UNIVERSITY OF MARY WASHINGTON
A Photographic Memoir
Professor Nabil Al-Takriti
I hereby declare upon my word of honor that I have neither given nor received unauthorized help on this work. Signature:
A Photographic Memoir
In the nearly twenty years since the siege in Waco, Texas captured the nation’s attention; there has been no shortage of opinions, commentary, or analysis relative to what happened. The story of the siege at Waco is a story of extremes. At the very least there are two factions: one argues that the Branch Davidians were a group of brainwashed cultists who committed suicide. The other says that the federal government overstepped its authority and killed people needlessly. The actual story however is much more complicated and intricate than just these two views.
Naturally, the question persists: What is the true story? As one reviews the details of this story, one finds that everything that seems clear is bent, and everything that seems bent is clear; which serves to underscore the importance of not simply basing one’s judgment on superficial considerations.
The purpose of this handout is to give you, the audience, a more intimate understanding as to the history of this group and the events which have given it infamy. My hope is that this will make you think as well as feel, with equal rigor and intensity on both counts.
This handout contains some imagery of a graphic, violent, and disturbing nature. The reasons for the inclusion of these images are not for the purposes of exploitation or disrespect; but rather to serve to underscore the importance of these events and the unfortunate losses of life. Also, to underscore a more fundamental tenet of pursuing the path of history. Doing this work requires that you forfeit the luxury of inhabiting the world in a superficial way. It demands that you force yourself to look at and to consider aspects of something that other ordinary everyday people have the luxury of dismissing as a consequential aspect of daily life. It is what I call the luxury of ignorance. Please consider these images in the spirit intended.
“Facts are the enemy of truth.”
• In 1929, Victor Houteff (1885-1955), a short, 140-pound Bulgarian immigrant, a one-time hotelkeeper & Maytag washer salesman claimed that he had a new message for the Seventh-day Adventist Church. He published his opinions in a book entitled The Shepherd’s Rod. This drew the ire & scorn of the Los Angeles SDA and he was excommunicated from the church.
In May of 1935, Houteff established his congregation’s new home near Waco, Texas. Up to the early 1940’s his group was referred to as The Shepherd’s Rod. He soon changed the name of his association to the Davidian Seventh-Day Adventists. The term “Davidian” refers to the kingdom of David. Houteff directed his group to evangelize Adventists exclusively.
The humble beginnings are shown in the very first building ever built in 1935. It served as a camp kitchen. It caught fire five years later in 1940.
Over time the Davidian Seventh-Day Adventist Association grew. Here is one of the main buildings around the late 1940’s. In 1957, two years after Houteff’s death, all of it was sold and the Davidians moved to the New Mt. Carmel.
On April 22, 1959, all Davidians gathered at the New Mt. Carmel for Armageddon, the Bible’s predicted final battle between good and evil was nigh. “When the appointed (or anointed) hours came that afternoon,” a journalist who was on hand wrote, “somewhere between 3 P.M. and dark, it was a bit pitiful to view the massive, collective disappointment. Of the thousands there, more or less, only one of them was relieved. Me[!]’ In the month following what can only be called the Lesser Disappointment, most of Florence [Houteff’s] followers began to filter away.”
After the Lesser Disappointment, the Davidian Association was in danger of disappearing. However, Benjamin L. Roden (1902-1978), an oil field worker, claimed to have received his own message from God, splitting the Dravidian Church. Out of this he formed Branch Dravidian Seventh-day Adventists Association. “Branch” refers to the new name of Christ. “After the Lesser Disappointment, while dispatching others across the seas to Israel, Roden stayed in Texas, Building his base. His wife Lois (1915-1986), took charge of some thirty families who settled in Israel. In 1964, she too returned to Waco.” The combined effort of these two helped to sustain the Pentecostal sect. In 1978, Ben Roden died leaving leadership of the group to his wife Lois. Around this same time, Lois claimed she received a divine message showing her that the Holy Spirit is feminine in gender, causing some controversy in the group.
