Report of the Department of the Treasury on the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms Investigation of Vernon Wayne Howell Also Known as David Koresh September 1993/Part 1 ("The Facts")
- 1 Section One: The Probable Cause Investigation
- 2 Section Two: The Decisionmaking Process Leading to Forceful Execution of Warrants
- 3 Section Three: ATF and the Media Prepare for the Raid
- 3.1 The Waco Tribune-Herald's Investigation of David Koresh and Preparation of a Series for Publication
- 3.2 ATF Discussions About the Tribune-Herald Investigation and Contacting the Media
- 3.3 The February 1, 1993, Meeting With a Tribune-Herald Official
- 3.4 Continued Discussions Between ATF and the Tribune-Herald
- 3.5 The Tribune-Herald Decision to Publish
- 3.6 The February 24 Meeting With the Tribune-Herald
- 3.7 ATF and the Media Prepare for the Raid February 24-27
- 4 Section Four: The Assault On The Compound
- 4.1 ATF Agents Assemble
- 4.2 The Media Sets Out To Cover The Raid
- 4.3 Rodriguez Enters The Compound
- 4.4 Rodriguez Reports
- 4.5 The Raid Goes Forward
- 4.6 Activity In The Compound
- 4.7 The Media Covers The Approach Of The Raid Teams
- 4.8 The Helicopter Diversion
- 4.9 The Raid Team Arrives
- 4.10 The Cease-Fire
- 5 Section Five: Post-raid Events
- 6 Notes from original report
Section One: The Probable Cause InvestigationEdit
Preliminary Information: Initiation of the ATF Investigation of Koresh and his FollowersEdit
In late May 1992, Chief Deputy Sheriff Daniel Weyenberg of the McLennan County Sheriff's Department informed the Austin, Texas, ATF office that suspicious United Parcel Service (UPS) deliveries had been received by certain persons residing at the Compound, known as Mount Carmel. The Compound is located a few miles from Waco, which is in McLennan County. Several shipments of firearms worth more than $10,000, inert grenade casings, and a substantial quantity of black powder, an explosive, had been delivered to a metal building, known as the Mag Bag, used by Compound residents several miles from the Compound. (See Figure 1.) Because the residents of the Compound were constructing what appeared to be a barracks-type cinder-block structure, had buried a school bus to serve as both a firing range and a bunker (see Figure 2), and apparently were stockpiling arms and other weapons, Deputy Weyenberg asked ATF to investigate.
Special Agent Davy Aguilera of the Austin ATF office immediately began to make inquiries, with the encouragement of Assistant U.S. Attorney Bill Johnston. On June 4, Aguilera debriefed Lieutenant Gene Barber of the sheriff's department about the Compound, and Barber told Aguilera that the sheriff's department had referred the same matter previously to the Waco office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI).
- Figure 1: Location of compound and the Mag Bag
- Figure 2: Buried school bus used as firing range and bunker (photographed after April 19, 1993 fire).
Although the FBI had formally opened a case, an agent from that office told Aguilera that the FBI was not actively pursuing any investigation.
Barber provided Aguilera with a detailed account of Koresh's alleged attempt to kill George Roden, the Branch Davidian leader whose parents established the Compound in 1959, and how Koresh seized control of the Compound and the Branch Davidians from Roden in 1987. (See Figure 3.) In support of that account, Barber gave Aguilera an "incident report" that had been prepared by the sheriff's department shortly after the confrontation. When deputy sheriffs arrived and ended the shoot-out, they found Koresh and six followers firing their rifles at Roden, who had already suffered a minor gunshot wound and was pinned down behind a tree at the Compound--which was then called "Rodenville." On the day of the shoot-out, Koresh and all of his followers were dressed in combat fatigues, had camouflaged their faces with black greasepaint before going to the Compound, and were armed with shotguns, .22-caliber rifles, and other weapons, as well as more than 3,000 rounds of unspent ammunition. (See Figure 4.)
- Figure 3: David Koresh with other Branch Davidians before the November 1987 shoot-out with George Roden
Barber also told Aguilera more about UPS deliveries made to the Compound during the preceding months, which consisted of firearms components and materials used to make explosives. On each delivery, followers of Koresh, including Steve Schneider, met the UPS driver at the Mag Bag (see Figure 5) and directed him to the Compound, where armed guards often kept watch. There, payment was made, usually in cash.
- Figure 4: Ammunition seized from Koresh and his followers after the November 1987 shoot out with Roden.
Using the UPS invoices, Aguilera began contacting firearms dealers and checking national registries to track down the specific firearms, firearms components, and explosives materials received by Koresh and his followers during the past year. After his initial conversation with Aguilera, Barber told Aguilera that the UPS driver delivered to Koresh a large quantity of powdered aluminum metal, a common ingredient in explosives, and 60 ammunition magazines for AR-15 rifles. Barber also related a confidential informant's report that Henry McMahon, a federally licensed firearms dealer who had recently moved to the Waco area from Florida, had recently bragged about selling a large number of weapons, including AK-47s, to Koresh. (See Figure 6.) On June 9, Barber reported that automatic gunfire was heard recently at the Compound.
- Figure 5: The Mag Bag after execution of search warrant.
- Figure 6: AK-47 assault rifle.
Aguilera determined that neither Koresh nor any of his followers then known to Aguilera were licensed federal arms dealers or manufacturers or had registered any National Firearms Act weapons. Using the shipping invoices, Aguilera also learned that Nesard Gun Parts Company had shipped to Koresh several "M-16 machinegun CAR kits" and several "M-16 machinegun E-2 kits," both of which are often called "conversion kits." Each of these conversion kits, when combined with the lower receiver of an AR-15 semiautomatic rifle, generally constitute all the parts from which a machinegun could be assembled.
- Figure 7: M-16 assault rifle.
An M-16 CAR kit comprises all component parts, with the exception of the lower receiver, for the carbine version of an M-16. (See Figure 7.) The kit includes a complete upper receiver and barrel assembly, buttstock, recoil spring and buffer, M-16 hammer, trigger, disconnector, selector, M-16 automatic sear, pins, springs, trigger guard, magazine release, and bolt hold-open. The parts in the kit can be used with an AR-15 rifle or lower receiver to assemble a machinegun. The M-16 E-2 kit contains a similar set of parts; however, it is geared for use with an M-16 A-2 selective-fire rifle. The parts in the E-2 kit also can be used to convert an AR-15 into a machinegun. Although these kits can be used to maintain M-16 machineguns produced before 1986 and therefore can be sold lawfully, in practice they are commonly used to convert semiautomatic weapons into machineguns. Such kits, of course, only have a lawful, practical utility if the purchaser already owns a registered machinegun. Because neither Koresh nor any of his known followers owned such a registered weapon, Aguilera inferred that the kits Koresh was steadily acquiring were not being used for legal purposes.
On the basis of this information, Aguilera formally initiated a case on June 9, 1992. Within a week, his immediate supervisors and Phillip Chojnacki, the Special Agent in Charge (SAC) of the Houston ATF office, approved this initiation and classified the case as "sensitive," thus ensuring a higher degree of oversight from the SAC and ATF headquarters. ATF regulations classify cases meeting certain criteria as "sensitive" or "significant," and investigating agents are charged with keeping supervising officials informed about those cases. The investigation of Koresh and his followers, which potentially involved a large amount of weapons and explosives in the possession of a potentially volatile group with strong professed religious beliefs, met ATF guidelines for treatment as both sensitive and significant.
The primary violations within ATF's jurisdiction that Aguilera would be pursuing were (1) the illegal manufacture of machineguns from component parts and (2) the illegal manufacture and possession of destructive devices, including explosive bombs and explosive grenades and the materials necessary to produce such items.
The ATF Investigation and Development of Probable Cause to Arrest Koresh and Search Premises Under his ControlEdit
Additional Weapons and Explosives Shipments
Initially, Aguilera focused on the paper trail generated by the weapons and explosives purchased by Koresh and his followers. Aguilera determined that Olympic Arms had recently shipped a substantial quantity of AR-15 parts to the Mag Bag, and he also learned that Henry McMahon had sold more than a dozen AR-15 lower receivers to Koresh a few months earlier. As Aguilera learned from previous investigations, someone with access to metal milling machines and lathes and with the knowledge to use them, can readily convert AR-15 semiautomatic rifles into fully automatic weapons (machineguns) similar to M-16 machineguns by using certain key parts legally available, frequently parts designed for use with an M-16. It is worth noting that there is no practical reason to exchange most AR-15 parts on an intact AR-15 weapon for M-16 parts other than for purposes of converting the weapon into a machinegun. The M-16 parts do not improve the performance of the weapon if used in a semiautomatic mode. For example, the AR-15 bolt assembly performs substantially better in a semiautomatic mode than does the M-16 bolt assembly when installed on an AR-15.
Compliance Inspection of Henry McMahon
On July 30, Aguilera, posing as an ATF compliance officer, joined Jimmy Ray Skinner, an ATF compliance officer, to inspect the premises of Henry McMahon, who was doing business as Hewitt Hand Guns out of his home. Aguilera's review of McMahon's records revealed that he had sold 36 firearms to a "Vernon Howell," who was not identified as "David Koresh," and sold others to persons Aguilera knew to be Koresh's followers. Moreover, approximately 65 AR-15 lower receivers reflected in McMahon's inventory records were not in his physical stock. McMahon claimed that these firearms were being stored at the house of his preacher, whom he identified as David Koresh, apparently suggesting that Koresh and Howell were two different persons.
Although McMahon was out of compliance and was therefore subject to fines, Aguilera and the compliance officer ended the audit without imposing any penalties on McMahon to avoid arousing his suspicion. About a month later, Skinner returned and McMahon presented him with receipts and ATF forms reflecting the sale of the missing 65 lower receivers to "Vernon Howell."
The Sounds of Machinegun Fire and Explosives
Further evidence that Koresh and his followers were manufacturing illegal machineguns came when Aguilera interviewed a neighbor who had served in an Army artillery unit and was familiar with the sound of automatic weapons fire. The neighbor reported that since early 1992, he had frequently heard spurts of weapons fire coming from the Compound at night, including .50-caliber (See Figure 8) and automatic weapons fire, and that residents of the Compound had discharged semiautomatics on July 4. In mid-November, a deputy sheriff reported that while on patrol a few days earlier, he had heard a loud explosion at the Compound, accompanied by a large cloud of gray smoke. Neither Koresh nor any of his followers had a license or a permit to use explosives at the Compound.
- Figure 8: .50-caliber rifle.
Interviews of Former Cult Members
Aguilera also sought information from former cult members, who gave him some insight into the extraordinary degree to which Koresh dominated the lives of Compound residents. Cult members surrendered all their assets to Koresh and permitted him to have sex with all the female members of the cult. While reports that Koresh was permitted to sexually and physically abuse children were not evidence that firearms or explosives violations were occurring, they showed Koresh to have set up a world of his own, where legal prohibitions were disregarded freely.
In early November, Aguilera interviewed Isabel and Guillermo Andrade, then residing in California, whose two daughters were living at the Compound. They told Aguilera that Koresh had sexual relations regularly with all of the women at the Compound, including girls younger than 16 years of age. "Annulling" the marriages of couples in the cult, Koresh prohibited the men residing at the Compound from having sexual relations with their "former" wives. The Andrades informed Aguilera that Koresh had fathered a child with their daughter Katherine. The child's birth certificate, like the birth certificates of several other children recently born to women residing at the Compound, listed the father as unknown.
In early December 1992, Aguilera interviewed Jeannine Bunds and her daughter, Robyn, both of whom had left the Compound within the past two years, and Mrs. Bunds' son, David, who had left earlier. The three were living in California. Both Mrs. Bunds and her daughter confirmed earlier accounts Aguilera had received about Koresh's sexual domination of female residents of the Compound, including minors. They estimated that Koresh had fathered at least 15 children at the Compound. All three said they had seen Koresh in possession of numerous weapons, including machineguns, and that Koresh had often led cult members in live-fire shooting exercises. The Bundses and other former cult members identified specific weapons they had seen at the Compound from photographs the agents showed them. The Bundses noted that Henry McMahon had participated in some of the shooting exercises.
The Bundses also reported that Koresh frequently directed his followers to maintain an armed guard at the Compound 24 hours a day and that he possessed a loaded firearm at all times. According to Mrs. Bunds, a registered nurse, Koresh on one occasion told her that he was preparing a "hit list" to eliminate former cult members who were complaining to law enforcement authorities and the media about his sexual practices and accumulation of weapons. Mrs. Bunds also mentioned that when she had told Koresh that she was having difficulty with her children, Koresh asked her whether she would kill her children if God asked her to do so. She told him she would not.
Mrs. Bunds told of seeing "pineapple grenades" at the Compound (see Figure 9) and David Bunds remembered seeing Branch Davidians with AK-47s, pump shotguns, revolvers, pistols, and other weapons. David and Robyn related how in June 1992 they had found a machinegun conversion kit at a house in California they had recently taken over from followers of Koresh. Shortly thereafter, several Branch Davidians from the Compound retrieved the kit. David Bunds also related a telephone conversation he had with his father, Donald, when he called his father at the Compound in spring 1992. Donald Bunds told his son that he was armed and prepared to die for Koresh and that he would resist authorities if they tried to arrest him.
The Bundses' accounts were consistent with information obtained from Poia Vaega, another former resident of the Compound, who had moved to New Zealand. She recalled how Koresh had passed an AK-47 machinegun around to his followers during one of his Bible study sessions and how Koresh regularly had them watch violent war movies that he called "training films" to prepare for "the war to come." Vaega said that both she and her sister, another former cult member, had been subjected on several occasions to physical and sexual abuse by Koresh and one of his followers before she left the Compound in 1991 and that she had been physically restrained from leaving for more than three months before she gained her freedom. Her account was corroborated by her sister.
- Figure 9: Typical "pineapple" type grenades.
In December 1992, Aguilera also began a dialogue with Marc Breault, a former cult member living in Australia, which continued until the ATF raid on February 28, 1993. Breault had already given information about Koresh and the Branch Davidians to Mark England, a reporter for the Waco Tribune-Herald. Breault, who left the Compound in 1989, confirmed that Koresh was the undisputed leader of the Branch Davidians and stated that Koresh frequently had sex with minors residing in the Compound and that several minors had given birth to babies fathered by him. Breault also told Aguilera that from time to time Koresh had physically abused children who were younger than three years of age when they cried during his Bible study sessions. According to an affidavit Breault filed in an Australian court, which incorporated affidavits by several other former cult members and which Aguilera obtained, Koresh paddled the children with a wooden paddle until their buttocks were "black and blue all over, so that they even bled." Breault's account, which he confirmed in conversations with Aguilera, was corroborated by other former cult members, including Poia Vaega and members of her family.
Breault also reported that Koresh had posted armed guards around the Compound and instructed them to "shoot to kill" anyone who attempted to enter the gate of the Compound. Many cult members carried firearms, including AK-47s. In fact, according to Breault and the sheriff's department, on one occasion in 1988, a cult member had taken a shot at a newspaper delivery person. Breault also related how Koresh had expressed disdain for gun control laws, frequently proclaiming that he wanted to make machineguns, grenades, and explosive devices at the Compound and bragging how easy it was to convert a semiautomatic weapon into a fully automatic machinegun. In particular, Breault stated that Koresh mocked gun control laws that permitted easy acquisition of all component parts necessary to make a machinegun, yet made possession of either all of those parts or a fully assembled and operable machinegun unlawful. Finally, Breault noted that when Koresh took over the Compound, he told Breault that he had found methamphetamine manufacturing facilities and recipes on the premises. Although Koresh claimed to have turned over these materials to the sheriff's department, according to Breault and the sheriff's department, he never had done so.
Visits from the Texas Department of Protective and Regulatory Services
In light of reports that Koresh might have been engaging in sexual activities with minors, ATF contacted Joyce Sparks, a caseworker with the Texas Department of Protective and Regulatory Services who had been investigating several anonymous reports of the same conduct. Sparks related that, although she had visited the Compound several times in 1992, she had been escorted carefully through the Compound on a staged tour each time. Even though she had not found sufficient reliable evidence to press child or sexual abuse charges against Koresh or any of his followers, she did learn something about Koresh's preparations for an armed struggle.
One child, approximately seven years old, told Sparks that he could not wait to grow up so that he could have a "long gun" as did all the men in the Compound; the boy explained that the men practiced with these weapons regularly. In addition, during one of her guided tours of the Compound, Sparks strayed from the designated path and managed to see the buried school bus. At one end of the bus was a large object riddled with bullet holes, and nearby were at least three "long guns."
In her own dealings with Koresh, Sparks saw a dangerous propensity toward violence. During one of her conversations with him, he proclaimed to her: "My time is coming. When I reveal myself as the messenger and my time comes, what happens will make the riots in L.A. pale in comparison."
Backgrounds of Compound Residents
Aguilera checked the backgrounds of those he identified as current residents of the Compound. He determined that several either had been arrested, convicted, or were under investigation for crimes ranging from fraud to smuggling and narcotics offenses. More than 40 residents were foreign nationals, and many of those were illegal aliens. It is unlawful for either an illegal alien or a person convicted of a crime punishable by more than one year of imprisonment to possess any type of firearm.
