MCLENNAN COUNTY, Texas (KWKT) — April 19, 2023 marks 30 years since the end of a 51-day standoff between Branch Davidians and agents from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco Firearms and Explosives (ATF) and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) outside Waco, Texas.
David Koresh, also known as Vernon Howell, and his followers imprisoned themselves in the Mount Carmel complex on Feb. 28, 1993 after a deadly ATF raid. Four federal agents were killed, and 14 other agents were wounded. Federal law enforcement agencies camped outside, attempting to lure them out as people around the world watched.
The complex was the headquarters for the Davidians, who had split off from the Seventh-day Adventists decades earlier.
During the 25th anniversary of the events, in 2018, former Waco cult member Marc Breault was interviewed by FOX News about his experiences with Koresh — and how he was able to escape from the events.
“Koresh and I were at odds,” Breault told FOX News. “So he was going to head to Texas. He ordered me to come to Texas to receive my punishment because I was opposing him. So I packed my bags and everybody assumed I was going to Texas to do what Koresh had ordered me to do, but I never showed up. Eventually, I went to Australia. So in the end, Elizabeth [Marc’s wife] being in Australia worked out because I had a place to go.”
Breault believed he was lucky. Many of Koresh’s followers weren’t as fortunate.
“That’s why a lot of people who were in Mount Carmel had trouble escaping. A lot of people don’t realize that in 1991 his [Koresh’s] wife Rachel wanted to leave. But she couldn’t because Mount Carmel wasn’t easy for her to get out.”
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Breault would never find out what kind of punishment his former friend had in store for him. As of 2018, he and his wife still reside in Australia where they have “an ordinary life,” according to FOX News.
“The people who were in there, they were good people who got misguided and lost their way, being used by David Koresh who was a master manipulator of people,” Elizabeth Baranyai, Breault’s wife, told FOX News. “But underneath all of that, they were good people. That’s the real tragedy of the story. That good people can be so badly used. But it was difficult to stand up to him. Those people sitting in those Bible studies day in and day out for hours at a time, I don’t know why they couldn’t see it.”
“It was hard to stand up, but people ultimately gave him his power,” Breault said.
This siege began on Feb. 28, 1993, and lasted until April 19, 1993 — when FBI agents started a gas attack. Hours later, flames could be seen coming from the compound. Only a handful of people escaped the fire.
Two dozen teens and children were included among those killed, according to FOX News. A 2000 report by a former senior official appointed by the attorney general noted that the exact number couldn’t be stated because of the “extensive burning” and “commingling of the bodies.” At least 20 people, including Koresh, died of gunshot wounds.
For years, there have been arguments over whether authorities or the Branch Davidians started the blaze. While the FBI maintains that the followers ignited the fires, some survivors blamed federal agents. Investigators concluded that the Davidians shot themselves or each other as the fire broke out.
All that remains now are a few mobile homes, a small church and a row of trees which were planted as a memorial to those who died.
McLennan County Sheriff Parnell McNamara previously told News 2’s sister station, KWKT, that the morning of the initial ATF raid his life and the lives of many others would never be the same.
“Course, nobody dreamed that it was going to turn out like that,” McNamara said. “It’s something that took place that, I don’t know if any of us will ever totally get over it. I know I won’t.”
He, along with other U.S. Marshals, members of the Sheriff’s Office, Waco Police, ATF agents, Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) agents, Internal Revenue Service (IRS) agents and Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) Narcotics were at the second command post waiting for the all clear.
“We were just kind of laughing and talking. Then, all of the sudden an ATF car drives up right to us and said, ‘We are in a terrible shootout, we got people shot, maybe dead,’” said McNamara. “You could hear the big stuff, boom boom.”
McNamara said all they could do was listen to the pleas for help and listen to a battle they couldn’t join.
“As a police officer you’re trained to go to the sound of firing, always go back up another officer. Let’s go, we have a hundred guys here, you know? They got a fight going on and they said, ‘No, everybody’s got to stay here,'” McNamara said.
He went on to tell KWKT that the biggest lie ever told about it all is that the federal government set the fire. He says Koresh and other Branch Davidians set the fire – to make Koresh’s prediction that he would die by fire and be resurrected come true.
The ATF held a ceremony in Waco in 2013 in conjunction with the 20th anniversary of the events. The organization honored agents Conway LeBleu, Todd McKeehan, Robert John Williams and Steven Willis — who died in the 1993 raid. The ceremony was closed to the public and media out of respect for family members.
ATF spokeswoman Franceska Perot said the ATF made several changes after the raid. Part of why the organization held events like the 2013 ceremony was to remind younger agents about the importance and the dangers of their jobs.
In total, 86 people died – four ATF agents and 82 Davidians. The incident remains one of the most controversial incidents of law enforcement action in American history, according to FOX News. Some saw the raid as an unwarranted government intrusion into personal and religious freedoms.
The field is now called “The Branch,” and it’s closed off with a gate that has “Private Property” signs on it.