April 11th, 2011

What Happened in Waco

‘CNN Presents – Waco: Faith, Fear, and Fire’ debuts Sun. Apr. 17 at 8pm ET & PT

More than 18 years after the conflagration that virtually wiped out the Branch Davidian Christian religious sect, a handful of followers still believe their spiritual leader, David Koresh, will be resurrected as a messiah.

On Feb. 28, 1993, agents of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) tried to serve search and arrest warrants for allegedly illegal weapons at the Branch Davidian compound near Waco, Tex.  A gun battle with church followers ensued with casualties on both sides.  The FBI took over efforts to negotiate Koresh’s surrender to authorities, but he refused, leading to a seven-week stalemate.  By the time it was all over, 82 Branch Davidians  (including 24 children) and four federal agents lost their lives.

CNN investigative correspondent Drew Griffin reports on the events that led to the 51-day standoff with its catastrophic end in CNN Presents: Faith, Fear, and Fire. The one-hour documentary debuts on Sunday, Apr. 17 on CNN/U.S. at 8:00p.m. and 11:00p.m. ET and PT; it re-airs Saturday, Apr. 23 at the same airtimes.

Griffin dissects the timeline of events through first-person accounts by participants on both sides of the confrontation, and recordings of actual conversations between FBI negotiators and Koresh.  After tear gas was used in an attempt to force the Davidians to surrender, nearly all of them died – from suicide, mercy killings, and in a raging fire that was ordered set by Koresh, according to an independent Special Counsel.   Koresh died of a gunshot to his forehead.

Sheila Martin lost her husband and four of her children; fellow Branch Davidian Clive Doyle lost his 18 year-old daughter at the compound.  Both Martin and Doyle still remain true believers.  They meet every Saturday for Bible study and await the resurrection of Koresh, described by Doyle as a “manifestation of God in the flesh.”  Doyle and Martin blame neither the FBI nor Koresh for the tragedy; they believe it was part of God’s plan and that Koresh will still lead the world to God’s Kingdom.

The standoff and fire in Waco had tragic impact far beyond the immediate events.  In 1995, Timothy McVeigh detonated explosives outside of the Alfred P. Murrah federal building in Oklahoma City as revenge for the siege at Waco.  Until the attacks on the United States on Sept. 11, 2001, that bombing was the deadliest incident of domestic terrorism in American history – 168 people were killed, including 19 children.

Online, CNN.com users can find a video timeline of the events in Waco, as originally reported by CNN correspondent Bonnie Anderson at: www.cnn.com/video/#/video/us/2011/03/18/gold.waco.timeline.1993.cnn.  During the week of Apr. 11, CNN’s Belief blog will host a guest editorial exploring the differences between cults and new religious traditions.  There will also be news stories on U.S. militia movements and terror attacks that have occurred during the month of April.

Andy Segal is senior producer for Waco: Faith, Fear, and Fire; Cliff Hackel is the editor.  Kathy Slobogin is managing editor and Scott Matthews is the executive producer for CNN’s Special Investigations and Documentaries unit.

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