Reports of ATF Experts
During December 1992 and January 1993, Aguilera obtained technical assistance from several ATF experts. An ATF firearms expert in Washington, D.C., confirmed that the weapons components Koresh had purchased could be used easily to produce illegal machineguns and that the manner in which Koresh had acquired these components was similar to the method used by other manufacturers of unlawful machineguns investigated by ATF. An explosives expert at the ATF lab near San Francisco reported that several of the items Koresh had received, such as the large quantities of black powder and igniter cord (a burning-type fuse), were explosives requiring proper registration and storage. The explosives expert explained that black powder and inert grenade shells, both of which Koresh had received in substantial quantities, are used commonly by illegal arms manufacturers to produce live explosive grenades. These grenades, in turn, are destructive devices, the possession of which without proper registration is illegal. The explosives expert also informed Aguilera that other chemicals Koresh had obtained were common ingredients in homemade explosives.
Before Aguilera received the written report from the explosives expert in San Francisco, who specialized in evaluating the practical utility of various items used to produce explosives, the explosives expert in Washington, who had a different specialty, told Aguilera that he was unable to conclude that Koresh had accumulated sufficient materials to manufacture explosives. This expert had noted, however, that Koresh could make unlawful explosives by acquiring some additional materials.
The experts also gave Aguilera additional information about the arms dealers who were supplying Koresh. The owner of Nesard Gun Parts Company, Barrington, Illinois, who in 1992 had shipped M-16 CAR kits, M-16 E-2 kits, and a grenade launcher to Koresh, had been convicted three years earlier of violations of federal firearms laws. The company had unlawfully supplied one of its customers with AR-15 receivers and certain parts kits that together comprised all the component parts necessary to assemble a "short rifle," a firearm that must be registered pursuant to 26 U.S.C. §§5841 and 5845(a)(3). Another of Koresh's suppliers, Shooters Equipment Company, Richland, South Carolina, had been the subject of several ATF investigations, including one that culminated in the seizure of illegal machineguns and silencers in August 1992. At that time, the agents also found large quantities of M-16 and AK-47 machinegun parts and kits to convert AR-15 semiautomatic weapons into unlawful machineguns.
In December, ATF began developing plans for serving the warrants, the "tactical planning" aspect of the investigation. This aspect of the investigation is described in the following section of this report. Aguilera's superiors at the ATF Houston field office directed him to continue developing probable cause for the warrants. Although Assistant U.S. Attorney Johnston was satisfied that probable cause existed in November 1992, it was not until Aguilera and Chojnacki briefed ATF Director Stephen Higgins and ATF Associate Director (Law Enforcement) Daniel Hartnett on February 11 and 12, 1993, in Washington, D.C., that ATF authorized Aguilera to present the information to the U.S. Attorney's Office for the purpose of obtaining the warrants.
The David Block Interview
In late January 1993, Aguilera interviewed David Block, who had been a Branch Davidian from 1981 through June 1992. Block had lived at the Compound for several months before he "escaped." He reported having often seen two Branch Davidians, Donald Bunds, a mechanical engineer, and Jeff Little using a metal milling machine and metal lathe to produce weapons. On several occasions, Bunds also had used an AutoCAD (i.e., computer-aided design) software package--which allows mechanical engineers to design objects by providing a three-dimensional picture and precise measurements of the object being designed--to design a "grease gun." Grease gun is the nickname for the M3 and M3Al .45-caliber military submachineguns used by American forces during World War II. The parts of this grease gun included a cylindrical tube with a bolt-cocking groove carved into the side and a template to fit around the tube to enable it to be used on the milling machine. Bunds had explained that Koresh wanted him to design a weapon that could be manufactured at the Compound.
Block also recounted that Koresh had asked residents of the Compound how to manufacture grenades and had discussed activating a shipment of inert grenades he had received. Koresh received further technical assistance in spring 1992 when a relative of one of the Branch Davidians, a survivalist with expertise in firearms and explosives, visited the Compound.
Block described the potentially devastating arsenal Koresh was amassing in the Compound. He had seen one high-caliber weapon either a .50-caliber rifle mounted on a bi-pod or a "British Boys" .52-caliber antitank rifle--and had heard about other .50-caliber weapons stored on the premises. Koresh frequently had expressed interest in converting these high-caliber weapons into unlawful machineguns. Block also had seen approximately 15 AR-15s, 25 AK-47s, several 9mm pistols, and three "streetsweepers." A streetsweeper is a 12-gauge, 12-shot shotgun with a spring-driven drum magazine and folding buttstock. Each time the trigger is released after firing a shot the magazine rotates to position the next shot for firing. Block reported that Koresh would often fire weapons at the Compound's "range" and that he posted armed guards at the Compound every night.
The Undercover House and Special Agent RodriguezEdit
Aguilera continued to gather information about Koresh's illegal activities even as ATF's focus began to change from building a case to planning an enforcement operation. After ATF established an "undercover house" near the Compound on January 11, 1993 (see Figure 10) one of the undercover agents posted there, Special Agent Robert Rodriguez, began to seek opportunities to visit the Compound and talk to cult members. On January 28, pretending to be interested in purchasing a horse walker that was on the Compound, Rodriguez spoke for the first time with Koresh. Rodriguez, who had read portions of the Bible in preparation for this encounter, discussed the Book of Revelations with Koresh. Koresh showed Rodriguez his motorcycles and invited him to join the cult's Bible study group. Shortly thereafter, Rodriguez attended his first Bible study session.
After a few more visits to the Compound, Rodriguez attended another Bible study session on February 17 and was invited to return the next day. Between Bible study sessions, Rodriguez practiced shooting cans with his rifle near the undercover house in an effort to further pique Koresh's interest. Rodriguez spent three hours in Bible study the next day and emerged with an invitation to shoot with Koresh on the 19th.
- Figure 10: Illustration depicting undercover house, Comound, and hay barn (not to scale).
Koresh greeted Rodriguez and another agent whom Rodriguez had brought along. Koresh told Rodriguez he had watched him through his binoculars and saw him shooting the 17th. Koresh brought the agents, both of whom were carrying AR-15 semiautomatic rifles, to the shooting range, and they practiced shooting. Koresh examined in detail and expressed familiarity with Rodriguez's semiautomatic rifle and .38-caliber pistol. Koresh also established himself as an excellent shot and the owner of several weapons, including two Sig-Sauer pistols and a Ruger 10/22-caliber rifle.
Over the next 10 days, Rodriguez visited the Compound several times and often engaged in lengthy conversations with Koresh. During these conversations, Koresh repeatedly confirmed his strong interest in weapons and his disdain for federal laws regulating firearms and explosives. Among other things, Koresh discussed firearms components in great detail, including "hell-fire triggers" and "drop-in sears," the latter of which are devices used exclusively to convert semiautomatic weapons into machineguns.
Koresh falsely claimed that the possession of an unregistered drop-in sear was lawful as long as the possessor did not also possess an AR-15 rifle. Possession of an unregistered drop-in sear is unlawful regardless of whether the possessor also possesses an AR-15. (b); ATF Ruling 81-4.(14) Nonetheless, he did exhibit profound knowledge of firearms, the nation's gun laws, and methods commonly used to evade those laws. And during a visit Rodriguez made to the Compound on February 23, Koresh showed him a videotape produced by Gun Owners of America, which portrayed ATF as an evil agency that threatened the liberty of U.S. citizens.
Section Two: The Decisionmaking Process Leading to Forceful Execution of WarrantsEdit
In late November 1992, Assistant U.S. Attorney Bill Johnston in Waco reviewed evidence that had been developed by ATF and advised Special Agent Davy Aguilera that, although the investigation should be continued, there already was sufficient evidence to meet the threshold of probable cause for a search warrant. Once Aguilera reported Johnston's opinion to Assistant Special Agent in Charge (ASAC) Chuck Sarabyn (Houston), who had been supervising the investigation, tactical planning for an enforcement operation began in earnest.
Consideration of Tactical OptionsEdit
The December 4, 1992, Meeting
Directing Aguilera to focus his attention on the probable cause investigation, Sarabyn quickly assumed responsibility for tactical planning. Any enforcement action, Sarabyn decided, would require at least one Special Response Team (SRT). Such teams are specially trained groups of ATF agents with expertise in executing difficult tactical missions--principally high-risk warrants. Sarabyn organized a planning meeting to take place in Houston on December 4.
While Sarabyn could not attend the meeting, his superior Phillip Chojnacki, Special Agent in Charge (SAC) of ATF's Houston Division, did attend, along with Ted Royster, SAC of the Dallas Division; William Buford, Resident Agent in Charge (RAC) of the Little Rock ATF office, a co-team leader of the New Orleans SRT, and an Army Special Forces combat veteran; Jerry Petrilli, RAC of the Albuquerque ATF office, team leader of the Dallas SRT, and a Marine Corps combat veteran; and James Cavanaugh, ASAC of the Dallas ATF office. Two other ATF agents, Kenny King, a group supervisor in the New Orleans ATF office, co-team leader of the New Orleans SRT, and a Marine Corps combat veteran; and Curtis Williams, a group supervisor in the Houston ATF office and team leader of the Houston SRT, who had five years of experience in the tactical division of the Dallas Police Department; both of whom would later assist in tactical planning, did not attend this meeting.
Each of the planners had extensive experience with ATF, collectively having led hundreds of high-risk raids to search for unlawful weapons. As a group, particularly the SRT leaders who formed the core of the tactical planning team, they had other substantial law enforcement and military experience as well. Only Buford, however, had planned or participated in a tactical operation of the magnitude that eventually would be contemplated for Waco--the 1985 siege by ATF and the FBI of the 360-acre Arkansas compound of the white supremacist group The Covenant, the Sword, and the Arm of the Lord (CSA). To execute a warrant at the heavily armed and fortified CSA compound, which had been surrounded by concealed bunkers and land mines, Buford helped devise a plan that established an armed perimeter around the premises. After three days of negotiations, the besieged group members surrendered, but not before they had destroyed many of their illegal firearms, including silencers and automatic weapons. Buford often recalled this siege while the planners were considering various ways to execute warrants at Koresh's Compound.
At the December 4 meeting, Aguilera briefed the planners about his investigation of Koresh. Based on reports from recent visitors to the Compound, he estimated that 75 people lived at the Compound, including large numbers of women and children, all of whom were fiercely loyal to Koresh and devoted to his religious teachings. Aguilera also reviewed the layout of the 77-acre site, particularly its main structure's fortress-like construction and prominent multistory tower. (See Figures 11 and 12.) After hearing Aguilera describe the challenge they had before them, the planners began to consider what they deemed the two principal ways to execute a search warrant: a dynamic entry (raid) or a siege.
- Figure 11: Main compound building (front side)."
- Figure 12: Rear of Compound.
- Figure 13: Houses on Mt. Carmel site before construction of Compound.
- Figure 14: Mt. Carmel site after construction of the Compound before houses were dismantled.
Regardless of how the warrant would be executed, ATF's planners decided that execution would be far easier if Koresh were not at the Compound when the agents arrived. Joyce Sparks of the Texas Department of Protective and Regulatory Services had told Aguilera that Koresh rarely, if ever, left the Compound. When they learned this, the planners asked Aguilera to find a way to lure Koresh away from the Compound immediately before the warrant was to be executed. After Aguilera discussed with Sparks her visits to the Compound and Koresh's sexual abuse of minors, the planners suggested that Aguilera inquire whether the Department of Protective and Regulatory Services could schedule a meeting with Koresh on the day of the operation. They also asked whether Koresh could be brought out of the Compound with a grand jury subpoena. Other ways to get Koresh out were also briefly considered, including staging a school bus crash or helicopter crash near the Compound.
Concerned that much of Aguilera's knowledge of the Compound's design and the daily routines of its residents was somewhat dated, Aguilera and Earl Dunagan, acting RAC of the Austin ATF office, recommended that surveillance of the Compound be instituted and that additional information be sought concerning the living arrangements inside, the attitudes of the cult members, the distribution and storage of the cult's weapons and ammunition, and the interior design of the Compound.
At the conclusion of the meeting, Buford, Petrilli, Williams, and King, the leaders o the SRTs that likely would participate in the enforcement act;on, were assigned to develop a plan for either a siege or a dynamic entry. During tactical planning and on the day of the raid, both Buford and King shared command responsibility for the New Orleans SRT. Sarabyn directed the planning effort, with Buford taking the role of principal tactical contributor. From this point forward, the leaders of the SRTs, who specialized in dynamic entries, would be a driving force in shaping the tactical options and selecting the dynamic entry strategy.
The Late December and Early January Meetings
In late December, the tactical planners met in Austin and reviewed additional information that Aguilera had obtained through his investigation, including reports of interviews of former cult members and new photographs of the Compound. During this time frame, the SRT leaders--Buford, Williams, Petrilli, and King--as well as Sarabyn drove to Waco to survey the Compound. Until this point, the planners thought that a siege would be the best tactical approach, particularly if Koresh could be arrested at a place other than the Compound. After the planners saw the terrain, however, which offered little cover from the dominating Compound, and after considering the injuries that could be inflicted with the long-range, powerful .50-caliber weapons the planners thought Koresh possessed, they began to reconsider this option. Even if a perimeter could be established, they reasoned, it would have to be quite large and therefore difficult to maintain.
In early January, when the tactical planners next convened, they continued to discuss the practicality of imposing a siege if the Branch Davidians resisted the peaceful execution of a search warrant. With an eye toward a siege plan, Sarabyn soon thereafter arranged for ATF to submit a formal request to the Regional Logistics Support Office--the office through which the Department of Defense provides nonoperational military support to civilian law enforcement agencies--for seven Bradley Fighting Vehicles, which were believed to have sufficient armor to withstand .50-caliber fire. The planners, however, were still uncertain about which tactical option was preferable and sought additional information. To this end, pursuant to Aguilera's and Dunagan's recommendation and to address a recent request from ATF's Associate Director (Law Enforcement) Daniel Hartnett for additional evidence to establish probable cause, the decision was made to establish an undercover operation near the Branch Davidian Compound.
Interviews with Former Cult MembersEdit
Meanwhile, at the request of the tactical planners, Buford and Aguilera interviewed several former cult members in California. The interviewees--most of whom Aguilera had already spoken with--included Marc Breault, four members of the Bunds family, and David Block. Aguilera and Buford also interviewed Isabel Andrade, who at the time had two daughters living at the Compound. Also interviewed were Sandra Leake and Jaylene Ojena, close friends of the Andrades who were working with them to gain the return of the Andrades' two daughters. Both Andrade and Ojena had visited the Andrade daughters, Katherine and Jennifer, at the Compound in early November 1992.
These interviews confirmed earlier intelligence concerning the level of weaponry at the Compound. Koresh and his followers were known to fire assault weapons and machineguns, and Block had seen what he believed to be a .50- or .52-caliber weapon mounted on a bipod, as well as several dozen rifles, including AK-47s and AR-15s--many of which he believed were fully automatic.
Where these weapons were stored was not clear. According to Block, Koresh usually kept the weapons next to his room, which he decreed off limits to most Compound residents. From time to time, Koresh would issue AK-47s and other rifles to most of the men and some of the women living at the Compound, and would collect them later. Residents who received "long guns" in this fashion usually kept them under their beds. Block did not know whether Koresh also distributed ammunition; however, he did note that several cult members were allowed to keep their own private small-caliber weapons.
Several members of the Bunds family corroborated Block's account of this intermittent weapons distribution. However, when the Bunds family had last resided at the Compound, the weapons distributed had been less sophisticated, consisting mainly of shotguns and handguns, rather than AK-47s and AR-15s. When interviewed by telephone in New Zealand in mid-November, Poia Vaega, a former cult member with several relatives still living at the Compound said that her husband, another former cult member, "has reason to believe that the guns were stored in the quarters that [Koresh] was sleeping in."
These interviews confirmed the dangers of a dynamic entry or a siege, especially if Koresh was in the Compound to provide leadership when a warrant was executed. Indeed, Aguilera reported, "Block left the cult group because [Koresh] would always remind them that if they were to have a confrontation with the local or federal authorities, that the group should be ready to fight and resist." Similarly, Aguilera's report of his January 8 interview with Breault noted that Koresh would make it a point to emphasize the importance of protecting themselves and that if the cult members were attacked, they would have to arm themselves to defend Koresh and their children. Nonetheless, as far as the former cult members knew, Koresh had not specifically trained his followers to repulse law enforcement officers or other visitors perceived to be hostile.
Several former cult members, most forcefully Breault, noted the distinct possibility that Koresh might respond to a siege by leading his followers in a mass suicide; Breault expressed a particular fear for the children at the Compound. One child who had lived at the Compound told a California police officer, who in turn informed Aguilera, that she had been trained by Koresh and his "Mighty Men"--Koresh's closest and most trusted advisers--to commit suicide in several different ways, including placing the barrel of a handgun in her mouth and pulling the trigger.
Block related that Koresh had accumulated at least a three-month supply of military rations, known as Meals Ready to Eat (MREs), and that the Compound had its own source of well water. This was consistent with the report of Joyce Sparks that during one of her visits she had observed large stores of foodstuffs in the Compound's storage area. Breault and Block emphasized that the Branch Davidians were already familiar with a rudimentary, isolated lifestyle and that the Compound had no indoor plumbing, air conditioning, or heating. The room in which Koresh slept, however, was equipped with air conditioning, heating, a stereo, a television, and other amenities. A siege would thus not impose substantial new deprivations on Koresh's followers.
The former cult members discussed the daily routine and physical layout of the Compound. Block reported that only women and children lived on the second floor and in the large tower--in quarters that Koresh barred the men from entering--and that the tower was not used as a watchtower. The men lived on the first floor of the Compound, in a different section from and a floor below Koresh's "arms room." (See Figures 15-17.) According to Breault and other former cult members, worship services were held between 9:00 and 10:00 a.m. each day, roughly three hours after dawn, after which the men began their day's work (except on Saturday, the Branch Davidian Sabbath).