In 1959, the same year of the Lesser Disappointment, Vernon Wayne Howell was born the illegitimate son of fourteen year old Bonnie Clark. “Young Vernon was a special case, even inside a troubled family. Most people who knew him before he came to Mt. Carmel thought of him as only half-bright. Childhood friends had given him the nickname “Mr. Retardo,” and sometimes he played the part. “There’s not a grade in school that I didn’t fail in,” he bragged.” He dropped out of school in the ninth grade.
In 1981, at the age of 22, Vernon Howell came to live at Mt. Carmel with an interest in theology. Lois Roden took young Howell under her wing as an understudy. Shortly thereafter, Lois allowed Howell to begin to teach his own message, opening the door for him to build a following. Also during this period, young Howell began having a sexual relationship with Lois. One day Lois announced that God had impregnated her through Howell’s seed as a divine conception. However, Lois soon announced that she had lost the baby.
In 1983, Vernon married Rachel Jones, the daughter of a prominent Davidian family. This helped to further solidify his place and reputation among the Davidian community. They would eventually have two children, a son Cyrus and a daughter Star.
“The Mad Man of Waco”
During Passover in 1984, a split developed within the group, with a majority-faction loyal to Howell. George Roden, Lois and Ben’s mentally unstable son, who was vying for dominant control over the group, drove Howell and his followers off at gunpoint. Howell led his followers to Palestine, Texas, where they lived in a makeshift camp in school buses, tents, and plywood shacks. Lois Roden, who was still formally the leader of the Branch, traveled back and forth for months trying to salvage the group. This dispute remained unresolved even after her death in November of 1986. By this time, George was alone at Mt. Carmel. “Desperate to justify his claims to leadership, George looked for a way to demonstrate that God was on his side. He dug up the casket of Anna Hughes, a one-armed believer who had been buried at Mt. Carmel nearly two decades earlier. The “Antitypical Immanuel” then issued a challenge: Whoever could raise Anna from the dead, Roden proposed, would be revealed as the rightful leader of the Branch.” In 1987, George was arrested for violating a 1979 restraining order barring him from living on Mt. Carmel. In 1989, he was convicted of murder in Odessa, Texas.
Mt. Carmel, Waco, TX, 1989-Perry Jones, David Jones, & Vernon Howell
In April of 1988, Howell and his followers moved back to Mt. Carmel. In August, Howell received what he called the Revelation of the New Light. This revelation dictated that all women were to be subject to him by God’s will, therefore all of the marriages were to be dissolved and all women were to become his wife. Also this required that Howell had the obligation to beget 24 children who were to become the heads of the new Eden.
Mt. Carmel as it looked just prior to the building of the Bible House.
In 1990, after a pilgrimage to Israel, Howell, led by the conviction that God had anointed him to be a contemporary Cyrus and free God’s chosen people, legally changed his name. His first name to David, honoring the Hebrew King David; and his last name to Koresh, after the messiah Koresh mentioned in the Book of Isaiah. What he claimed was not to God or Jesus, but rather a new messiah. The Sinful Messiah. And he would say, “My sins are more than the hairs of my head.” Koresh’s teachings focused primarily on the Seven Seals and his ability as the “Lamb of God” to open and reveal their meaning to the righteous. Koresh purported this contention by using the Book of Revelation as the primary lens through which to interpret the Bible.
Mt Carmel Center
This is a scale model of the building as it existed at the time of the siege. This became the iconic image in most of the general public’s mind at the time of the siege. On the next page is a blueprint of the interior of the structure. The “compound” as it was called by federal law enforcement agencies and the media was actually a ramshackle collection of recycled plywood from dilapidated cottages, and a few walls of sheetrock. Most of the building was without running water or electricity.
