Twenty-six years ago, today, at 9:45 am CST, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) attempted to serve a search warrant for illegal weapons, and possible methamphetamine manufacture (brings in military assistance due to the War on Drugs), to the Branch Davidians religious group at the Mount Carmel Center in Axtell, Texas. The raid did not go well. The ATF was unable to get into the compound after a two-hour battle that claimed the lives of four ATF agents and five Branch Davidians. Sixteen more agents were wounded. A ceasefire was called until another branch member attempted to re-enter the compound six hours later and was gunned down.
The ATF made contact with David Koresh (Vernon Wayne Howell) inside and, the FBI moved in and took over the operation. Early on, 25 FBI negotiators nearly had Koresh agreeing to the Davidians leaving peacefully in exchange for a recorded message of his being released via radio. After the recording was aired, Koresh changed his mind and, stated that ‘God’ had told him to stay and wait. Despite the reversal, nineteen children were released and, interviewed regarding alleged physical and sexual abuse. Koresh gave phone interviews to the local media until the FBI cut all communication.
The stand-off lasted 51 days, culminating in a deadly fire on April 19. Seventy-six Branch Davidian members died. Autopsies revealed some died due to collapsed concrete walls, others by gun shots (either self-inflicted or consensual execution) and, there was one stabbing. Autopsy photographs of some children seemed to indicate cyanide poisoning.
The raid was criticized extensively. A slew of controversies emerged. There was no meth lab and no evidence of child abuse. Despite the Danforth Report, the whitewash of bureaucratic misconduct fueled resentment. The Oklahoma City Bombing occurred on the second anniversary of the Waco fire.
Nothing remains of the buildings, today, other than concrete foundation components, as the entire site was bulldozed two weeks after the end of the siege. Only a small chapel, built years after the siege, stands on the site.