The agents also learned some details about the work the Compound's men performed daily. McLennan County Deputy Sheriff Weyenberg informed Aguilera that daytime reconnaissance flights over the Compound had revealed men working in a construction pit. When visiting the Compound for two days in early November 1992, Isabel Andrade and Jaylene Ojena also had seen men in the pit building a new structure adjacent to the Compound's main building. (See Figure 18.) For the two months before the raid, the construction pit was an excavated area next to the Compound's southwest corner. The pit was connected to the Compound's front wing by an underground passage constructed from the shell of a buried school bus. The pit was rectangular, about 15 feet deep, 100 feet long, and 45 feet wide. Between mid-January, when the undercover house was established, and the day of the raid, the men had built a roof covering more than half of the pit.
- Figure 15: Floor plan of first level based on Block's memor of the Compounds living arrangements.
- Figure 16: Floor plan of second level based on Block's memor of the Compounds living arrangements.
- Figure 17: Floor plan of third and fourth level based on Block's memor of the Compounds living arrangements.
- Figure 18: Arrow indicates pit (photographed after [ATF] raid.
According to Andrade and Ojena, the men carried no weapons while they worked in the pit. And neither Andrade nor Ojena, outsiders whose only connection to the Branch Davidians was that they were seeking the release of two current cult members, saw any weapons displayed at the Compound. They did report, however, that they were carefully watched and gently kept away from certain areas during their visit.
While the men worked in the pit, the women cared for the children and did household chores. Not every man worked in the pit, however. Some were permitted to go into town, while Steve Schneider and Wayne Martin often stayed inside to work on computers. Koresh's schedule was unpredictable--sometimes he slept past noon, and sometimes he awoke early for services. Block also told the agents that Koresh rarely left the Compound because he feared that he might be arrested by the sheriff's department.
Intelligence from the Undercover HouseEdit
While Aguilera and Buford were conducting their interviews in California, other agents were busy establishing the "undercover house." By January 11, 1993, the operation was up and running in a vacant house across from the Compound. (See Figure 19.) The house offered agents a clear view of the front of the Compound and of the main road to the Compound. The location also provided a limited view of the construction pit. The house was equipped with basic surveillance equipment, including cameras, a radio scanner, and night-vision devices.
The agents' view of the Compound and its residents was limited, however. Koresh's followers had access to the Compound using a road that led to the rear of the Compound not visible from the undercover house. In addition, Koresh and his followers owned numerous motorcycles, which allowed them to gain access to the Compound without using the roads, thereby avoiding detection by agents.
In the beginning, eight ATF agents manned the house, posing as students from a local technical college. Even though Rodriguez was more than 40 years old when his assignment began, all eight agents were chosen, in large part, for their relatively youthful appearances. The agents were instructed, among other things, to determine whether Koresh maintained an armed guard or a watch at the Compound, to identify, count and photograph cult members and their cars, to identify any counter-surveillance, and to gather further evidence of firearms violations. Other than being told to pay attention to the routines around the Compound and to gain access to the inside if possible, the agents were not given a firm sense of what information the tactical planners were looking for, nor were they kept abreast of the evolving tactical plan.
- Figure 19: Photograph of the undercover house.
During the first eight days, the agents in the undercover house maintained surveillance of the Compound around the clock. However, in the absence of any clear direction or supervision, this vigilance soon broke down, as the agents perceived no significant activity at the Compound and began to disagree among themselves about their respective responsibilities. After staying overnight at the house on January 19, Sarabyn told the agents that they could terminate the effort to maintain 24-hour surveillance and should instead concentrate on significant events only and devote more energy toward infiltrating the Compound.
The agents in the undercover house communicated with the tactical planners primarily by providing surveillance logs, photographs, and videocassettes to a contact agent. Although the agents took hundreds of photographs of the Compound and its residents, many photographs were not developed until long after the raid, and few of the photographs that were developed were reviewed by the tactical planners. Although the Review does not know where the videotapes were kept, the tactical planners never looked at any of them. Finally, once the contact agent obtained the logs and other materials from the undercover agents, no agent was responsible for ensuring that the materials in their original form either were brought to the attention of all tactical planners or analyzed for their benefit.
Using information relayed to them during the first three weeks of the undercover house operation and agents' surveillance logs, the planners concluded that certain routines prevailed among the 75 Branch Davidians who reportedly lived at the Compound. The raid planners concluded that neither armed guards nor sentries were posted at the Compound at any time, that Koresh never left the Compound, and that most of the men worked regularly in the pit, starting at about 10:00 a.m. The planners apparently envisioned that virtually all of the men in the Compound worked in the pit.
When the tactical planners met in Houston on January 27-29, Buford reported what he and Aguilera had learned from the former cult members. Sarabyn and the agent who served as the contact with the undercover house related what intelligence was obtained through the undercover agents' surveillance of the Compound. At this time, the tactical planners believed they had sufficient information to choose a tactical option.
Buford, who originally had favored a siege, now rejected this option based on what former cult members told him about Koresh's ability to withstand a siege and the danger of a mass suicide. Buford also noted the tactical difficulty of laying siege to a structure such as the Compound, particularly one with .50-caliber weapons inside. In his view, shared by the other planners, a siege would not succeed quickly, and ATF probably would have to assault the Compound anyway, once public pressure on ATF to resolve the situation grew and the government's patience wore thin. Buford and several other planners warned against any scenario that might result in ATF entering the Compound forcefully, after a prolonged standoff had given Koresh an opportunity to prepare his defenses. Others in the planning group were troubled by the risk of a mass suicide, and based on Buford's experience with the Arkansas siege, they feared that a siege would give Koresh and his followers a chance to destroy evidence of their wrongdoing. All assumed that Koresh would not leave the Compound and would maintain strict discipline over his followers during a siege.
In contrast, Buford and others believed that they could formulate a workable plan for a dynamic entry. If ATF could enter the Compound before weapons could be distributed among cult members, Koresh's arsenal would pose no threat. The critical factor was to separate the men from the weapons. The planners believed this was possible because, according to some cult members, the weapons were kept under lock and key in a room next to Koresh's and were not generally distributed among Compound residents. Neither at this meeting nor during later planning efforts did the tactical planners question the reliability of this dated information from former cult members. In addition, the men routinely worked in the pit, which was at the far end of the Compound away from the arms room, starting at approximately 10:00 a.m. Moreover, relying on surveillance that indicated there were no sentries, which was consistent with Block's recollection that no sentries were posted in the tower, the planners believed that agents could approach the Compound without alerting residents.
Although former cult members claimed that Koresh maintained armed guards, often on a 24-hour basis--a report corroborated by the UPS delivery person--the planners believed the more recent reports from undercover agents that neither guards nor sentries had been observed at the Compound. When Rodriguez and another undercover agent visited the Compound in mid-February to shoot with Koresh, however, Koresh told the two agents that, through his binoculars, he had seen Rodriguez practicing with the same weapon they were now using at the Compound near the undercover house several hundred yards away. Koresh and perhaps other cult members were, therefore, watching the undercover house and the area around the Compound from a vantage point well above ground level--a matter that would have been of some concern to the raid planners. Rodriguez's exchange with Koresh was never documented or made known to any of the tactical planners. In addition, a representative of the National Guard told Aguilera on January 11 that a January 6 night surveillance flight using the Guard's Thermal Imaging System indicated "hot spots" consistent with the posting of sentries or guards outside the Compound.
By the end of the meeting, the tactical planners had reached a consensus that plans should be formulated for a dynamic entry. Despite ATF's early belief that drawing Koresh away from the Compound was central to the success of any operation, intelligence reports that Koresh did not leave the Compound led the planners to abandon efforts to lure Koresh away.
Development of the Tactical PlanEdit
During the next two weeks, outlines of the ATF raid plan were developed by Sarabyn and the SRT leaders who would be involved in the operation--Petrilli, Williams, Buford, and King. The plan was never committed to paper in any detailed form; however, it reflected a shared basic understanding on the part of its creators.
- Figure 20: Aerial photograph of command post at TSTC.
- Figure 21: Aerial view of Bellmead Civic Center, utilized by ATF as a staging area.
An agent appointed by Sarabyn selected Texas State Technical College (TSTC) as the site for the command post because of its proximity to an airfield for use by the operation's helicopters and because the sheriff's department previously had received cooperation from the airport manager. (See Figure 20.) At the suggestion of local police, the planners selected Bellmead Civic Center as the staging area because of its proximity to the Compound, extensive parking facilities, and ability to accommodate more than 100 people. (See Figure 21.) According to the plan, approximately 75 ATF agents would gather at the staging area early on the day of the raid and leave for the Compound in time to arrive at about 10:00 a.m. The agents would travel approximately 10 miles to the Compound on the main road in cattle trailers, hidden beneath canvas tarpaulins and plywood-reinforced sides. (See Figures 22 and 23.) The planners believed that cattle trailers, which are quite common in Texas, could move a large number of people without attracting attention. Agent Dale Littleton, who had suggested using cattle trailers, had used them in October 1992 to surprise a group of heroin dealers operating from a remote 107-acre ranch in Texas. On that occasion, law enforcement personnel who were concealed in the trailers surprised the subjects and were able to make arrests and execute a search warrant without injury or incident.
In addition to the three SRTs, the trailers would carry three arrest support teams that would be responsible for clearing and securing the perimeter and handling any prisoners. All agents would carry semiautomatic handguns, and some would be equipped with semiautomatic AR-15s or 9mm MP-5 submachineguns. Some of the MP-5s carried by the agents could fire two-shot bursts but none of the MP-5s could fire more than two shots with one trigger pull.
If agents in the undercover house, whose raid-day mission included watching the Compound for changing conditions, did not observe any unusual activities, the cattle trailers would pull in front of the Compound, and the agents would deploy. The helicopters would leave the airfield at the command post, which was approximately three miles from the Compound, on a schedule that would make them arrive shortly before the trailers. There they would provide a diversion by hovering a distance from the Compound before the cattle trailers arrived.
The three SRTs were to arrive at the Compound and surprise the men who were working in the pit, separated from the weapons stored next to Koresh's room. The New Orleans SRT would be responsible for gaining control of the arms room and Koresh's bedroom. Initially, the plan called for part of this team to climb an internal staircase, believed to be located near the front door, and proceed directly to the arms room and Koresh's bedroom. However, because the planners were unable to confirm through Rodriguez's visits to the Compound whether a staircase ran from the front door to those two rooms on the second floor, the plan was changed a few days before the raid.
- Figure 22: Side view of second cattle trailer.
The modified plan required that most of the New Orleans agents climb onto the Compound's roof and enter the arms room and Koresh's room through two separate windows, while the balance of the New Orleans team secured the base area. The plan called for the New Orleans team to use "flashbangs"--diversionary devices that produce a flash and a bang but no fragments, and therefore do not cause injury--to enable it to safely enter the windows of rooms believed to be filled with weapons. The Dallas SRT was to enter the front door and secure the second and third floors and the tower--areas believed to contain the women and children's bedrooms. Half of the Houston SRT was to enter the front door and secure the first floor until it reached the trapdoor to the buried school bus; the other half was to circle around to the west edge of the Compound, secure the men in the pit area, and then proceed through the buried bus until it reached the other side of the trapdoor. After the premises had been secured and the residents taken outside, a proper search would be conducted. (See Figure 24.)
The plan called for deployment of at least two groups of forward observers armed with long-range rifles, who were to provide cover for the agents entering the Compound. In accordance with the ATF forward observer program, the Treasury Department's firearms policy, and the standard rules of engagement for federal law enforcement officers, the cover provided by the forward observers was limited to shooting in defense only (i.e., to protect the lives of agents and innocent third parties in imminent danger). Two forward observers and five other agents who would provide security for them and who would clear and secure vehicles parked nearby were to take positions near the hay barn, which was situated on low ground about a quarter of a mile behind the Compound; four forward observers were to set up in the undercover house. The hay barn team was to arrive at the barn approximately two hours before the raid and move into position as the cattle trailers entered the grounds; the team in the undercover house was to arrive the night before and set up surveillance the next morning.
The planners decided not to place forward observers on the east side of the Compound to provide cover for the New Orleans SRT members because of a concern that the terrain to the east did not provide the necessary cover. Although some planners favored placing such forward observers, the opinion of the planners concerned about the lack of cover to protect and conceal the observers from Compound occupants prevailed. As a result, the New Orleans team was required to achieve its objective without any covering support. A communications network was to link the various components of the raid, which in turn would be connected to the raid's command and control element, which would have its own radio channel. (See Figure 25.) The plan also called for another group of agents to execute a second search warrant at the Mag Bag as soon as the Compound was secured.
- Figure 23: Rear view of cattle trailer.
- Figure 24: Photograph indicating planned deployment for SRTs.
- Figure 25: Diagram of communications network used for the raid.
The tactical planners developed their plan in accordance with the ATF National Response Plan (NRP). The NRP, which Sarabyn had played a significant role in drafting, sought to define ATF objectives, policies, and procedures to ensure a coordinated response and rapid deployment of ATF resources to situations that exceeded the capabilities of a single field division. The NRP set forth the responsibilities of various ATF headquarters officials and field division leaders. One of its purposes was to permit ATF Washington officials to oversee operations and maintain communication with field commanders. On February 9, pursuant to the NRP, the planners formally requested, and received authority a week later from Hartnett, to activate three SRTs to handle the operation. The attempt to execute the warrants at the Compound was only the fifth time that ATF used more than one SRT in a single operation and the first time since ATF established the NRP.
In accordance with the NRP, the Waco raid plan designated certain field personnel to serve in particular command and control positions for the operation. Chojnacki, as SAC of the field division in which the operation was taking place, was, pursuant to NRP's directive, designated as incident commander. As Incident Commander, Chojnacki was charged with determining the overall strategy for the operation and for coordinating with the National Command Center in Washington.
The tactical plan for entering the Compound, as it evolved toward its final preraid form, called for Chojnacki to be stationed at the command post. Chojnacki then opted to be a passenger in one of the helicopters. Chojnacki designated Sarabyn, an SRT-trained ASAC, as the tactical coordinator in accordance with the NRP. Sarabyn would be responsible for directing and controlling all tactical functions during the operation. Pete Mastin, Deputy Incident Commander, would first be positioned at the staging area and then would ride to the Compound in a cattle trailer. Cavanaugh, an SRT-trained ASAC (Dallas) and Deputy Tactical Coordinator, would be stationed in the undercover house. From there, he could warn Chojnacki and Sarabyn if he or any of the other agents witnessed any changes at the Compound. In addition, once Sarabyn and Chojnacki left for the Compound, Cavanaugh would be in the best position to observe any activities at the Compound, particularly outward signs that residents were preparing for a raid, such as guns in the windows or barricades, and would thereafter have responsibility for aborting the raid if necessary. (See Figure 26.)
- Figure 26: Organizational chart of national response plan.
There was also a contingency plan in case the raid had to be aborted. The cattle trailers could easily take a detour at several points before reaching the road to the Compound. Even after turning onto the Compound road, the trailers could, for a short while, stop and allow the agents to disembark and retreat from the Compound. To provide concealment from the Compound's long-range weapons--particularly its .50-caliber guns-- in case agents were forced to retreat from the Compound on flat and open terrain, ATF requested smoke canisters from military sources shortly before the raid. Because of the timing of the request, however, no smoke canisters were provided in time for the raid. But the planners determined that once the trailers had arrived near the front of the Compound, the raid could not be aborted because the terrain provided no concealment for the agents, and the driveway would not permit the trailers to turn around. At this point of no return, action would have to be taken, even if the Compound residents were not surprised.
Additional Intelligence Gathering, Training, and the Briefing of ATF LeadershipEdit
The formulation of a raid plan that rested on the assumption that the Branch Davidian men could be surprised in the construction pit, when they were away from their weapons, did not lead to any new direction in the intelligence gathering operation at the undercover house. Although the tactical planners recognized by early February that the plan hinged on the men being in the pit at 10:00 a.m., none of the undercover agents was informed that the operation would be based on this assumption. The development of the tactical plan, therefore, brought no change in the nature of the surveillance reports coming from the undercover house; if anything, the reports about the work in the pit became even vaguer and more sporadic until surveillance was officially terminated on February 17.
During the first few weeks in February, any lingering hopes that Koresh would leave the Compound or could be lured away were abandoned. The agents never saw him leave, and ATF's principal effort to draw Koresh away from the Compound failed when Joyce Sparks' supervisor at the Texas Department of Protective and Regulatory Services refused an ATF request that the agency summon Koresh to town for a meeting. A week before the raid, an attempt was made to obtain a state arrest warrant for Koresh's sexual activities with a young girl, which would have gained a basis for either the Texas Department of Protective and Regulatory Services or the District Attorney's Office to schedule a meeting with Koresh in town. The attempt fell short, however, when the girl was unwilling to testify about what had happened.
On February 11, Chojnacki, Sarabyn, and Aguilera flew to Washington and briefed Daniel Hartnett, ATF's Associate Director of Law Enforcement; Daniel Conroy, Deputy Associate Director of Law Enforcement; Andrew Vita, ATF's Chief of Firearms; David Troy, ATF's Chief of Intelligence; Richard Garner, ATF's Chief of Special Operations, and others about the investigation and the planned operation. The next day, the agents gave a similar briefing to ATF Director Stephen Higgins. Chojnacki and Sarabyn explained that Koresh would likely be at the Compound when any operation took place because he apparently rarely left the Compound. After reviewing the reasons for launching a raid rather than a siege including their concerns about a mass suicide and Koresh's ability to withstand a siege for an extended period of time--Chojnacki and Sarabyn outlined their tactical plan's key aspects, including its focus on separating the men working outside in the pit from the weapons and the women and children.