David’s sermons, or Bible study sessions would sometimes last anywhere from 7-16 hours. Usually they would end with him leading a band in a Christian rock song. While many of the Davidians supported the congregation by working odd jobs around Waco, money was always in short supply. Koresh along with Paul Fatta soon found out that buying and selling firearms was a lucrative source of income. With this, in 1990, the Davidians started selling and buying firearms. However, soon there would be questions raised as to the legality of his practices, business and other wise.
“History is the version of past events that people have decided to agree upon.”
– Napoleon Bonaparte
On February 28, 1993, agents of a federal law enforcement agency The United States Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms, or ATF, sought to execute a search warrant on the property of a place known as Mount Carmel Center ten miles northeast of Waco, Texas. It was home to a small Pentecostal sect identified simply as “The Branch Davidians.” A gun battle ensued between the ATF and the Davidians that would become the longest standoff in U.S. law enforcement history. The end result was four agents and six Davidians were killed, along with many others wounded.
BATF agents take cover behind vehicles parked in the front courtyard while returning fire from the Davidians. The BATF operation was called “Showtime.”
Though it has never been satisfactorily established who fired the first shot, one scenario has it that possibly the BATF fired first to prevent the dogs from getting in the way. The front yard of Mt. Carmel was fenced in where the Davidians kept a fawn, an Alaskan malamute, and her four pups. All of whom were killed.
The raid plan called for a dynamic entry of the building through three separate entry points including entry through the second story windows of the room believed to be where the firearms were kept.
After nearly two hours of shooting, a truce was declared. The agents were instructed to hold their fire, leave the property, and then there would be further discussion of what to do. Here the agents gather up their dead and wounded and retreat.
Among the dead were four BATF Agents:
Steve Willis, 32; Todd McKeehan, 28
Robert Williams, 26; Conway LeBleu, 30
Peter Dale (“Perry”) Jones (1929-1993); David Koresh’s Father-in-Law.
Among the dead were six Davidians including Perry Jones, Koresh’s Father-in-Law. The exact circumstances surrounding Perry’s death remain a source of debate. According to the Davidians Jones was shot by the BATF and then begged to be killed as an act of mercy. However, his autopsy revealed that he died as the result of a craniocerebral trauma due to a single gunshot wound of mouth. But all of the autopsies are suspect because they were stored in a faulty cooler at the Fort Worth medical examiner’s office which caused them to decompose beyond any chance of further examination.
Afterwards, both the Davidians and the Federal Government dug in for a siege
In February, 1993, prior to the ATF raid the Mt. Carmel community had around 130 members, including 45 women and 35 children. Between March 1st-March 25, 1993, 35 Davidians exited Mt. Carmel: 9 women, 5 men, & 21 children. The children were remanded to the custody of The Department of Children & Family Services. Social worker Janice Sparks said, “The children appear to be very smart, very well cared for.” This seemed to further dispel the notions of child abuse.
By mid-March, negotiations had begun to break down. As such the FBI & ATF decided to escalate the situation by resorting to tactics such as psychological warfare. This involved helicopters whizzing overhead during the day. By night, flashing blinding floodlights coupled with loud noises. The noises consisted of horrible sounds such as chainsaws, rabbits being slaughtered, or Nancy Sinatra singing songs. The horror! The horror!
The Davidians were granted almost no access to members of the outside media outlets. As such, their only real way of communicating a message to the wider outside world was by hanging a sheet outside the window of the residential tower.
During the siege, many people traveled to Waco, Texas to get in on the excitement. Among them was a young Army officer named Timothy James McVeigh.
On February 28, 1993, Koresh was shot in the wrist and lower left side of his abdomen. The image above is taken from a video tape the Davidians made because the FBI gave them a camera and asked them to talk about themselves. This is the only filmed record of the Davidians during the 51 day siege. Above Koresh holds one of his 17 children, Mayanah Schneider age two, as she recites her ABC’s. Both died in the fire.
