Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Mount Carmel and The Branch Davidians

Wayne and I remember where we were mid-day on April 19, 1993. We were finishing lunch at Sergio's Cuban Restaurant in Miami, Florida. We watched the television set behind the bar as a Waco, Texas religious compound exploded into flames.  America was attacking it's citizens. Men, women and children were inside the burning building and they would not be rescued. There were no fire trucks or ambulances. Flames engulfed the compound and it was clear there was no escape for the souls inside. It was sickening.

The siege began February 28th when the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms  (ATF) was tipped off that a religious group, formerly a part of the Seventh Day Adventist Church, was stockpiling firearms in a rural part of Waco.  Possession of the firearms, it seems, was perfectly legal. The group's intentions in the use of the firearms was the point in question.

ATF agents attempted to serve a warrant on a Sunday morning, when, it was supposed by the ATF, that church members would be preoccupied with worship services. As the door was slammed on the agents, gunfire ensued. It is not clear from whom but agents of the ATF later reported they were shooting dogs. It is clear however, that shots were fired from both sides. Four ATF agents and six members of the church were killed on that day alone.

Failing to complete the raid, the FBI became involved and initiated a 51 day standoff with the church members.  Eventually, on April 19th, a tear gas assault was launched in attempt to force the men, women and children out of their compound. During the attack, a rapidly expanding fire engulfed the entire religious compound and in the end, 76 were dead. Fire trucks, (according to the official record) arrived just 9 minutes before the fire finally burned itself out. Of course, there were no injured to rescue.

On our last day in Waco this week, we drove out to the former Branch Davidian compound. As expected, there are no directional signs and the people of Waco do not seem to know much or won't disclose anything about it even though it is a religious property still today. It's known now as the Stone Church, The Branch and New Mount Carmel.

I'd read somewhere that it was okay for visitors to walk the property even though there's not much to see -- just the remains of a swimming pool (used as a bunker by the group), an old bathtub and part of a bus that is mostly buried.  But the day we were there, the weather was pretty awful -- rainy and cold, so we didn't get out of the car.   We could see a small church building on the property and I read that the membership number was tiny. 

The entrance to Mount Carmel today. The gates are open.

Just inside the gate, this stone welcome visitors to New Mt. Carmel Center,
The Stone Church, The Branch, The Lord Our Righteousness

Each stone bears a name, all bear the same date of death -- April 19, 1993, age at that time and the country of origin.

A stone for every member of the church who died that day.
 The center monument bears the names of all who died during the siege, including the names of the ATF agents.
Vernon Wayne Howell (David Koresh) does not have an individual stone.
His name is on the list of The Seven Shepherds of the Advent Movements.
The actual events that led to the siege at Waco may never be known. The siege and it's violent end, however, appear to have been the motivation for bombing the Federal Building in Oklahoma City exactly two years later.

What I found to be a detailed, non-biased report of the incidents that might have occurred at this location can be read at Crime Library for anyone interested in the read.

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