roof and ran back into the burning building. When the agent reached her inside the building she tried to fight him off. The agent forcibly removed her from the burning building and saved her life.
- The HRT treated those survivors who were burned at the scene. The injured survivors were rushed to hospitals in accordance with the previously arranged medical emergency plan.
- Another group of HRT agents risked their lives by entering the burning compound as the fire was in its final stages, to search for any children or other possible survivors. They entered the remains of the building, following a tunnel leading to the buried bus and then to a stairway and trap door. After finding no evidence of survivors the HRT agents left the structure.
- While the fire was burning the negotiators repeatedly broadcast repeated messages to the compound, pleading with the residents to leave. Only a few of the Davidians heeded those pleas.
- 5. Statements of Surviving Davidians
- As the nine surviving Davidians were arrested and removed from the scene, the HRT agents and other FBI agents and Texas Rangers interviewed them, principally to determine whether there was any possibility of finding any children or other survivors still inside. During those interviews three of the survivors made statements about the cause of the fire. Renos Avraam told the agents that he had heard someone inside the compound say, "The fire has been lit, the fire has been lit." Clive Doyle told the Texas Rangers that the fire was started inside the compound with Coleman fuel. Doyle said the fuel had been distributed throughout the compound in specific, designated locations.
- Graeme Craddock spoke to the FBI on April 19, after he emerged from the compound. He also spoke to the Texas Rangers on April 19. In his FBI interview, Craddock described the events inside the compound during the tear gas operation as follows:
"Craddock advised that when the Bradley came in through the front entrance, they started moving fuel. Craddock believes that the compound had a total of approximately one dozen, one gallon containers of lantern fuel and that they had been located in the lobby area. He said he saw a lot of people grabbing fuel containers and moving them to other areas. Craddock believes that possibly three or four of these containers had been put next to the window that had already been knocked out by the Bradley on the southern side of1the chapel area. Craddock said he had heard someone talking about shifting the fuel from the hallway near the chapel to the (northern?) side window of the chapel. . . . He said he had heard someone complain about fuel being spilled inside.
Craddock indicated that he had heard shouts about starting the fire.
Craddock said that he did not believe the fire in the chapel was the first fire because before the fire in the chapel had begun, he had seen smoke outside. Craddock also said that he had heard someone say, 'Light the fire,' and that he had also heard someone else say, 'Don't light the fire.'"
- In his interview with the Texas Rangers, Craddock made the following statements:
Craddock said that on the morning of 4-19-93 Thibodeau came to his room and told him to put his gas mask on and get ready. He said that he went upstairs and was given a hand grenade by Howell/Yoresh and asked if he knew how to use it. He said that he had his AR 15, the vest with the eight round magazines, the Glock with three magazines and the hand grenade.
When the armored vehicles drove through the front doors, [Craddock] and others moved some cans of Coleman fuel so that the vehicle would not run over them. He said he went into the chapel area with several other people. He heard the word passed to "start the fires." He said that someone said "make sure." He said that word was then passed to not start the fires. . . . [After the fire started,] Craddock left his vest and his AR 15 in the chapel, climbed out a window and made his way to the cinder block building below the water tower. He said that as he left the building, he heard gunfire from inside the compound.
Craddock said that if there was a suicide pact, he knew nothing about it. He said that he knew nothing about a plan to burn the building until he heard someone pass the word to start the fire.
- It should be noted that, contrary to press reports, Craddock did not attribute either of those two statements ("Light the fire" or "Don't light the fire") to Koresh or anyone else. He. merely said that both statements were made by male voices. Craddock also confirmed that the Davidians had kept approximately 13-1/2 gallons of diesel fuel and about three to four gallons of gasoline inside the building. Craddock said that although he was not aware of any prior plan by Koresh to set the building on fire, Koresh had discussed the possibility that "everyone" would be killed as one possible outcome of the standoff.
- 6. Firefighting Efforts
- In one of the meetings held in Waco in early April to discuss the gas insertion plan, AUSA LeRoy Jahn raised the possibility of fire at the compound and suggested to the FBI that firefighting equipment be placed on standby at the scene. However, the FBI decided not to have firefighting equipment at the scene. DAD Coulson explained that the use of firefighting personnel was considered, but it was determined not to allow them to come anywhere near the compound for fear that they would be fired upon by Koresh and his followers. Due to the range of the Branch Davidians' weapons, firefighting equipment could not be brought into the proximity of the compound. Coulson further explained that structural fires cannot be fought from the outside. The only way a fire could have been fought at the compound would have been from the inside, and that would have required firefighting personnel to enter the compound. That option would have posed an unacceptable risk to the firefighters.
- Three minutes after the first reports of fire, (12:13 p.m.) the forward command post requested that firefighting assistance be obtained. At 12:15 fire department units were ordered to respond. At 12:34 the fire vehicles arrived and headed straight for the compound. At 12:41 the fire units approached the remains of the building.