After hearing the raid plan, ATF management raised several concerns about measures being taken to protect ATF agents and the women and children in the Compound. Higgins, for example, directed that particular care be taken with the diversionary flashbangs. When Hartnett questioned why the raid was scheduled for 10:00 a.m., rather than pre-dawn, when raids are generally begun, Chojnacki and Sarabyn explained how the plan depended on catching the men in the pit, when they were separated from their weapons. They also reviewed the provisions made for aborting the mission if necessary; Chojnacki and Sarabyn, as well as Mastin and Cavanaugh, would have authority to stop the mission at any time. With their concerns thus addressed, Higgins, Hartnett, and the rest of ATF top management approved the plan.
Shortly thereafter, Hartnett telephoned Chojnacki and expressed his concern that the men in the pit might sneak back into the Compound after the agents arrived. He directed that, rather than trying to secure the pit area from above, agents should enter the pit to secure the men inside. Hartnett also questioned the plan's abort options. But after receiving Chojnacki's assurance that the raid would only proceed if conditions were right, Hartnett again expressed his approval of the operation.
Section Three: ATF and the Media Prepare for the RaidEdit
The Waco Tribune-Herald's Investigation of David Koresh and Preparation of a Series for PublicationEdit
Even before ATF began its inquiry into firearms and explosives violations at the Branch Davidian Compound, a local newspaper, the Waco Tribune-Herald, had been investigating David Koresh and his followers. In spring 1992, Mark England, a Tribune Herald reporter who had covered Koresh's 1988 trial for attempted murder, became intrigued by reports that Koresh proclaimed he was Jesus Christ and that there might be a mass suicide at the Branch Davidian Compound during Passover. With reporter Darlene McCormick, England gathered information and interviewed Koresh, former cult members, and the families of current cult members. By fall 1992, the reporters had information that children were being physically and sexually abused at the Compound. Having also learned that the Branch Davidians were using a buried school bus as a shooting range and that they were stockpiling large amounts of weapons and munitions, the reporters decided that law enforcement and social service agencies were not taking the situation seriously.
In October 1992, McCormick called Assistant U.S. Attorney Bill Johnston in Waco to ask what constitutes an illegal firearm. According to McCormick, Johnston informed her that the "Treasury guys" could tell her if any Branch Davidians had permits for automatic weapons. While Johnston did not give McCormick any specific information about the ATF investigation, she concluded that federal authorities were in fact investigating the Branch Davidians. After the call, Johnston notified ATF that the newspaper was working on a story.
By January 1993, England and McCormick had drafted a "Sinful Messiah" series of articles and submitted them to their editors. By early February, the galleys (used to detect and correct errors before a newspaper page is composed) went to Randall Preddy, the Tribune-Herald's publisher, for his review. Because of its startling revelations of Branch Davidian lifestyles and its disclosure of dangerous weapons at the Compound, Preddy sent the galleys to his superiors at Cox Enterprises, the newspaper's parent company in Atlanta, for review. He also asked Cox's Vice President for Security, Charles Rochner, to assess the potential for violence against the Tribune-Herald's plant and personnel and to recommend any necessary security procedures. Preddy and Rochner discussed the situation at the February Cox publishers meeting in Orlando, Florida, and Rochner agreed to visit Waco later in the month.
ATF Discussions About the Tribune-Herald Investigation and Contacting the MediaEdit
ATF first learned about media interest in the Compound when, in October 1992, Johnston told Aguilera that the Tribune-Herald was preparing a major story about Koresh. In December 1992, when Aguilera learned that Marc Breault, a former Branch Davidian, was supplying information to both law enforcement and the Tribune-Herald, Aguilera located Breault and asked him to stop dealing with the newspaper. That same month, Aguilera told his supervisor, Earl Dunagan, acting RAC of the Austin office, about the Tribune-Herald's parallel investigation. Dunagan, in turn, suggested to ASAC Sarabyn, his supervisor in Houston, that ATF try to convince the Tribune-Herald to delay the story until after the ATF operation took place. At a meeting to discuss the investigation on December 4, SAC Chojnacki suggested meeting with the Tribune-Herald to request a delay in publication, but James Cavanaugh (then a Dallas ASAC and later Deputy Tactical Commander for the raid) opposed any such contact. By January 1993, however, an agreement was reached that a delay should be sought to ensure the safety of the undercover agents and the integrity of the investigation.
The February 1, 1993, Meeting With a Tribune-Herald OfficialEdit
In mid-January, Barbara Elmore, the Tribune-Herald's managing editor, contacted Assistant U.S. Attorney Johnston to assess the likelihood that the Branch Davidians would retaliate against the Tribune-Herald's plant or personnel in the wake of the publication of the Koresh series. Johnston advised her of ATF concerns about publication of the articles and suggested a meeting.
On February 1, Sarabyn and Dunagan met with Elmore at the U.S. Attorney's Office and, citing their ongoing investigation, asked her to delay publication of the Davidian series. Johnston introduced the parties but did not participate in the meeting. The agents offered to give Tribune-Herald reporters "front-row seats" during the execution of the contemplated law enforcement action if the newspaper delayed publication of its series until after the raid. Elmore said that her publisher would have to make that decision and mentioned her concerns about the security of the Tribune-Herald's personnel and building. At the conclusion of the meeting, Dunagan told Elmore that ATF planned to execute the search warrant on February 22 and that he would inform her if the date changed. Elmore recalls only that ATF told her that it might take some type of action concerning the cult in two to four weeks.
About two weeks later, Dunagan, with Sarabyn's approval, told Elmore that the raid had been postponed to March l. According to Elmore, she told Dunagan that the Tribune Herald had made no decisions about publication, but alerted other Tribune-Herald personnel of the date change. Dunagan believed the paper was cooperating with ATF's request to hold the story because Elmore had not told him anything to the contrary. Editors at the Tribune-Herald, on the other hand, have indicated that they felt no obligation to respond to ATF one way or the other; indeed, they report having been surprised that ATF agents did not contact other members of Tribune-Herald management after Elmore had told ATF she could not make the decision to delay publication of the articles.
Continued Discussions Between ATF and the Tribune-HeraldEdit
After these initial contacts, Chojnacki assumed sole responsibility for ATF communications with the Tribune-Herald. On February 9, Rochner informed Chojnacki that he would act as the Tribune-Herald's liaison with ATF and that he was conducting a threat assessment for the Tribune-Herald in connection with its "Sinful Messiah" series. Tribune Herald staff members, however, have said that they did not regard Rochner as the paper's liaison with ATF, but only as a security consultant to the paper. Because Rochner planned to be in Waco the week of February 22, Chojnacki agreed to meet with him. In the meantime, Chojnacki invited Rochner to observe raid training at Fort Hood on the 25th, later changing the invitation to the 26th or 27th.
To prepare for the meeting with the Tribune-Herald, Chojnacki sought advice from Jack Killorin, Chief of ATF's Public Affairs Branch. ATF's media policy does not require that headquarters personnel be notified of media involvement at the operational stages of an ATF action. It does, however, require such approval for media "ride-alongs" (ATF Order 1200.2B, January 20, 1988). Noting Koresh's messiah complex and his paranoia, they agreed that taking the press along on a raid could create an inflammatory situation.
Chojnacki said that he would offer Tribune-Herald key interviews and would recognize their hard work, but that he would not accept a demand that they be present at the raid or tell them the date or time of the raid. Killorin advised that ATF should not give the Tribune-Herald an exclusive story. He did not discuss this conversation with his supervisor, ATF Assistant Director of Congressional and Media Affairs James Pasco.
The Tribune-Herald Decision to PublishEdit
By mid-February, reporters and editorial staff at the Tribune-Herald were eager to publish the "Sinful Messiah" series. Internal revisions and attorney libel review had been completed, and, at Rochner's direction, new security procedures were in place at the newspaper. Entrances to the building were locked, building passes were issued, and identifying decals had been removed from all Tribune-Herald vehicles. England and McCormick would leave Waco when the series appeared, and the homes of the Tribune Herald executives would be protected. Only three hurdles remained before publication: Koresh was to be interviewed a final time so that his reaction could be included in the series; Rochner was to approve security procedures upon his arrival on February 24; and Chojnacki was scheduled to meet with Tribune-Herald editors on February 26. Preddy had told his staff that the series would not go forward until he had a face-to-face meeting with ATF officials.
On Friday, February 19, the Tribune-Herald editors took the first step toward publication and instructed England to interview Koresh. After contacting Koresh on Monday, February 22, for his reaction to the series, England left for Dallas on Wednesday, February 24, pursuant to the security plan. McCormick was already out of the country on vacation. On Wednesday morning, Rochner arrived in Waco and at Preddy's request, rescheduled the meeting with Chojnacki for that afternoon. Preddy recalls that before the meeting, Rochner mentioned that Chojnacki had invited him to observe ATF training at Fort Hood.
The February 24 Meeting With the Tribune-HeraldEdit
On February 24, Chojnacki, Rochner, and Preddy met with editor Robert Lott, City Editor Brian Blansett, and Managing Editor Barbara Elmore. Lott recalls that, at the time, he was committed to publication, absent clear and convincing evidence that the publication would cause harm. It is not clear, however, whether Chojnacki understood that this was to be the newspaper's standard for holding publication.
Chojnacki opened the meeting by thanking the Tribune-Herald editors for delaying the series, but the editors immediately made it clear that they had not held the series in deference to ATF--they had not been ready to run it for other reasons. Noting that he was concerned with the safety of ATF personnel as well as the safety of Tribune-Herald employees and facilities, Chojnacki begged the editors to hold off publication until after ATF had conducted its operation. Koresh appeared to be relaxed, Chojnacki explained, but publication of the series would agitate him and disrupt ATF's planned operation.
Chojnacki did not, however, give the paper any sense of when ATF's operation would take place or what it would entail. He noted that he had not yet obtained warrants and was not sure he would be able to get any; if he were unable to obtain such judicial authorization, he explained, he would have to "go home." While he told the editors that he could not "afford" a siege, Chojnacki refused to answer questions as to "what he had in mind" and "if he had an undercover." The most he would say was that a law enforcement action would likely take place "fairly soon." Asked if ATF planned to act within the next 7 to 14 days, Chojnacki declined to answer.
Chojnacki then asked the Tribune-Herald editors if their series would run in one to seven days. He recalls having received an affirmative answer. He asked the editors to give him some advance notice of the publication. He concluded by asking: "So, does that mean that you are willing to run this story even though we are asking you to keep it quiet for a few more days so that we can do what we have to do?" According to Chojnacki, Lott replied "The important thing to us is the public's right to have information that they need to know, and that's our job. We're not concerned about where it falls in or falls out in terms of your law enforcement case." Chojnacki then left the meeting and, as he told the Review, he was "hot."
All participants left the 30-minute meeting with the impression that the Tribune Herald had not agreed to delay publication, and ATF had not revealed any specifics about its impending action. Elmore remembers the tone of the meeting as formal, but not antagonistic. Rochner recalls that Chojnacki appeared to be businesslike and that the meeting ended with an understanding that Preddy and the editors would discuss his request and that Rochner would get back to him. Chojnacki's impression of the meeting was that it was tense and did not end cordially. He had not expected to meet with all the Tribune Herald editors and he was upset with the outcome of the meeting.
ATF and the Media Prepare for the Raid February 24-27Edit
After the meeting with Chojnacki, the Tribune-Herald editors agreed that they had heard nothing to persuade them to delay publication. According to the those at the meeting, their chief concern was to inform the public about the Branch Davidians as soon as the security of the paper and its employees allowed. Preddy tentatively decided that the series would begin on Saturday, February 27. This day was chosen, according to Tribune-Herald management, to allow the newspaper to gauge Branch Davidian reaction during the two weekend days, when activity at the newspaper's office and plant was reduced. Preddy decided not to notify ATF of the decision to publish until after Rochner had answered all security questions.
Tribune-Herald officials have asserted that the March 1 ATF raid date was not a factor when they chose the publication date on Wednesday afternoon. Chojnacki's discussion of his difficulty securing warrants and his problems funding his operation made the March 1 date appear unlikely to the editors and publisher. In their view, his presentation was consistent with the Tribune-Herald editors' belief that local law enforcement had failed to take action for two years.
After the meeting on Wednesday, Tommy Witherspoon, the Tribune-Herald reporter who covered the courts, told City Editor Blansett that he had received a tip from a confidential informant that something ;'big" might happen at the Branch Davidian Compound between 9:00 and 10:00 a.m. next Monday, that the roads might be blocked, and that Witherspoon might want to be there when it happened. (The Tribune-Herald has told the Review that this confidential informant was not an ATF employee.) Without asking Witherspoon to verify the tip or making assignments, Blansett decided he would send a few reporters to the Compound area that Monday.
In the wake of his meeting with the newspaper, Chojnacki realized that it was unlikely that the newspaper would accommodate his request to delay its series. At the ATF command post, he and other ATF leaders concluded that the Koresh series would begin on Sunday, February 28, and Chojnacki told as much to the SRT leaders at Fort Hood. Chojnacki then asked Sarabyn whether it would be possible to move the raid date up two days to Saturday. Sarabyn said that such a change was impossible, but that the raid could be done a day earlier, on Sunday. Chojnacki set the raid for Sunday, alerted Hartnett and Conroy of the change in plans, and they concurred.
ATF Raid Preparations: February 24-26
Even as Chojnacki met with the Tribune-Herald, ATF's preparations were in full swing. On February 24, ATF's forward observers and SRTs began arriving at Fort Hood for three days of rigorous training. On Thursday, the first day of training, Sarabyn briefed the SRT leaders on the overall plan and set out each team's assignment. The team leaders then briefed their respective teams. In addition, Rodriguez told the assembled agents about the Compound. On Friday, the agents, coordinating with a Fort Bragg Army Special Forces unit, were able to use the Military Operations Urban Terrain (MOUT) site at Fort Hood, a mock setting for urban military exercises, and the firing ranges.
Each team trained on structures similar to areas of the Compound that it was assigned to secure. Some members of the Houston and the Dallas teams practiced entering the front door of a structure and securing the rooms and hallways inside. The New Orleans team practiced transporting ladders to the base of the structure and climbing up to secure the roof. In addition, the Special Forces personnel had constructed stand-alone window structures that permitted the New Orleans personnel to practice "break and rake" procedures, breaking a window and clearing the glass shards. Team members with prior emergency medical training also received trauma medical training, including the administration of intravenous transfusions, from the Special Forces medics. Meanwhile, the forward observers and agents who had been assigned AR-15s were given access to range facilities, where they qualified and zeroed their weapons to distances that would conform to their positions around the Compound.
Securing Search and Arrest Warrants
After Aguilera and Chojnacki briefed ATF officials, including Director Higgins and ADLE Hartnett, in
Washington, D.C., on February 11 and 12, Chojnacki received approval to seek both an arrest warrant for
Koresh and search warrants for the Compound and the Mag Bag. On February 25, Aguilera signed a sworn
affidavit he had prepared with the assistance of Assistant U.S. Attorneys Bill Johnston and John Phinizy. On
the same day, after reviewing the affidavit, Dennis Green, U.S. Magistrate-Judge for the U.S. District Court
for the Western District of Texas, issued an arrest warrant for Koresh for violating federal firearms laws and a
warrant to search both the Mag Bag and the Compound for evidence of that crime. Even though, to avoid
disclosing the progress of the investigation, Aguilera had intentionally curtailed his contacts with firearms
dealers who had sold weapons and components to Koresh, his affidavit's account of the documented flow of materials into the Compound gave some sense of the arsenal that Koresh had amassed in 1992. Listed in the affidavit were:
104 AR-15/M-16 upper-receiver groups with barrels
8,000 rounds of 9mm and .22-caliber ammunition
20 100-round-capacity drum magazines for AK-47 rifles
260 M-16/AR-15 magazines
30 M-14 magazines
2 M-16 E-2 kits
2 M-16 car kits
1 M-76 grenade launcher
200 M-31 practice rifle grenades
4 M-16 parts sets--Kits "A"
2 flare launchers
2 cases (approximately 50) inert practice grenades
40 to 50 pounds of black gunpowder
30 pounds of potassium nitrate
5 pounds of magnesium metal powder
1 pound of igniter cord
91 AR-15 receiver units
26 various calibers and brands of handguns and long guns
90 pounds of aluminum metal powder
30 to 40 cardboard tubes
Other Waco Media Learn About the Raid
While ATF agents were training at Fort Hood, reports of the impending raid were beginning to circulate among the Waco media. On Thursday, February 25, Tribune-Herald reporter Witherspoon told his friend Dan Mullony, who was a cameraman for television station KWTX, that something was going to happen at the Branch Davidian Compound on Monday. Mullony, in turn, alerted KWTX reporter John McLemore about the impending raid. Mullony attempted to confirm the tip. Darlene Helmstetter, his friend who was a dispatcher for American Medical Transport (AMT) ambulance service, told him that three ambulances had been put on standby for Monday at the request of law enforcement. On Friday, ATF advised AMT that the operation had been moved up and that ambulances should be at the Bellmead Civic Center rather than the airport. On Friday afternoon, at a wreck site, an AMT paramedic also told Mullony that something "big" was going to happen on Monday.
The Tribune-Herald Notifies ATF of its Decision to Publish on Saturday, and ATF Reacts
On Friday, February 26, publisher Preddy gave his final approval for the series to be published the next day. At about 3:30 p.m., Rochner gave this information to Chojnacki, advising him that a copy would be available at the Tribune-Herald loading dock at 12:15 a.m. on Saturday. Rochner says that he told Chojnacki that he would try to talk again with the newspaper editors and publisher if ATF had strong objections to publication. Chojnacki does not recall this offer. At Chojnacki's request, Rochner and Preddy reviewed the first story, and Rochner assured Chojnacki that it did not mention ATF.