On April 19, 1993, the FBI implemented their final plan to bring an end to the standoff. The plan called for demolition and gas insertion of the building over a 48 hour period. If the tanks took fire from the Davidians they were then allowed to escalate the situation. As the tanks inserted gas and began knocking walls in, the negotiators kept saying over the PA system, “We will not be entering the building! This is not an assault!”
The tear gas used at Mt. Carmel was not regular teargas. Instead the FBI used something called CS gas. CS gas is not actually gas. It’s a chemical powder used for stripping paint which contains methylene chloride. Effects include, though are not limited to, nausea, vomiting, and disorientation. CS is flammable, and when burned, it produces hydrogen cyanide, the same gas used to execute prisoners on Death Row. The backward twisted corpse of this child, identified as three year old Crystal Martinez, shows what cyanide does to the human body. It makes the muscles contract so violently that they can actually bend backwards breaking bones. CS gas was banned from use against foreign enemies by an international agreement in 1969. Usage of CS gas is considered a “crime against humanity” and is punishable by prison and severe penalties.
At around 12:30 PM, after the last insertion of CS gas, three separate fires occurred in three separate locations within a three minute period. The fire quickly consumed the building aided by wind gusts of up to 40 miles per hour and the venting caused by the holes caused by the tanks. Within an hour Mt. Carmel had become Golgotha: “The Land of Skulls.” It has never been satisfactorily established who or how the fire started.
The only structure to survive the fire was a steel reinforced concrete room the FBI called, the Bunker. The Bunker was an old church records vault which had survived fire years earlier. It’s also where the women and children went to take cover figuring it was the safest place inside Mt. Carmel. The FBI gassed the Bunker for two hours. The only way in or out was the doorway shown above. Some of the children were found still in their mother’s arms.
“The Lost Davidians”
All totaled, 83 Davidians remained inside Mt. Carmel until the very end; among them 35 women, 25 children, and 27 men. On April 19, 1993, 32 women, 21 men, and 21 children (plus two stillborn fetuses) perished. Only nine people survived, including 6 men and 3 women.
Among the survivors was 52 year old Cive Doyle who had joined the group in 1966. Unfortunately, Doyle’s daughter Shari, aged eighteen, did not survive.
Alleged cause of death: gunshot wound, left posterior head. Shari’s father said that if his daughter shot herself to avoid burning to death he did not blame her, nor does he believe that God would either.
Autopsy photograph of the remains of David Koresh
Alleged cause of death: massive craniocerebral trauma due to gunshot wound in mid-forehead
Because the public was bombarded with images, both print and electronic, such as this one, there was never any serious consideration of the other sides to this story. Here this cover of Time Magazine seems to symbolize the most enduring image most of the public continues to have of this group and its leader.
In May of 1993, a telefilm titled, “In the Line of Duty: Ambush in Waco” premiered on NBC. Less than a month after the siege ended. The screenwriter, Phil Penningroth, has since disowned the screenplay.
On April 19, 1995, a massive truck bomb destroyed the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, killing 168 people, 19 of whom where children. It was part of a plot orchestrated by Timothy James McVeigh. When asked later McVeigh cited the events in Waco as part of his motivation. The Davidians placed a memorial stone on the grounds of their rebuilt church to demonstrate that they do not condone anyone killing others in their name.
In the wake of the events surrounding the Oklahoma City Bombing, The United States Congressional House Judiciary Committee held hearings into the events of what took place at Waco, to ascertain exactly what took place.
Special Agent Robert Rodriguez, who was working undercover trying to gather intelligence for the ATF, to determine if there was in fact any illegal activity going on at Mt. Carmel, testified. With tears in his eyes he looked over at Commanders Chuck Sarabyn and Philip Chojnacki sitting to his left and said,
“Those two men know what I told them, and they knew exactly what I meant. And instead of coming up and admitting to the American people right after the raid that they had made a mistake, that the element of surprise had been lost, that the agent had advised them that they knew they were coming. Instead of doing that, they lied to the public and in so doing, they just about destroyed a very great agency.”