- Although the fire crews did not approach the burning building until 31 minutes after the fire had first been reported, it would not have been safe for them to do so earlier given the reports of gunfire from inside the compound. The FBI has noted that to fight a building fire successfully, firefighters must be able to enter the inside of the building. The FBI has stated that it would have been unacceptably risky for the firefighters to have attempted to approach, much less enter, the burning compound until it was safe to do so. To do otherwise could well have resulted in the deaths of firefighters. Indeed, SAC Jamar stated that even if the firefighters had arrived at the compound earlier he would not have permitted them to enter due to the great risk to their lives. SAC Jamar has also noted that due to the lack of available water in the Mt. Carmel area it would have been extremely difficult for conventional firefighting operations to succeed.
- 7. False Accusations that the FBI Started the Fire
- After the events of April 19 a small number of people alleged that the FBI intentionally set the fire at the compound. Those accusations are utterly false, as demonstrated by the evidence discussed above conclusively establishing that the Davidians set the fire. In addition, a nationally recognized team of arson experts (see discussion below) has also concluded that the Davidians started the fire, that the fire could not have been started by accident at a single point of origin, and that the gas delivery systems the FBI used were completely nonincendiary.
- Notwithstanding the convincing proof that the Davidians set the fire, a very small number of people continue to insist that the fire was a "mass murder" committed by the FBI. Probably the most notable example of that thinking appears in a videotape entitled "Waco: The Big Lie," produced by Ms. Linda Thompson(43) of an organization identifying itself as the "American Justice Federation." In the video (which Ms. Thompson has supplied to television stations and politicians throughout the country), Ms. Thompson alleges that one of the CEVs started the fire. To support her claim, Ms. Thompson shows video footage of the April 19 operation, including one scene in which a CEV backs out of the building. As the boom leaves the building, it appears that a burst of flame can be seen at the end of the boom. According to Ms. Thompson, that scene establishes that the FBI used the CEV to start the fire inside the compound deliberately.
- We have investigated Ms. Thompson's claims and find them baseless. The specific CEV that Ms. Thompson claims emitted a flame has been identified as CEV-1. The CEV shown in the video was outfitted with a boom parallel to the ground, meaning a boom aimed at the first floor of the compound. The only CEV in use that day with a boom aimed at the first floor level was CEV-1. Both CEV-2 and the substitute CEV-2(44) were outfitted with booms pointed on an upward angle toward the second floor of the compound.
- The time that the portion of the video showing CEV-1 was filmed is unclear. However, based on an examination of the tape, it has been determined that the excerpt Ms. Thompson selected shows CEV-1 in action near the front door of the building. However, CEV-1 was not in that location when the fire started; instead, it was near the front-right corner, and had backed away from the building at least two minutes before the first reports of smoke. The split-screen video mentioned above shows CEV-1 backing away from the building at that moment. The infrared tape shows a heat source -- the exhaust -- at the rear of CEV-1, but no heat source at the front of CEV-1.
- The army has examined all the CEVs used on April 19, including CEV-1, to determine whether there was any possibility that any of the vehicles could have been outfitted with a flameemitting device. All bills of lading, maintenance records, and other relevant documentation were checked. The evidence shows that none of the CEVs was outfitted with any device capable of emitting fire or flames. We also had each CEV examined for evidence of charring or fire. No such evidence was found.
- U.S. Army maintenance personnel who were present in Waco, and who were responsible for CEV-1, were also interviewed and shown a copy of Ms. Thompson's videotape. They could offer no explanation for the appearance of any fire at the end of the boom. Neither CEV-1, nor any other vehicle, was outfitted with any flame throwing apparatus., Moreover, there were no flammable parts at the front of the CEV, and there were no electrical components which could cause a flame.
- In summary, no evidence has been found to support the claim that CEV-1, or any other government vehicle, started the fire at the compound. In fact, as this report has shown, there is conclusive evidence that the Branch Davidians started the fire. Nevertheless, our findings may not convince those who will believe only what they want to believe. We are confident, however, that our findings represent the truth.
- Some observers, including FBI employees who were not privy to the operations plan, have questioned whether it was proper for the FBI to escalate the operation once the Davidians opened fire, given that the HRT agents were not threatened by the gunfire while they were inside the CEVs and Bradleys. First, the FBI had the Attorney General's prior approval to escalate the operation if the Davidians engaged in hostile conduct. Second, the HRT agents were not completely immune from the hostile fire, as the possibility existed that a round could penetrate an opening in an armored vehicle and strike one of the occupants. Third, it must be remembered that the FBI exercised remarkable restraint, as it did not fire a single shot during the entire 51 days of the standoff, including the last day.
- This is the same Linda Thompson who twice attempted to encourage people to come to Waco to join forces with Koresh against the government.
- The original CEV-2 lost a track and had to be replaced with a second vehicle.