That evening, Chojnacki advised other ATF supervisors, now gathered at Fort Hood, that the story would run the next morning. As a precaution, Chojnacki and Sarabyn decided they would send Rodriguez into the Compound on Saturday to gauge the effect of the article on conditions in the Compound. Saturday was the Branch Davidian Sabbath, which usually entailed an all-day service in which Koresh preached to his followers. According to the revised plan, Rodriguez would enter the Compound at about 8:00 a.m. before the service began and look for signs that the article had caused Koresh to be on the alert for action by law enforcement or had otherwise caused a change in Compound routine.
ATF Notifies the Treasury Department's Office of Enforcement About the Raid
On Friday afternoon in Washington, ATF officials notified the Treasury Department's Office of Enforcement--which oversees ATF--of the impending raid. A one page memorandum from ATF's liaison to that office went to Acting Deputy Assistant Secretary for Law Enforcement Michael D. Langan. The memo was later shared with John P. Simpson, who was acting as Assistant Secretary of the Treasury, and Ronald K. Noble, who had been designated to be the Assistant Secretary of the Treasury for Enforcement, but who, pending nomination and confirmation, was working as a part time consultant to the office. After Langan, Stanley Morris, who had been detailed to the Office of Enforcement, Noble and others expressed grave reservations about the operation outlined in the memorandum, Simpson contacted ATF Director Higgins and, noting these concerns, directed that the operation not go forward. Higgins spoke with Associate Director Hartnett, who was able to obtain additional information from Chojnacki that appeared to answer the Office of Enforcement's concerns. Higgins was thus able to assure Simpson and Noble that the raid plan recognized the dangers posed by Koresh's weaponry, and to assure them that though children were present at the Compound, the raid could be executed safely. Higgins noted that an undercover agent would be sent into the Compound before the raid to ensure that there had been no change in routine; he also assured them that the raid would be aborted if things did not look right. After these assurances were given, Simpson said he would permit the raid to go forward. (A fuller narrative of the Office of Enforcement's role in the operation appears at Part Two, Section Five of this Report.)
Sarabyn advised team leaders at a Friday afternoon meeting that Treasury officials had placed a "hold" on the raid. He suggested that this information be withheld from the agents until training was completed. After Simpson told Higgins that Treasury would not prevent the raid from proceeding, Higgins notified Hartnett, who gave Chojnacki the authority to make the decision to proceed. On Saturday, Chojnacki called Sarabyn to announce that Treasury had removed its "hold."
Saturday, February 27: Media Preparations
On Saturday, February 27, the first installment of the "Sinful Messiah" series appeared in the Tribune-Herald. The article described child abuse at the Compound, saying that Koresh encouraged the whipping of children as young as eight months and alleged that Koresh had fathered children with 15 women, many underage, living at the Compound. The article traced the 50-year history of the Branch Davidians and explained the importance of the Seven Seals from the Book of Revelations to Koresh and his followers. The newspaper also featured a sidebar entitled, "The Law Watches, But Has Done Little," and an editorial asking when the McLennan County sheriff and the district attorney would take action.
The Tribune-Herald then shifted its focus away from its investigative series and prepared to cover the developing story of law enforcement activity at the Branch Davidian Compound. Tommy Witherspoon's confidential informant told Witherspoon on Saturday that the raid had been moved up 24 hours. As a result, early Saturday afternoon, Preddy, Lott, Blansett, and Rochner met and decided to send reporters to the Compound area on Sunday morning. Preddy encouraged them to consider the safety of the reporters, but left before specific plans for coverage were discussed. After the meeting, while returning to Waco from a drive to see the Branch Davidian Compound, Lott, Blansett, and Rochner saw a military helicopter headed toward the airport at Texas State Technical College (TSTC). Blansett, familiar with landing patterns at TSTC, believed that the helicopter was landing in an area not usually used by military aircraft. When the three drove to TSTC to investigate, they saw approximately 10 people, some in uniforms, greeting the helicopter pilot. Rochner thought that these individuals must be with ATF and that TSTC could be the staging area for the raid.
Blansett returned to his office about 4:30 p.m., developed story assignments, and directed reporters to meet at the Tribune-Herald office at 8:00 a.m. on Sunday. Because most reporters did not have Sunday assignments and he believed the updated tip about the raid to be reliable, Blansett assigned nine reporters to the story, triple the number he had contemplated on Wednesday. Blansett was interrupted by a call from Steve Schneider, one of Koresh's senior deputies. Schneider told Blansett that Koresh was upset by the first "Sinful Messiah" article and wanted an opportunity to tell the Tribune-Herald the "real story," the story of the Seven Seals and not, as Schneider put it, "seven days of lies." Promising to call Schneider back, Blansett called Mark England in Dallas and told him about the raid tip and Koresh's request for an interview. England left Dallas for Waco. Blansett next called Rochner, who suggested that England interview Koresh in a restaurant, so that Rochner and an off-duty police officer could be nearby. Rochner also asked if reporters wanted flak jackets for the raid, noting that he might be able to locate some. When England arrived in Waco, he told Blansett that he did not want to interview Koresh. Blansett never called Schneider back.
Rochner talked with Chojnacki twice that Saturday. First, he sought, unsuccessfully, to get Chojnacki's reaction to the story. That evening he also sought Chojnacki's counsel on Schneider's request that someone from the newspaper interview Koresh. They discussed sending reporters into the Compound on Saturday, which Chojnacki discouraged, explaining that he did not think it would be safe to enter the Compound.
KWTX's preparations to cover the raid also moved forward. On Saturday morning, Mullony learned from Helmstetter, the AMT ambulance service dispatcher, that the ATF operation had been moved up a day. Helmstetter also told him that he should plan to be in town on Sunday. On Saturday afternoon, Mullony and Witherspoon acknowledged to each other that they knew the ATF operation was set to occur the next day. By Saturday evening, Mullony concluded that the raid would occur at about 9:00 a.m. Sunday based on standby times Helmstetter had given him. Helmstetter had also told Mullony that ATF had placed CareFlite, a Fort Worth helicopter medical transport service, on standby for Sunday. This fact led KWTX to believe the operation would be a major one.
That night, at the direction of KWTX News Director Rick Bradfield, Mullony asked Jim Peeler, another KWTX cameraman, and reporter McLemore to meet him and Bradfield early Sunday morning. Mullony was so concerned about what might happen the next day that he drafted his will. In contrast, McLemore, unconcerned, took his wife out to a local club. According to one witness, in a conversation at the bar, McLemore said ATF was going to conduct a big raid the following day. McLemore admits that he alluded to a big event but denies saying anything about ATF.
Saturday, February 27. ATF Preparations
Saturday was a hectic day for ATF as raid preparations continued. At the morning briefing, Sarabyn discussed the first installment of the "Sinful Messiah" series. He pointed to Koresh's picture, noting that the article did not mention an ongoing investigation, and explained to the agents that Rodriguez would be sent in Saturday and Sunday to gauge Koresh's reaction to the series.
The SRTs were joined by arrest team personnel for a rehearsal of the deployment from the cattle trailers into the Compound. The agents focused on exiting the trailers and getting to the Compound as quickly as possible. In an open field, Special Forces personnel had outlined the dimensions of the Compound on the ground with engineer tape and set up a front-door facade, thus allowing raid personnel to practice in a confined area similar to the Compound. In addition, the New Orleans and Houston SRTs practiced using "flashbangs"-- distraction devices that, when detonated, produce a loud bang and a emit a bright flash--in one of the MOUT structures. The teams also simulated the arrival of the cattle trailers and the helicopter diversion.
Meanwhile, ancillary and support elements converged on Waco. Two marked ATF bomb-disposal trucks and National Guard support trucks, including a two-and-a-half ton military transport truck and a water truck, arrived at TSTC. After Fort Hood training, three National Guard helicopters also proceeded to TSTC. The Texas Department of Public Safety was prepared to set up roadblocks and the sheriff's department was prepared to provide other support functions. ATF reserved 153 rooms at three Waco hotels for the evening of the 28th. At 8:00 that evening Chojnacki and Sarabyn conducted a briefing at the Best Western Hotel for arrest and support teams, including National Guard members, explosives specialists, dog handlers, and laboratory technicians. Phillip Lewis, Support Coordinator, had arranged with local suppliers for such diverse items as the ambulance services, portable toilets, and the Bellmead Civic Center. On Saturday, he ordered doughnuts at a Waco grocery store, arranging to pick them up the next morning. He also arranged with the sheriff's department for coffee at the Bellmead Civic Center site the next morning.
Special Agent Sharon Wheeler, the ATF public information officer (PIO) assigned to the operation, prepared for the raid. Several weeks earlier, Chojnacki had asked that public information be handled by Killorin, but his request was denied because Pasco and Killorin determined that Killorin was needed in Washington on other matters. Wheeler was chosen because the Houston PIO was less experienced and New Orleans did not have a PIO.
Responding to direction from her SAC, Ted Royster, Wheeler contacted one Dallas television station for a weekend contact number. Then, following her press plan, she called two other Dallas television stations to obtain similar telephone numbers. While she indicated to all the stations that ATF might have something going on during the weekend, she did not describe the action or provide its timing, location, or any other information specific to the raid. She did not contact Waco television stations or newspapers, out of a concern that the raid's security might be threatened.
Rodriguez entered the Branch Davidian Compound at 8:00 a.m. Saturday to join Koresh's worship service. Koresh preached about the "Sinful Messiah" article and told his followers that "they" were coming for him. He cautioned that, when this happened, his followers should not get hysterical and should remember what he had told them to do; he did not specify at the time what those instructions were. Between noon and 5:00 p.m., Rodriguez met with Chojnacki at the TSTC command post. Chojnacki asked Rodriguez whether he had seen any guns or preparations to resist law enforcement. Rodriguez said he had not.
Rodriguez went back to the Compound for more services at 5:00 p.m., and stayed until about midnight. Upon his return to the undercover house, Cavanaugh and the forward observers who had arrived earlier that evening noted that Rodriguez was showing the strain of his assignment. Rodriguez called Sarabyn and reported that no changes inside the Compound were evident. Sarabyn instructed Rodriguez to return to the Compound Sunday morning for a final check on conditions and leave by 9:15. Rodriguez explained to Sarabyn that he was upset about this assignment because he was concerned that an unexpected return might arouse Koresh's suspicions. Rodriguez was also concerned about his ability to leave the Compound by 9:15 because Koresh exerted such control over the Compound and could be so intense in his personal interactions. Rodriguez was not confident that he would be able to leave by 9:15 without alarming Koresh. Nonetheless, he reluctantly agreed to return the next morning.
Section Four: The Assault On The CompoundEdit
ATF Agents AssembleEdit
On the morning of February 28, Cavanaugh and the forward observers watched the Compound from the undercover house for signs of unusual activity. They saw nothing out of the ordinary. A few men were walking about the grounds and some women were emptying waste buckets. The weather was overcast with traces of precipitation. The forward observer teams in the undercover house who, if necessary, were to provide cover fire for the raid teams, checked and prepared their equipment. Rodriguez was to enter the Compound at 8:00 a.m. Two undercover agents were available to support him. In addition, one of the undercover agents was assigned the task of taking forward observer and arrest support teams to a hay barn behind the Compound. Once the raid teams had left the staging area, the undercover agents also were to ensure that the residents of the neighboring house remained safely inside during the raid.
Meanwhile, at Fort Hood, the 76 agents assigned to the cattle trailers assembled at 5:00 a.m. They traveled to the staging area, the Bellmead Civic Center, in an approximately 80-vehicle convoy with a cattle trailer at each end. Many of the vehicles bore the telltale signs of government vehicles--four-door, late-model, American-made vehicles with extra antennas. All the vehicles had their headlights on. Agents report that, once underway, the convoy stretched at least a mile.
The convoy arrived at the Bellmead Civic Center between 7:30 and 8:00 a.m. The civic center is adjacent to a residential neighborhood and is visible from the nearby intersection of Interstate 84 and Loop 340, 9.4 miles from the Compound. (See Figure 27.)
An ATF agent wearing an ATF raid jacket and local police were in the street in front of the civic center directing the convoy into the parking lot. While waiting to be briefed, some of the agents went inside the center to have coffee and doughnuts; others milled about outside. A supervisor became concerned about the visibility of the agents, many of whom wore ATF insignia or were otherwise unmistakably law enforcement personnel. He ordered everyone to go inside and to remain in the civic center.
At 8:00 a.m., Sarabyn gave a short briefing at the civic center. He reviewed assignments with the various groups, discussed the recent Tribune-Herald article, and related the substance of Rodriguez's Saturday assessment of conditions in the Compound. He also distributed the most recent photographs of the Compound and took questions from team leaders. He told the assembled agents that Rodriguez was in the Compound and that there would be a final briefing after Rodriguez reported on conditions in the Compound. Sarabyn left the staging area for the command post to await Rodriguez's report. The agents gathered in small groups, talked, checked their equipment, and reviewed plans while awaiting Sarabyn's final briefing.
Activity at the command post at TSTC also began at dawn. Special Agent Lewis, in charge of logistics support, checked the telephone lines. The three National Guard helicopters, one UH-60 Blackhawk and two OH-58 Jet Rangers that had flown in the night before were parked on the tarmac.
Andy Vita, Chief of the Firearms Division, opened ATF's National Command Center in Washington, D.C., at 9:00 a.m. (EST). Richard Garner, Chief of the Special Operations Division; John Jensen, in charge of the National Communications Branch, and others designated by the National Response Plan, also were present. Director Stephen Higgins, Associate Director Daniel Hartnett, and Deputy Assistant Director Daniel Conroy were available by telephone.
The Media Sets Out To Cover The RaidEdit
Even as ATF agents were gathering to embark on the raid, local reporters were deploying to cover the operation. At 7:00 a.m. at KWTX, Jim Peeler, John McLemore, and Dan Mullony received maps of the area and reviewed assignments with the station's news director, Rick Bradfield. Bradfield anticipated a major law enforcement operation because he had learned from Mullony's AMT Ambulance Service informant, Darlene Helmstetter, that CareFlight, a Fort Worth-based trauma flight company, was involved. Bradfield told the Review that KWTX did not call ATF to confirm the raid because asking for information or permission is generally unproductive. (According to Bradfield, the policy of KWTX when covering law enforcement operations is to go to the news site, obey law enforcement orders, and respect private property.)
- Figure 27: Map depicting staging area, Mag Bag, Compound and road blocks.
Peeler was sent to the intersection of Double E Ranch and Old Mexia roads where, according to Mullony, Peeler was to watch for and film raid helicopters. Peeler denies receiving any information concerning helicopters. Peeler thought his job was to film any prisoners brought out during the raid. Mullony and McLemore were sent to Farm Road 2491 (FR 2491) on the other side of the Compound's grounds. Bradfield, from the newsroom, communicated with his employees by cellular telephone. Radios were not used so that competitors could not overhear their conversation.
Prior to the raid, nine Tribune-Herald reporters were assigned to the developing story. The morning of the raid, some of them gathered at the newspaper's office before departing for the Compound in four cars, three heading for the Compound and the fourth to TSTC to watch for helicopter activity. The newspaper, concerned about the enormous cache of weapons at the Compound and Koresh's potential for violence, had gone to extraordinary lengths to ensure the safety of its plant and personnel. In contrast, the reporters were not given any safety instructions about covering the raid, nor were they instructed about possible affects their presence or actions might have on the raid.
As the reporters drove to the Compound they mistakenly expected to encounter roadblocks. In law enforcement operations however, a roadblock is usually not established until the action begins. In this case, establishing a roadblock more than two hours before the raid was to begin likely would have compromised the secrecy of the operation.
At about 7:30, after driving up and down the Double E Ranch Road in front of the Compound twice, Mullony parked on FR 2491 about one mile north of its intersection with Double E Ranch Road. By 8:30, other Tribune-Herald vehicles were patrolling the two roads bordering the Compound. At 9:30, Mark England asked a DPS officer parked on the side of the road if he could go by what he believed to be a roadblock. The officer told England that he could pass but that the road would later be closed. In the hour before the raid, five media vehicles could be seen driving or parked on roads near the Compound. The agents in the undercover house reported the increased traffic to Cavanaugh. The Review has been unable to verify whether Cavanaugh forwarded the information to the command post. (See Figure 28 and legend.)
But while other reporters were waiting for the raid to begin, KWTX cameraman Peeler became lost. At about 8:30, he used his cellular telephone to ask Bradfield and Mullony for directions. Despite getting directions, Peeler remained lost somewhere near the intersection of Old Mexia and Double E Ranch roads. There he encountered David Jones, a local letter carrier who was driving a yellow Buick with "U.S. Mail" painted on the door. Jones pulled up behind Peeler and asked him whether he was lost. Peeler, who was wearing a KWTX jacket, introduced himself as a cameraman with the station and asked for directions to "Rodenville," the name by which many Waco residents had referred to the Compound ever since it had been owned by the Roden family. Peeler did not know that Jones was one of Koresh's followers. Jones pointed to the Compound, which was in sight, and commented that he had read about the cult in the paper and thought they were weird. Peeler, deceived into believing that Jones was not affiliated with Koresh, warned Jones that some type of law enforcement action was about to take place at the Compound. He indicated that the action was likely to be a raid of some type and that there might be shooting.