Out of the Ashes
In April, 2001, the Davidians rebuilt their church out back behind where the original building stood.
The Davidians wanted to show that the loss of life was senseless no matter who you were.
The Davidians Today
“One death is a tragedy; a million is a statistic.”
“In a sense, it’s easy in one way to look at a list of 1500 people who died on the Titanic. That number is actually meaningless. It’s so large that it’s meaningless. Its 1500 numbers! Its only when you stop and think that every single, solitary name on that list of victims was a human being just like you or I. Had dreams and hopes and wishes and happiness and sadness. And they were all cut short by the Titanic Disaster.
Vice President; Titanic Historical Society
For Those Who Were Lost…
February 28, 1993
Winston Blake, 28; black British
Peter Gent, 24; white Australian
Peter Hipsman, 28; white American
Perry Jones, 64; white American
Michael Schroeder, 29; white American
Jaydean Wendell, 34; Hawaiian American
Steve Willis, 32; white American
Todd McKeehan, 28; white American
Robert Williams, 26; white American
Conway LeBleu, 30; white American
April 19, 1993
Katherine Andrade, 24; white American
Chanel Andrade, 1; white American
Jennifer Andrade, 19; white American
George Bennett, 35; black British
Susan Benta, 31; black British
Mary Jean Borst, 49; white American
Pablo Cohen, 38; white Israeli
Abedowalo Davies, 30; black British
Shari Doyle, 18; white American
Beverly Elliot, 30; black British
Evette Fagan, 32; black British
Doris Fagan, 51; black British
Lisa Marie Farris, 24; white American
Raymond Friesen, 76; white Canadian
Sandra Hardial, 27; black British
Zilla Henry, 55; black British
Vanessa Henry, 19; black British
Phillip Henry, 22; black British
Paulina Henry, 24; black British
Stephen Henry, 26; black British
Diana Henry, 28; black British
Novellette Hipsman, 36; black Canadian
Floyd Houtman, 61; black American
Sherri Jewell, 43; Asian American
David M. Jones, 38; white American
David Koresh, 33; white American
Rachel Koresh, 24; white American
Cyrus Koresh, 8; white American
Star Koresh, 6; white American
Bobbie Lane Koresh, 2; white American
Jeffery Little, 32; white American
Nicole Gent Little and unborn child, 24; white Australian
Dayland Gent, 3; white American
Page Gent, 1; white American
Livingston Malcolm, 26; black British
Diane Martin, 41; black British
Wayne Martin, Sr., 42; black American
Lisa Martin, 13; black American
Sheila Martin, Jr., 15; black American
Anita Martin, 18; black American
Wayne Martin, Jr., 20; black American
Julliete Martinez, 30; Mexican American
Crystal Martinez, 3; Mexican American
Isaiah Martinez, 4; Mexican American
Joseph Martinez, 8; Mexican American
Abigail Martinez, 11; Mexican American
Audrey Martinez, 13; Mexican American
John-Mark McBean, 27; black British
Bernadette Monbelly, 31; black British
Rosemary Morrison, 29; black British
Melissa Morrison, 6; black British
Sonia Murray, 29; black American
Theresa Nobrega, 48; black British
James Riddle, 32; white American
Rebecca Saipaia, 24; Asian British
Steve Schneider, 43; white American
Judy Schneider, 41; white American
Mayanah Schneider, 2; white American
Clifford Sellors, 33; white British
Scott Kojiro Sonobe, 35; Asian American
Floracita Sonobe, 34; Philipino
Gregory Summers, 28; white American
Aisha Gyrfas Summers and unborn child, 17; white Australian
Startle Summers, 1; white American
Lorraine Sylvia, 40; white American
Rachel Sylvia, 12; white American
Hollywood Sylvia, 1; white American
Michelle Jones Thibodeau, 18; white American
Serenity Jones, 4; white American
Chica Jones, 2; white American
Little One Jones, 2; white American
Neal Vaega, 38; Asian New Zealander
Margarida Vaega, 47; Asian New Zealander
Mark H. Wendell, 40; Asian American
“One of the dangers inherent that we must confront, time and time again, in our considerations of the history of our national narrative, is to paint everything in very bold, broad strokes; in very black and white terms; to create a lot of, oftentimes, unnecessary polarities. It seems that more often than not, we make those choices at our own peril.”