After the chance encounter with Peeler, Jones returned to his car and as he sped away toward the Compound, Peeler began to wonder whether Jones was affiliated with the cult. After this conversation, Peeler drove to a nearby store and called Bradfield, who told him to return to the intersection of Old Mexia and Double E Ranch roads, wait 30 minutes, and if nothing happened, go home. When Peeler returned to the intersection, DPS officers and ATF agents had set up a roadblock. Peeler was not allowed to pass, but he was told where he could set up his camera.
- Figure 28: [Map of] location of media vehicles.
- Legend for Figure 28
- VEHICLE #1 - WHITE BLAZER - PEELER
- 8:30 AM Arrives the vicinity of Old Mexia Road and Hwy 84. Was lost, cellular telephone calls to Mullony or directions. Found way to Old Mexia Road and Double EE Road, parked on Old Mexia Road (Spot E), had conversation with Jones. Left area, returned following Trooper, parked at Spot E and videos the raid.
- VEHICLE #2 - WHITE BRONCO II - MULLONY McLEMORE
- 7:30 AM Arrive 1.8 miles past Double EE Road on FR 2491 (Spot A). Received and made calls to Peeler giving directions and admonishing him not to talk to anyone. Talked to England, Doe, Aydelotte, Witherspoon, Masferrer and Blansett at various times while at Spot A.
- 9:15-9:30AM Received call from Peeler, said he saw helicopters, moved from SpotA and drove by DPS Trooper talking to England at Spot F. Turned down Double EE past Compound, on way to Old Mexia Road saw helicopters, turned around and proceeded past Compound to intersection of Double EE and FR 2491 (Spot B). Set up camera, saw cattle trailers, followed them down driveway to back of bus, videos raid.
- VEHICLE #3 - SILVER HONDA ACCORD - AYDELOTTE WITHERSPOON MASFERRER
- 8:30 AM Arrive on FR 2491, drove past Double EE Road to a location in sight of the compound roof (Spot G). Remained for while, then moved further down FR 2491, met Mullony and McLemore at Spot A. Received cellular call from Sanchez, helicopters moving. Drove down Double EE Road past Compound driveway, parked. Witherspoon to Spoon House, Witherspoon returned to car, then drove down Double EE Road a short distance, stopped, backed up, saw cattle trailers turn down Compound driveway and remained at Spot C.
- VEHICLE #4 - WHITE CAVALIER STN WGN - ENGLAND DOE
- 8:45 AM Arrive on FR 2491, drove past Blansett/McCormick parked near the intersection of Double E Road and FR 2491 (Spot B), continued to Spot A and are joined by Blansett, told to go to TSTC, to check on Sanchez, drove to TSTC. Met Sanchez, told helicopters are not moving. Returned to FR 2491, followed DPS Trooper to a small depression in road on FR 2491 (Spot F), left car to speak with Trooper. Trooper said road block not in force yet. Saw vehicles 2 and 3 drive by to Double EE Road. Followed to Spot B met Mullony/McLemore, remained there until they saw three helicopters, minutes later saw cattle trailers, followed Mullony/McLemore down Double EE Road to Compound driveway, parked beside Aydelotte's car at Spot C.
- VEHICLE #5 - WHITE CAVALIER STN WGN - BLANSETT McCORMlCK
- 8:30 - 8:50 AM Arrive Double EE Road, took Double EE Road past Compound to Old Mexia Road, turned around just before intersection Old Mexia and Double EE (Spot E). Return to intersection of FR 2491 and Double EE Road (Spot B), England/Doe pass (9:10 AM), followed England/Doe down 2491 to Spot A, told England to check Sanchez. Went back toward Double EE Road, turned down Double EE Road past Compound to Old Mexia, turned around before reaching intersection, and stopped at a ridge and depression (Spot D) and remained there until after shooting started, then moved to Spot E.
- VEHICLE #6 - WHITE BRONCO II - SANCHEZ
- 8:30 - 8:45 AM Called by Blansett, while in route to Compound told to go to TSTC to check on helicopters. Parked 6 blocks from TSTC tower.
- 9:13 AM Called Blansett, advised saw activity . . .
- 9:29 AM Called Blansett, advised saw helicopters moving . . . decided to go to Compound, led DPS/ATF caravan (Mag Bag Search Team), used Loop 340 to FR 2491.
- 9:41 AM Pulled over briefly, cattle trailers passed him, he tried to pass cattle trailers and called Blansen and told him ATF is coming in cattle trailers. Sachez is pulled over by ATF on FR2491 . . .
Peeler's encounter with Jones was witnessed by one of the ATF undercover agents who was taking the forward observers and their arrest support teams to a hay barn behind the Compound. The undercover agent was dressed in casual clothes; the forward observers wore ATF battle dress utilities. When the undercover agent saw the two vehicles parked together on the road, he recognized Jones' postal vehicle. Jones was talking to the occupant of the second car, whom the agent did not recognize but suspected was a reporter. The agent, fearing that Jones might spot the uniformed agents in his car, told them to crouch down. Jones did not appear to look in the agents' direction and the undercover agent was satisfied that his group had not been seen. He drove to the hay barn, deposited the forward observers and arrest support team, and returned to the undercover house where he told Cavanaugh what he had seen. Cavanaugh claims to have relayed the information to the command post although no one there recalls receiving it.
Rodriguez Enters The CompoundEdit
At 8:00 a.m., not long before Peeler had his conversation with David Jones, Rodriguez went to the Compound one final time for the most critical phase of his undercover assignment, assessing whether the Herald-Tribune articles had incited Koresh and his followers to take up arms or otherwise increase their security measures. Koresh greeted the undercover agent and invited him to join a "Bible study" session with two of his followers. There were no signs of unusual activity.
While Koresh and Rodriguez were engaged in this Bible session, David Jones arrived at the Compound, fresh from his encounter with Peeler. He told his father, Perry Jones, what had happened. Perry Jones devised a pretext to draw Koresh away from Rodriguez. He called to Koresh that he had a phone call. When Koresh ignored the request, Jones added that it was long distance from England.
Early interpretations of Jones' reference to England speculated that Jones was referring to Mark England, the co-author of the Tribune-Herald series whom Koresh had been trying to contact. This interpretation led to speculation that Mark England alerted Koresh to the impending raid. However, Koresh's attorneys have said that Jones told them that he was referring to the country. In any event, contrary to early accounts, there is no evidence that Mark England placed a call to the Compound on the morning of February 28. Records provided by the Tribune-Herald of their telephone calls contain no record of a call to the Compound on the morning of February 28.
When Koresh left the room to take the fictitious call, David Jones described his conversation with Peeler. Upon Koresh's return, Rodriguez could see that he was extremely agitated, and although he tried to resume the Bible session, he could not talk and had trouble holding his Bible. Rodriguez grabbed the Bible from Koresh and asked him what was wrong. Rodriguez recalls that Koresh said something about, "the Kingdom of God," and proclaimed, "neither the ATF nor the National Guard will ever get me. They got me once and they'll never get me again." Koresh then walked to the window and looked out, saying, "They're coming, Robert, the time has come." He turned, looked at Rodriguez and repeated, "They're coming Robert, they're coming."
Rodriguez was shocked. As Koresh repeatedly looked out the window and said, "They're coming," Rodriguez wondered whether the raid was beginning even though he was still in the Compound. Needing an excuse to leave, Rodriguez told Koresh he had to meet someone for breakfast but Koresh did not respond. Other male cult members entered the room, effectively if not intentionally coming between Rodriguez and the door. Fearing that if he did not leave he would be trapped in the Compound, Rodriguez contemplated jumping through the window. He repeated that he had to leave for a breakfast appointment. Koresh approached him, and in a manner Rodriguez believed highly uncharacteristic, shook Rodriguez's hand and said, "Good luck, Robert." Rodriguez left the Compound, got into his truck and drove to the undercover house.
Agents in the undercover house recall that Rodriguez was visibly upset when he returned from the Compound. He complained that the windows of the undercover house were raised and that he could see a camera in one of them. Cavanaugh asked Rodriguez what had happened in the Compound. Rodriguez announced that Koresh was agitated and had said ATF and the National Guard were coming. Cavanaugh asked Rodriguez whether he had seen any guns, had heard anyone talking about guns, or had seen anyone hurrying around. Rodriguez responded in the negative to all three questions. Cavanaugh then told Rodriguez to report his observations to Sarabyn.
Rodriguez called Sarabyn at the command post and told him that Koresh was upset, that Koresh had said ATF and the National Guard were coming, and that as Rodriguez left Koresh was shaking and reading the Bible. Sarabyn asked Rodriguez a series of questions from a prepared list provided by the tactical planners: Did you see any weapons? Was there a call to arms? Did you see them make any preparations? Robert responded in the negative to each question. Then, Sarabyn asked what the people in the Compound were doing when Rodriguez left. Rodriguez answered that they were praying. Next, Sarabyn called Cavanaugh who reported that there was no observable activity in the Compound.
A special agent in the command post witnessed Sarabyn's part of the conversation with Rodriguez. After Sarabyn had hung up the phone, the agent stopped Sarabyn and asked what Rodriguez had said. Sarabyn responded that Rodriguez had been with Koresh when Koresh was called from the room to take an emergency telephone call. When Koresh returned to the room he said that ATF and the National Guard were in Waco and were coming. Sarabyn also stated that Rodriguez reported Koresh was nervous and dropped the Bible from which he was reading. The agent asked Sarabyn, "What are you going to do?" Sarabyn responded that Rodriguez had seen no firearms and that Koresh was reading the Bible when Rodriguez left. Sarabyn said he thought they could still execute the plan if they moved quickly.
Initial accounts by the participants in and witnesses to Rodriguez's conversations with Cavanaugh and Sarabyn differed significantly with respect to whether Rodriguez clearly communicated that Koresh knew the raid was imminent. Although there remains some variance with respect to Rodriguez's actual words, all key participants now agree that Rodriguez communicated, and they understood, that Koresh had said the ATF and National Guard were coming.
Now Sarabyn hurried out of the command post to the tarmac to confer with Royster and Chojnacki. The helicopters had already begun warming up. In order to hear over the noise of the rotors, the three supervisors moved to a fence bordering the tarmac, approximately 50 feet away. Although the noise still made conversation difficult, the three men huddled together so Sarabyn could pass on what he had learned. Sarabyn related that he had just spoken with Rodriguez who had said that Koresh knew ATF and the National Guard were coming but that, when Rodriguez had left, Koresh was reading the Bible and shaking. Sarabyn also stated, based on what Rodriguez had said, that Koresh was not ordering anyone in the Compound to do anything. Chojnacki asked Sarabyn whether Rodriguez had seen any guns. When Sarabyn responded that Rodriguez had not, Chojnacki asked Sarabyn what he thought should be done. Sarabyn expressed his belief that the raid could still be executed successfully if they hurried. Chojnacki responded, "Let's go." The conference lasted no more than three minutes. Sarabyn left immediately for the staging area.
Events began to reflect Sarabyn's perceived need for speed. News of Rodriguez's report spread rapidly among the ATF agents at the command post, creating an atmosphere of great urgency and commotion. Various agents were heard yelling that Koresh knew of the raid and that they needed to depart immediately. Royster hastened to the helicopters and told the agents there that Koresh knew of the raid and therefore it was beginning immediately. Royster then ran back to the command post, joined by Chojnacki who called the National Command Center and reported to Special Agent Jensen, responsible for the Center's communications, that the undercover agent was out of the Compound and that the raid was commencing. Chojnacki did not relate the substance of Rodriguez's report. Chojnacki then ran to and boarded his helicopter. A few minutes later, the helicopters departed. Shortly thereafter, Rodriguez arrived at the command post only to find that Sarabyn, Chojnacki and Royster had departed. Witnesses recount that Rodriguez became distraught, repeatedly asking how the raid could have gone forward when he had told them that Koresh knew they were coming.
The Raid Goes ForwardEdit
Sarabyn arrived at the staging area at 9:10 a.m. Witnesses report that he was excited and obviously in a hurry. Agents in the parking lot when Sarabyn arrived recall that he ran to them and told them that they had to hurry, making statements such as, "Get ready to go, they know we are coming," and "They know ATF and the National Guard are coming. We're going to hit them now."
Similarly, agents inside the civic center recall Sarabyn running in and calling for their attention. He announced, "Robert has just come out. Koresh knows that ATF and the National Guard are coming." Sarabyn told the agents they would proceed immediately. Sarabyn exhorted the agents to move quickly, repeatedly telling them to hurry, to get their gear because Koresh knew they were coming. There was no formal briefing, discussion or evaluation of Rodriguez's information. Several agents report having had qualms about going forward, especially since Koresh had mentioned the National Guard, yet they also felt questioning the decision would be inappropriate.
Within 15 minutes of Sarabyn's arrival at the staging area, the special response and the arrest teams boarded the trailers and left. According to agents in the trailers, although there was some lighthearted banter, the overall mood in the trailers was uncharacteristically somber. While some felt confident, others began to wonder why they were proceeding if Koresh knew they were on their way.
Sarabyn rode in the truck pulling the first cattle trailer. He maintained an open cellular phone contact with Cavanaugh throughout the trip to the Compound, keeping Cavanaugh posted as to the team's location and asking for reports on the level of activity at the Compound. Cavanaugh reported that he could not see any signs of activity in the Compound or on its grounds.
Activity In The CompoundEdit
According to some of the former cult members in the Compound at the time, preparations were being made in the Compound, although not detectable by Cavanaugh and the forward observers. Even as Rodriguez was departing, Perry Jones and the female members of the Compound had gathered in the chapel, thinking that they had been called for a church service. They had been waiting almost an hour when Koresh came in and ordered them back to their rooms. The older women and children went to the second floor and began to lay on the floor in the hallway, away from the outer walls of the Compound. Many of the cult members began to arm themselves, some with 9mm pistols, some with automatic and semiautomatic assault rifles, and others with both pistols and rifles. (See Figure 29.) Some donned bulletproof vests, others put on ammunition vests. (See Figure 30.) Ammunition was distributed. The Compound members assumed stations at the windows, waiting for the ATF agents to arrive.
The Media Covers The Approach Of The Raid TeamsEdit
According to Tribune-Herald cellular phone records, at 9:26 a.m., photojournalist Robert Sanchez called Blansett to advise him that several helicopters were leaving TSTC. Sanchez had earlier reported to his colleagues waiting near the Compound that he had seen agents at TSTC in camouflage fatigues loading duffle bags and gear into vehicles, and lining up to go. As Sanchez drove to the Compound he caught up to the two cattle trailers filled with uniformed agents. He relayed this information to his colleagues near the Compound. Agents in the second trailer reported that a vehicle was following them and two ATF agents in a chase car following the trailers stopped Sanchez. Sanchez again called his colleagues and advised them that he had been turned back and was unable to continue to the Compound.
- Figure 29: Kalashnikove assault rifle, recovered from Schroeder's van which was parked in front of main Compound building (photograph taken after April 19, 1993).
- Figure 30: (From left) Load-bearing ammunition vests containing two 9mm magazines, four loaded AK-47 magazines, and a military helmet recovered after the 4/19/93 fire.
Media personnel used radio and cellular telephones to communicate with one another and used scanners to monitor law enforcement frequencies during the hour before the raid. Several members of the press heard on scanners "no guns in the windows," and "it's a go" moments before ATF raid trucks entered the Compound's driveway.
Once Blansett relayed Sanchez's information, the reporters in the area moved closer to the Compound. Tribune-Herald reporters, Witherspoon, Aydelotte, and Masferrer drove to the house beside the undercover house to observe the raid from its front yard. Witherspoon knocked on the door to ask permission, but the agent safeguarding the residents inside declined to answer. As Witherspoon was knocking another agent approached. Believing the approaching agent to be a resident, Witherspoon said there was about to be a raid and asked whether he and his colleagues could observe it from the front yard. Without identifying himself, the agent ordered the reporters to leave the property. As the reporters were backing their car onto Double E Ranch Road, the trailers were turning into the Compound's driveway. The reporters parked their car on the road in front of the house next to the undercover house. Aydelotte was retrieving his camera from the trunk of his car, when a second car containing two more Tribune-Herald reporters pulled alongside. Aydelotte managed to shoot several frames before gunfire began striking the car, forcing all five reporters into a ditch alongside the road.
Meanwhile, KWTX's Mullony and McLemore turned onto Double E Ranch Road and followed the ATF cattle trailers up the Compound's driveway. McLemore pulled up behind a parked bus. As the trailers continued the short distance to the front of the Compound, Mullony set up his tripod. Seconds later gunfire erupted from the Compound.
The Helicopter DiversionEdit
As the trailers approached the Compound from the Double E Ranch road, the helicopters had not yet arrived at their designated point, even though Cavanaugh repeatedly radioed for them to come in "low and fast." The helicopters approached the rear of the Compound at approximately the same time the trucks pulled along the front, which failed to create the intended diversion. When they were approximately 350 meters from the rear of the Compound, the helicopters were fired upon, forcing them to pull back. It was too late at this point for them to warn the trailers to abort.
Two of the helicopters were forced to land in a field to inspect for damage. Agents discovered that bullets had pierced the skins of each of the helicopters. The third helicopter, although also struck by gunfire, was able to remain airborne. It circled overhead to watch for additional attackers. Due to the damage, the two helicopter pilots initially decided not to attempt to fly them back to the command post. Chojnacki requested the third helicopter to land and take him back to the command post. While the pilots inspected the helicopters, agents climbed a small hill to determine how far they were from the Compound. From the hill they concluded that the group was still within range of hostile fire. They recommended to the helicopter pilots that if the helicopters could be flown, they should leave the area. The pilots decided that the helicopters were flightworthy and they returned to the command post without further incident.
The Raid Team ArrivesEdit
As the cattle trailers entered the driveway there was no sign of activity inside or outside the Compound. The approaching agents realized the absence of activity was a bad omen. When one agent noted over the radio, "There's no one outside," a second agent responded, "That's not good."
The trucks stopped in front of the Compound's main building as planned. Figure 31 shows their position. Agents with fire extinguishers for holding the Compound's dogs at bay were the first to exit the trailer. One agent opened the gate in the wall in front of the Compound, and another discharged a fire extinguisher at the dogs. Simultaneously, agents began exiting the second trailer. Koresh appeared at the front door and yelled, "What's going on?" The agents identified themselves, stated they had a warrant and yelled "freeze" and "get down." But Koresh slammed the door before the agents could reach it. Gunfire from inside the Compound burst through the door. The force of the gunfire was so great that the door bowed outward. The agent closest to the door was shot in the thumb before he could dive for cover into a pit near the door. Then gunfire erupted from virtually every window in the front of the Compound. The Dallas and Houston SRTs, which were approaching the front of the Compound and the pit area to the left, took the brunt of the initial barrage. Agents scrambled for cover. One of the first shots fired hit the engine block of the lead pickup truck. Consequently, neither the first, nor the second vehicle were able to leave.
- Figure 31: Photograph of Compound after 2/28/93 raid, which includes the ATF cattle trailers in the foreground.
As the Dallas and Houston teams attempted to get to the front of the Compound, the New Orleans team, which had been concealed in the second trailer, approached the east side of the Compound. As they left the trailer, the agents heard gunfire. At first, the agents thought it came from the dog teams. During training the agents had been told that they might hear the dog teams firing at the dogs if they were not able to subdue them with fire extinguishers. However, they quickly realized that the gunfire was coming from the Compound. While one agent provided cover from the ground, seven others approached the wall and climbed to the roof. Conway LeBleu, Todd McKeehan, Kenny King, and David Millen were to enter Koresh's bedroom on the west pitch of the roof, while Bill Buford, Keith Constantino and Glen Jordan were to enter the window on the east pitch of the roof. That window led to the room that ATF intelligence indicated contained the weapons. But soon after the agents reached the roof, they came under heavy gunfire. Special Agent Millen was able to retreat back to the east pitch of the roof where he stood guard outside the armory. Special Agent LeBleu and Special Agent McKeehan were killed.
Special Agent King was shot six times before managing to roll himself off the roof and into the courtyard behind the Compound. (See Figure 32.) As he lay trapped in the courtyard, too injured to move, King repeatedly called over his radio that he had been shot several times and was bleeding badly. Agents hearing King's pleas, tried to rescue him. New Orleans Field Division SAC, Pete Mastin, contacted Cavanaugh and asked whether the forward observers could suppress fire from the tower while agents on the ground attempted to rescue King. The forward observers directed rifle fire at the area of the tower from which shots had been directed at the agents. However, as the agents attempted to move toward the rear of the Compound, gunfire from other areas stopped them. Despite the agents' best efforts, the intensity of the gunfire made it impossible to rescue King until the final cease-fire, approximately an hour and a half later.
At the arms room, Agent Jordan managed to "break and rake" the window and Agent Buford threw a distraction device into the room. Buford, Constantino and Jordan entered. Inside, Agent Buford saw a person armed with an assault rifle backing out of a doorway in the far left corner of the room. That individual began firing into the room from the other side of the thin walls. The agents returned fire, but without automatic weapons, which are used to deliver a defensive spray of gunfire, they could not suppress the attacker's fire. The shots fired at the agents inside the room passed through the wall to where Special Agent Millen was positioned on the roof. Shots were also fired at Millen from the first floor up through the roof. He escaped the attacks by sliding down the ladder to the ground.
- Figure 32: Arrow shows location of seriously wounded Kenny King after he rolled from the roof into the courtyard.
Inside the room, Buford was shot twice in the upper thigh. Agent Constantino provided cover for Buford and Jordan while they ran back for the window, dove out onto the pitched roof and then dropped to the ground. As Agents Chisolm and Bonaventure dragged Buford out of the line of fire, they were fired upon. A bullet creased Buford's nose. Agent Chisolm threw his body over Buford to protect him> When the shooting stopped, Chisolm and Bonaventure pulled Buford to a safe position. Chisolm, the medic for his team, observed Buford's wounds and began administering an IV to him.
Immediately after Buford and Jordan were out of the arms room, the firing stopped. As Constantino was deciding whether to hold his position or make a run for the window, a cult member entered the room aiming an assault rifle at him. He fired two or three shots at Constantino. Constantino returned fire and the man fell. Constantino ran for the window, but as he was going through it, he struck his head, knocked off his helmet and dropped his weapon. Dazed, he rolled off the roof and fell to the ground, severely fracturing his hip and leg and causing extensive injury to both knees. As he lay on the ground, vulnerable to the cult's guns, he saw two agents who had taken cover near the wall of the Compound. Constantino put his hand out and Special Agents David Millen and Charles Smith dragged him out of the line of fire. (Contrary to some publicly disseminated accounts, none of the agents that entered the armory were killed.)
Special Agents Steven D. Willis and Robert J. Williams were killed during the ambush. Agent Willis, a member of the Houston raid support team, had taken cover behind a van parked near the right front corner of the Compound. Special Agent Williams, New Orleans SRT, was providing cover for his teammates mounting the roof. Intense gunfire forced him to seek cover behind a large metal object on the ground to the east side of the Compound.
Throughout the vicious firefight, ATF agents demonstrated extraordinary discipline and courage. Special Agents Bernadette Griffin, Jonathan Zimmer and Martin Roy were pinned down behind a shed when Special Agent Jordan, who had been wounded in the arms room, staggered over to where they were and collapsed on them. Special Agent Griffin discovered that Jordan's arm was bleeding profusely. She elevated his arm and compressed the wound with her hand until the cease-fire, 90 minutes later. Special Agent Chisolm, relinquishing his own protected location, came to their location and rendered medical aid. Special Agent Tim Gabourie, a medic with the Dallas SRT, who also repeatedly exposed himself to gunfire to treat several wounded agents, had one of his medical bags shot out of his hand by .50-caliber gunfire. He braved gunfire in an unsuccessful effort to reach Special Agent Willis who died during the battle.
In the face of insurmountable, unrelenting automatic and semiautomatic weapons fire from virtually every area of the Compound, the agents had no choice but to remain in their covered positions. The openness of the terrain made retreat impossible. They returned fire when possible, but conserved their ammunition. They also fired only when they saw an individual engage in a threatening action, such as pointing a weapon. Neither of these constraints applied to those in the Branch Davidian Compound who had a virtually limitless supply of ammunition (Several hundred thousand rounds of ammunition were later found in the Compound) and could fire at will. They even fired at the undercover house and at the reporters parked on the road in front of the Compound.
In addition to the agent fatalities, the cult's weapons inflicted vicious wounds on other agents. For example, one agent was shot in both legs by a shotgun. Another agent was shot in the left leg by one bullet while a second passed through his left leg and lodged in his right leg. There were many other serious wounds and related injuries which are listed in Figures 33 and 34.
In contrast to the extensive casualties inflicted upon the agents, there were few casualties among the cult members. (See Figure 35.) Autopsies revealed that two cult members were killed by agents in the entry teams returning fire. Autopsies of two other cult fatalities reveal that they were shot at close range: Perry Jones was killed by a shot in his mouth, a manner of death consistent with suicide; Peter Hipsman was wounded but was later killed by a cult member who shot him at close range in the back of his skull--an apparent mercy killing, although the autopsy revealed that his initial wound would not have been fatal. Koresh was wounded both in the pelvic area and in his wrist.
According to McLennan County 911 records, Branch Davidian Wayne Martin called the Waco 911 emergency service at 9:48. His call was handled by Deputy Larry Lynch. Martin sounded very frightened and Lynch heard gunfire in the background. Deputy Lynch attempted to speak with Martin, but Martin did not respond and at 10:02, Martin hung up.
- Figure 33: Gunshot related deaths and injuries charts
- Figure 34: Non-gunshot related injuries charts
- Figure 35: Branch Davidian deaths and injuries
Using the telephone number that appears on a screen when a call is placed to 911, Lynch called back to the Compound. An answering machine responded. Hoping that Martin, or someone in the Compound, could hear, Lynch yelled for Martin to pick up the phone. Martin responded and Lynch began attempting to arrange a cease-fire. Simultaneously, Lynch tried to contact ATF through Lieutenant Barber, who as the liaison between ATF and the sheriff's department, was at the command post. However, Barber had turned off his radio because he was planning to assist the bomb technicians in recovering and processing any explosives. Although Lynch was unable to raise ATF on his radio, a TSTC officer, Jim Stone, responded and said that he was able to contact ATF. Stone drove to the command post and reached SAC Chojnacki. Chojnacki used Stone's radio to speak with Deputy Lynch.
Afraid that if Martin was told to hang up the telephone to allow ATF to contact him directly, contact might not be restored, ATF worked through Lynch. Thus, Martin was in contact with Deputy Lynch, who had to relay what Martin said to Chojnacki by way of Stone's radio. Lynch told Martin to cease firing while simultaneously arranging for ATF agents at the Compound to do the same and pull back.
At 10:34, Martin advised Deputy Lynch that someone else in the Compound wanted to speak to Lynch. At 10:35 Koresh called Lynch. Lynch was then in contact with Martin on one telephone line, David Koresh on another, and ATF by radio, as he attempted to arrange a cease-fire. The negotiations were unproductive, stymied by the unwieldy communications and confusion in the Compound.
In the undercover house, Cavanaugh eventually decided that the sheriff's department was not making sufficient progress toward achieving a cease-fire, but he did not have the telephone number for any phone in the Compound. He yelled across to the agents in the neighboring house, who yelled back that the number was on the refrigerator. Cavanaugh found the number and dialed the Compound. The phone rang repeatedly but no one answered. Cavanaugh radioed to the agents on the Compound grounds to yell into the Compound for someone to answer the phone. Then, Branch Davidian Steve Schneider answered the telephone. Cavanaugh identified himself and told Schneider that he wanted to discuss the situation. Through the telephone Cavanaugh could hear yelling, screaming and crying in the Compound. Intermittent gunfire between agents and those in the Compound punctuated the tense standoff. Schneider was frantic and hostile. It took Cavanaugh several minutes to calm him. When Cavanaugh began to discuss arranging a cease-fire, Schneider was receptive because individuals in the Compound had also been wounded. But even after Schneider and Cavanaugh had agreed to call a cease-fire, it took several minutes to achieve one. Schneider for his part had to walk throughout the Compound to tell people inside to stop shooting. Cavanaugh, who had no direct radio link to each agent, had to advise the team leaders of the cease-fire and the team leaders in turn had to communicate with their agents. The cease-fire was negotiated for a period of time before the shooting finally stopped.
The cease-fire agreement did not address how the agents would leave. Cavanaugh told Schneider that ATF wanted to retrieve its dead and wounded agents. Schneider demanded that the agents withdraw unconditionally. Cavanaugh insisted that the agents would leave only if they could retrieve their wounded and dead. Schneider who remained excitable and irrational insisted that the agents leave immediately. Cavanaugh assured Schneider that the agents would retreat, but vowed not without their fallen comrades. Retrieval of King, who had fallen in the rear courtyard, was a particularly difficult point of negotiation. Initially, Schneider would not allow agents to go to the courtyard for King. Cavanaugh was able to discuss with Schneider King's precise location, even arranging for Schneider to have someone in the Compound look in the Courtyard to verify that an agent was there. Eventually, Schneider agreed to let agents retrieve King.
Cavanaugh instructed the agents to raise their hands, not to make any sudden movements and begin leaving the grounds. At approximately 11:34, SAC Mastin approached Agents Griffin, Bonaventure and Chisolm to assist them in retrieving King from the rear courtyard. The four of them proceeded slowly, with their hands raised, around the east wall of the Compound to reach the rear courtyard. When they reached the courtyard area, they began searching for King. Suddenly, one of the Branch Davidians aimed a rifle at Griffin and yelled racial slurs at her. Griffin decided that if she was going to be shot, she would rather it be while attempting to assist one of her fellow agents. She turned and walked toward King. The cult member did not shoot.
King was too seriously injured to be carried without a stretcher, so the agents placed him on a ladder. They brought him out to the front of the Compound and put him in an ambulance that Special Agents Aguilera and Dunagan had driven to the Compound with Special Agents Rodriguez and Salas riding in the back to provide assistance: The AMT driver was not present because ATF could not guarantee his safety.
By this time, most of the agents able to walk had gathered near a large bus to the right of the Compound. At 11:46 Cavanaugh was able to persuade Schneider to allow ATF to retrieve the remaining dead and wounded agents. The cease-fire left the agents at a significant tactical disadvantage. The agents were not covered, while the cult members were shielded inside the Compound's main building with vantage points on floors above the ground. While many agents were almost out of ammunition, the Branch Davidians were well supplied, which became clear when the Compound was searched after the April 19 fire. Under the threat of Branch Davidian gunfire the agents withdrew, some with holstered weapons, some with their shields raised, some with their hands in the air, and some with their backs to the Compound. The dead agents and those unable to walk were placed in any available vehicle: the ambulance; a pickup truck that had been parked in front of the undercover house; and a KWTX reporter's Ford Bronco. The six agents in the undercover house, rearranged the furniture into a defensive configuration and the forward observers monitored the retreat, prepared to return fire if necessary. The agents stayed in the undercover house until later that afternoon, when they received support from the Texas Department of Public Safety SWAT team who took positions at the nearby roadblock. At roughly the same time, ATF agents who had taken positions in a building near the undercover house were also able to withdraw safely. During the ceasefire, some agents had moved from the hay barn closer to the Compound. From this relatively safe, high ground, they had an excellent view of the Compound. But soon they were ordered back to the hay barn, where they had no such vantage point.
Because no one had designated a rallying point at which agents would take defensive positions or had ordered a sequential withdrawal that might have permitted some agents to cover the movements of others, the retreat continued until the agents reached the roadblock at the intersection of Double E Road and FM 2491. There, arrangements were made for bus transportation, first to a nearby social club, the Pep Club, and then back to the staging area. It was approximately 1:00 when the withdrawal negotiations were completed. Once the agents had left the Compound grounds, Cavanaugh agreed with Schneider that no agents would come on the property and no one inside would attempt to leave. Cavanaugh told Schneider that he would call again at 2:00 p.m. Cavanaugh then arranged for the residents of the neighboring house to be taken to a hotel, and he went to the command post.
Section Five: Post-raid EventsEdit
Aftermath of the Shoot-Out on February 28Edit
Once Cavanaugh and Schneider had negotiated the cease-fire, ATF was confronted with a number of demanding and urgent tasks. First, and foremost, ATF needed to give prompt medical attention to the agents who had been wounded in the gunfight. Second, as described in the preceding section, ATF agents needed to withdraw safely from their vulnerable positions around the Compound. Third, ATF had to establish and maintain a secure perimeter around the Compound to prevent the escape of any adult cult members--all of whom were suspects in the murder of four ATF agents and the attempted murder of federal agents--and to prevent cult members outside the Compound from rendering assistance. Fourth, residents of the Compound who had not resisted, especially the children, needed to be evacuated. Finally, ATF had to provide the public with a prompt and accurate outline of the events at the Compound, while making clear to both the general public and those inside the Compound that ATF was in control of a difficult and challenging situation.
Events in the aftermath of the cease-fire demonstrated that ATF lacked the planning, training, and resources to accomplish all of these tasks satisfactorily. Nonetheless, through the courage and tenacity of its agents and local law enforcement personnel, ATF managed to make substantial progress toward achieving several critical post-raid objectives.
The Evacuation of Wounded AgentsEdit
Before the raid on the Branch Davidian Compound, planners arranged for a private ambulance to stand by at a roadblock near the Compound during the operation and for a CareFlite helicopter to be available at the command post, which was five minutes' flying time away from the Compound, for medical evacuations. Soon after the operation began, it became clear that these resources were not enough to help all of the wounded agents. Even before the shooting was over, ATF agents called for more ambulances and an additional CareFlite helicopter. The additional evacuation vehicles soon reached the roadblock where the retreating agents had gathered. First, three additional ambulances and an additional CareFlite helicopter arrived. During the next fifteen minutes, emergency medical care was administered to the ATF agents most seriously wounded. Those who needed immediate additional attention were then taken by either ambulance or helicopter to one of the two hospitals in Waco equipped to treat persons with gunshot wounds. By 12:25 p.m., the helicopters were airborne, and by 12:35, they had landed at Providence Hospital in Waco. After one of the hospitals received death threats against the wounded agents, ATF sent agents to the Providence and Hillcrest hospitals to provide security for the wounded agents and to obtain accurate information about the extent of ATF losses.
The Media and the Shoot-OutEdit
Tensions ran high between ATF and the media during the shoot-out and cease-fire. Many agents were angry with media personnel who had been in the midst of the shoot-out, distracting agents while they were under fire and whom agents had almost shot accidentally, fearing they were cult members. When the cease-fire was established, the five Tribune Herald reporters who had been pinned in the ditch on Double E Road retreated quickly toward FM 2491. An ambulance driver, concerned that three of the media representatives might be Branch Davidians, ducked behind his ambulance and pointed the suspects out to an ATF agent.
Mullony, who had filmed portions of the shoot-out from the front of the Compound, walked along the Compound driveway after the cease-fire and filmed the agents as they walked to the roadblock. Once he reached the roadblock at FM 2491, ATF agents and local law enforcement authorities verbally and physically assaulted Mullony as he filmed the agents' dead colleagues lying on the ground. Witherspoon, who had spent the shoot-out huddled in the ditch, was scolded by a sheriff's department employee for being at the scene.