The images & information contained within this handout were taken from a myriad of sources which the author takes no credit for. These sources include though are not limited to the following resource materials listed below.
Breault, Mark, & Martin King. Inside the Cult: A Member’s Chilling, Exclusive Account of
Madness and Depravity in David Koresh’s Compound. New York: Penguin Group,
Doyle, Clive, Catherine Wessinger, & Matthew D. Wittmer. A Journey to Waco: Autobiography
of a Branch Davidian. Maryland: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers Inc., 2012.
Haldeman, Bonnie, & Catherine Wessinger. Memories of the Branch Davidians: The
Autobiography of David Koresh’s Mother. Waco, Texas: Baylor University Press, 2007.
Hardy, David T. & Rex Kimball. This Is Not an Assault: Penetrating the Web of Official Lies
Regarding the Waco Incident. Bloomington, Indiana: Xlibris Corp, 2001.
In The Line of Duty: Ambush In Waco, DVD. Patchett Kaufman Entertainment; Directed by Dick
Lowry, 1993; 2003.
Kopel, David B. & Paul H. Blackman. No More Wacos: What’s Wrong With Federal Law
Enforcement and How to Fix It. Amherst, New York: Prometheus Books, 1997.
Linedecker, Clifford L. Massacre at Waco, Texas: The Shocking Story of Cult Leader David
Koresh and the Branch Davidians. New York: St. Martin’s Paperbacks, 1993.
Martin, Shelia, & Catherine Wessinger. When They Were Mine: Memoirs of a Branch Davidian
Wife and Mother. Waco, Texas: Baylor University Press, 2009.
Michel, Lou, & Dan Herbeck. American Terrorist: Timothy McVeigh and the Oklahoma City
Bombing. New York: Harper, 2001.
Moore, Carol. The Davidian Massacre: Disturbing Questions About Waco Which Must Be
Answered. Virginia: Gun Owners Foundation, 1995.
Newport, Kenneth G. C. The Branch Davidians of Waco: The History and Beliefs of an
Apocalyptic Sect. Oxford University Press, 2006.
Penningroth, Phil. Aug 25, 2001. Righting Waco: Confessions of a Hollywood Propagandist.
Killing The Buddha: M’m, M’m, God! http://killingthebuddha.com/mag/dogma/righting-
waco-confessions-of-a-hollywood-propagandist.htm (accessed Nov 30, 2011).
Reavis, Dick J. The Ashes of Waco: An Investigation. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1995.
Stern, Kenneth S. A Force Upon the Plain: The American Militia Movement and the Politics of
Hate. New York: Simon & Schuster Inc., 1996.
Tabor, James D. & Eugene V. Gallagher. Why Waco?: Cults and the Battle for Religious
Freedom in America. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1995.
Thibodeau, David, & Leon Whiteson. A Place Called Waco: A Survivor’s Story. New York:
Perseus Books Group; PublicAffairs, 1999.
Waco: A New Revelation, DVD. MGA Films, Inc.; Directed by Jason Van Vleet, 2003.
Waco: The Rules of Engagement, DVD. Fifth Estate Productions; Directed by William Gazecki,
Walter, Jess. Ruby Ridge: The Truth and Tragedy of the Randy Weaver Family. New York:
Harper Perennial, 2002.
Wright, Stuart A. Armageddon in Waco: Critical Perspectives on the Branch Davidian
Conflict. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1995.