The Failure to Maintain the PerimeterEdit
During the course of the afternoon, ATF withdrew from its positions, and aside from the roadblocks it maintained, relinquished much of its control over the perimeter of the Compound. At one of these roadblocks, an alert ATF agent and local law enforcement officer prevented cult member Donald Bunds from returning to the Compound within an hour after the firefight. Because Bunds was driving a car with an expired registration, he was arrested and taken to McLennan County jail.
The failure to maintain the perimeter other than the roadblocks was due in part to a communication failure. After learning that Koresh had threatened to use women and children as shields in order to bring wounded cult members to the hospital, Hartnett ordered that Koresh be permitted to leave the Compound if he made good on this threat. In Waco, however, this order was either received erroneously or transformed by command post supervisors as a directive to abandon perimeter positions and to permit Koresh and his followers to leave. Numerous agents in the field, receiving these instructions, were greatly demoralized because these instructions would permit people who had murdered other agents to escape.
The withdrawal of the agents from the hay barn, combined with ATF's failure to guard the rear of the barn from attack by cult members outside the Compound, resulted in a sequence of events that almost produced additional ATF casualties. While most of the agents had been deployed to execute the warrants at the Compound, a smaller group was sent to execute a search warrant at the Mag Bag. The plan called for the group to arrive at the Mag Bag shortly after the Compound had been secured. However, while en route to the Mag Bag, the group was told of the firefight and ordered to return to the command post. This left the Mag Bag unsecured, even though Aguilera's investigation had revealed regular communication between cult members in the Mag Bag and those in the Compound. Shortly thereafter, three armed cult members who had been inside the Mag Bag drove to a house near the Compound and walked from there toward the rear of the Compound.
Meanwhile, during the afternoon, one of the agents stationed near the hay barn spotted a Branch Davidian moving away from the Compound toward an adjacent property. Because the agents had been instructed to avoid confrontations and to permit persons who did not pose an immediate threat to leave the Compound, the agents allowed him to leave. Shortly thereafter, agents withdrawing from positions around the hay barn, led by ASAC Darrell Dyer, encountered in the woods the three Branch Davidians who had left the Mag Bag. When the agents identified themselves as federal agents, the cult members opened fire. After a prolonged exchange of gunfire, one of the three cult members surrendered. He was carrying a .22-caliber weapon and 100 rounds of ammunition. A second cult member, Michael Dean Schroeder, was killed by the agents; he had a loaded Glock 9mm semiautomatic pistol and two ammunition magazines--one empty and one full. The third Branch Davidian, Woodrow Kendrick, escaped, but was captured later.
When ASAC Dyer first saw the Branch Davidians in the woods, he informed the command post that he and the other agents were in contact with suspected cult members. By that time, a National Guard Armored Personnel Carrier (APC) had arrived at the forward command post, that ATF had established near one of the roadblocks after the cease-fire. Sarabyn asked the National Guard commander to send the APC to the rear of the Compound to support Dyer and his fellow agents. Cavanaugh, however, who was still engaged in negotiations with the Branch Davidians, feared that the appearance of an APC near the Compound might disrupt negotiations. In addition, the supervisors were concerned that the APC could be pierced by long-range .50-caliber fire. As a result, the APC was kept near the forward command post for the duration of the conflict. The agents made their way back to the roadblock where they were taken by car to the command post. Throughout this exchange of gunfire in the woods, Cavanaugh continued his negotiations with Koresh and other cult members.
With the withdrawal of these agents, ATF temporarily stopped efforts to prevent cult members from leaving the Compound. To the limited extent the perimeter around the Compound was controlled, that was accomplished principally through the efforts of local law enforcement personnel and SWAT teams, including the Austin Police Department, Texas Department of Public Safety, Waco Police Department, Killeen Police Department, McLennan County Sheriff's Department, and the U.S. Marshals Service. These officers refused to follow ATF directives to abandon the perimeter that would have allowed cult members to leave the Compound. However, local law enforcement were able to control only the roads to the Compound; other routes went unguarded. Colonel Charlie A. Beckwith, U.S.A., Ret., on assignment for Soldier of Fortune magazine, claims that he managed to advance on foot to within less than a mile of the Compound without being challenged.
A Siege Develops and ATF Obtains Assistance from the FBIEdit
Chaos at the Command Post
After the shoot-out, the situation at the command post became chaotic. Nonetheless, throughout the afternoon, individual agents identified urgent tasks both at the command post and elsewhere and completed them. Cavanaugh negotiated with the Compound; Dyer provided support to agents at the rear of the Compound; Robert White, an assistant SRT leader (Dallas), began organizing agents to establish a perimeter; Phillip Lewis regularly updated the National Command Center in Washington, D.C., and various agents handled tasks related to the wounded, including providing security, contacting relatives, and insuring all received proper medical attention. With no one coordinating these diverse individual efforts, however, the logistical situation in Waco deteriorated rapidly. Many ATF agents, after returning from the shoot-out at the Compound, milled around the command post during the late afternoon and evening hours, awaiting orders. Others were told by supervisors not to return until early the next morning. In contrast, many of the agents who stood guard at the roadblocks and provided security at the hospitals for the wounded agents remained at their posts for lengthy shifts, some exceeding 24 hours. Many of the agents in the field were not adequately supplied with food, warm clothing, and other necessities.
Based on conversations with agents at the command post, ATF management at the National Command Center determined that additional SRTs should be brought to Waco immediately to provide relief. Within a few hours of the firefight, three additional SRTs from Miami, St. Louis, and Detroit were requested by Washington ATF officials to report to Waco. They arrived over the course of the next 24 hours and, after being briefed by the tactical commanders, were rapidly pressed into service around the Compound. They relieved their fellow ATF agents as well as those local law enforcement personnel who had stood vigilant through the night.
The Decision to Bring in the FBI HRT
Shortly after the shoot-out, Chojnacki spoke with Hartnett, who was in Washington, D.C., and recommended that the FBI Hostage Rescue Team (HRT), which had experience with both prolonged standoffs and hostage negotiations, be brought to Waco to handle what had become a siege situation. At roughly the same time, FBI Director William Sessions learned of the shoot-out, contacted ATF Director Stephen Higgins and offered his condolences and his agency's assistance. After Hartnett arrived at the National Command Center and was fully briefed, he determined that the FBI HRT should be sent to Waco.
Soon after the cease-fire, Hartnett contacted Douglas Gow, FBI Associate Deputy Director of Investigations, and formally requested FBI assistance. Gow, in turn, contacted FBI SAC Jeffrey Jamar (San Antonio) and briefed him on the situation. At roughly the same time, FBI Special Agent James Fossum (Waco) was informed of the crisis by both AUSA Phinizy and another local FBI agent. After speaking with Jamar, Fossum drove to the ATF command post. Shortly after he arrived, Chojnacki told him the ATF would welcome whatever assistance the FBI could provide.
Meanwhile, the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Enforcement at the Treasury Department, particularly Ronald Noble, had contacts with both high-ranking FBI officials and ATF leadership. Noble, who had been informed of the firefight and the losses incurred by ATF while en route by train from Washington, D.C. to New York, sought advice and assistance from FBI Assistant Director Larry Potts and Deputy Director Floyd Clark. Shortly after Hartnett requested the HRT, Noble and Clark discussed the possibility of dispatching the HRT to Waco in one of their conversations. Clark informed him that a request for the HRT had already been made by ATF and that the HRT was on its way to the Compound to evaluate the situation.
Jeffrey Jamar (San Antonio), as the SAC of the affected district, was given command of the FBI operation. He arrived in Waco at about 5:30 p.m. and together with Fossum and several other local FBI agents, immediately began to establish a command post and assess the situation. The balance of the HRT members began arriving on March 1.
After further discussions with FBI, ATF and Treasury officials, Noble spoke with ATF Director Higgins and ADLE Hartnett early March 1. Noble advised them that if the FBI determined that the HRT was needed for the long term, the FBI should have operational command to resolve the standoff. There were several reasons for this advice. First, the FBI HRT traditionally has control over operations in which it participates, and ATF was not in a position to assert such control. Second, the FBI was in a better position to stabilize the situation than ATF. The ATF had already absorbed heavy losses and if further hostilities occurred might be accused of seeking revenge. Noble also wanted to preclude any turf battles that might arise if the effort were jointly managed. At the FBI, Potts and Clark, as well as Gerson from Justice, agreed that were the HRT fully deployed, its leaders must have command and control of the operation.
Hartnett and Conroy Arrive at the Command Post
Hartnett, who had arrived in the National Command Center shortly after noon (EST) on the day of the raid, ordered Dan Conroy to leave immediately for Waco. Hartnett remained at the National Command Center until Director Higgins arrived at roughly 3:00 p.m. After Hartnett had briefed him, Higgins directed Hartnett to proceed to Waco. Hartnett, accompanied by several members of the FBI HRT advance team, including Dick Rogers, the HRT supervisor, traveled to Waco on an FBI airplane.
At approximately 6:30 p.m., Dyer returned to the command post and informed Assistant U.S. Attorney Johnston and the supervisors about the shoot-out near the hay barn. By that time, after hours of negotiation with cult members, Cavanaugh had managed to reach an agreement with Koresh who allowed the release of several children in exchange for ATF arranging to have a particular passage of scripture broadcast repeatedly on a local radio station. Cavanaugh was assisted by two negotiators from the Texas Department of Public Safety. Cavanaugh continued to play a leading role in these negotiations for several days, although the FBI took charge of them during the afternoon of March 1.
When Dyer returned, Cavanaugh directed him to assemble a group of agents to receive the children that would soon be released from the Compound. Dyer, Rodriguez and several others went to the Compound and received six children over the course of the evening. The children were immediately placed in the custody of the Texas Department of Protective and Regulatory Services.
Conroy arrived in Waco at approximately 8:30 p.m. and found the command post still in a state of disarray. Several of the commanding officers were trying to restore order and were striving to deal with the most pressing tasks. Cavanaugh was continuing to negotiate with the cult members; Sarabyn was coordinating the recovery of the children through contacts with Dyer and others, and Royster was trying to handle the large influx of ATF agents and the state and local law enforcement officers who were volunteering for service. Royster was also seeking night-vision equipment, lenses, Light Armored Vehicles, and Bradley Fighting Vehicles from the National Guard. Other agents were trying to deal with the media. In fact, the raid became an international story within hours after the shooting ended. According to the Tribune-Herald, by mid-afternoon the day of the raid, 60 newspaper reporters and camera crews from at least 17 television stations and the Cable News Network had deluged the police barricades near the Compound. More than 50 reporters attended the ATF press conference at the Waco Convention Center Sunday afternoon where SAC Royster read a statement from Director Higgins. A similar crowd attended Sharon Wheeler's short briefing and announcement that a press conference would be held at 10:30 the following morning. Despite ATF and FBI attempts to provide daily news briefings, the media complained that they were not getting enough information. Neither ATF, the local media, nor the town of Waco was prepared for the intense media coverage following the raid.
A few hours later, when Hartnett arrived at the command post at about 11:00 p.m., he found over 100 local law enforcement personnel and ATF agents, many still wearing bloodstained clothes from the raid. After Conroy briefed him, Hartnett took control of the operation, requiring the original operation commanders to report directly to him and Conroy. He then cleared the main area of all non-ATF people and told most of the ATF agents to report back the next morning.
Together with Conroy and Chojnacki, Hartnett established a new ATF command structure. Ivan Kalister, Program Manager for Tactical Response Branch, Washington, D.C., and Sarabyn were made responsible for establishing the SRT people on the perimeter of the Compound and for providing security for the hospitalized agents. Cavanaugh and the FBI were to conduct the negotiations with the Compound. Royster was given responsibility for the overall criminal investigation of Koresh and the other cult members. Once the Texas Rangers opened a formal homicide investigation, he became the liaison with the Texas Rangers. David Troy, Chief, Intelligence Division, Washington, D.C.; Dave Benton, Chief, Planning and Analysis Division, Washington, D.C., and Bill Wood, SAC, Cleveland Division, were the shooting review team, charged with interviewing all participants in the shoot-out. RAC Phillip Lewis, San Antonio, and Program Manager, Firearms Division, Dick Curd, Washington, D.C., were put in charge of managing all logistics, including lodging and vehicles. ATF Public Information Officers Wheeler and Perot were told to continue functioning as the public information officers.
These agents reported to Conroy and Hartnett until the FBI HRT took control of their respective aspects of the operation. Many supervisory and field agents believed the Hartnett and Conroy takeover exacerbated the problem of poor communication between the operation's leadership and the field agents. In addition, because Hartnett and Conroy often met privately, most agents, including the raid leaders, felt they were inappropriately being denied access to the decisionmaking process.
Hartnett instructed the ATF agents to take control of the roadblocks by midnight and to establish a full perimeter around the Compound at dawn. By early morning on March 1, with the assistance of both local law enforcement and the relieving SRTs, ATF had resumed its watch on most of the roads leading into and out of the Compound. From their posts, law enforcement officials could observe much of the Compound. In the days immediately following the raid, aside from the person seen near the hay barn escaping from the Compound, law enforcement officials did not see any other cult members leave the Compound.
Starting soon after the shooting ended ATF also attempted to provide support and counseling for the raid participants. Members of ATF peer support groups, which provide confidential support for agents who have experienced traumatic incidents, met with numerous raid participants. These support groups consist of agents who have been through earlier traumatic incidents and who are trained to provide peer support. In addition, professional counseling from experts in handling participants in violent incidents was available for those agents who elected to avail themselves of those services. Although many agents did use those services, other agents who could have benefitted from such services chose not to. Some of those who did not seek counseling apparently feared that if they did, they would be stigmatized as weak or troubled. Numerous agents also provided support and care for their hospitalized colleagues.
At approximately 10:00 a.m. on March 1, Hartnett and Jamar conducted a meeting with those ATF agents who were not posted around the Compound. This was the first post raid meeting attended by most of the ATF agents who had participated in the raid. Hartnett announced that the FBI HRT was going to take over the operation because of its special expertise in hostage and siege negotiations. Hartnett expressed his concern that further ATF involvement in violence at the Compound might lead to accusations that ATF was seeking revenge. The agents were angered by Hartnett's remarks. He did not comment upon the four agent fatalities or the bravery exhibited the day of the raid. The agents resented the implication that they were not capable of handling the current situation. Next, Hartnett introduced Jamar who also failed to mention the slain agents and the valiant actions of ATF agents. Moreover, as Jamar explained the rationale for the FBI takeover, the agents felt he overemphasized FBI capabilities and, by inference, ATF shortcomings. Many of the agents, including several of ATF's top management team, were disappointed and angered by Jamar's remarks.
The next day, March 2, the HRT took control of the inner perimeter from ATF agents, who by then had supplanted local law enforcement officials. In turn, the ATF agents took the positions on the outer perimeter previously held by local law enforcement. Many ATF agents resented the way some of the HRT agents acted when taking over the perimeter, and they were especially troubled by what they perceived as the FBI's lack of interest in debriefing them. Although a few verbal exchanges took place between certain agents, the transition between ATF commanders and HRT supervisors was reasonably smooth, with ATF briefing the HRT leaders about Koresh and the situation at the Compound. A few days after the takeover, Hartnett sent the Dallas, Houston, and New Orleans ATF agents home. The remaining ATF agents assumed positions in an outer perimeter outside the HRT and provided support for the operation. Transfer to the FBI of control of the inner perimeter effectively ended ATF's authority over and responsibility for the standoff.
Notes from original reportEdit
- Footnote 5 in original document: Black powder is an explosive under the federal explosive laws in 18 U.S.C. Chapter 40. See 18 U.S.C. §§841(d) and 844(j). Black powder in quantities of fifty pounds or less intended to be used solely for sporting, recreational or cultural purposes in antique firearms is generally exempt from the regulatory provisions of Chapter 40. See 18 U.S.C. §845(a)(5). Black powder, however, is not exempt from the criminal misuse provisions of 18 U.S.C. §844. Black powder can be combined with aluminum or magnesium powder, items that were delivered to the Compound, to create an enhanced explosive effect. In addition, when black powder is confined in a metal case or container, particularly when it is combined with aluminum or magnesium powder, it can explode violently when detonated, bursting or fragmenting the casing and producing high-velocity fragments.
- Footnote 6 in original document: An AK-47 is a Soviet-designed selective fire machinegun that was the standard weapon issued to Eastern Bloc military personnel. Semiautomatic copies of the AK-47 (under a variety of model designations, all commonly referred to as AK-47s) were imported and sold commercially in the United States until their importation was prohibited in 1989. Possession of a semiautomatic copy of an AK-47 is legal and does not require registration pursuant to the National Firearms Act. However, a semiautomatic AK-47 can be converted into an illegal machinegun by making modifications to the receiver of the weapon and replacing certain internal parts with commonly available selective fire AK-47 parts.
- Footnote 7 in original document:The National Firearms Act, codified in Chapter 53 of Title 26, United States Code, sets out a comprehensive tax and registration system governing the manufacture, transfer and possession of certain firearms. Among other firearms covered by the Act are items classified as "destructive devices," including any explosive, incendiary, bomb, or grenade (26 U.S.C. §5845(f)), and machineguns (26 U.S.C. §5845(b)). In addition, 18 U.S.C. §922(o) makes it unlawful for any person to transfer or possess a machinegun unless the machinegun was lawfully registered before May 19, 1986, the effective date of the Firearms Owners Protection Act of 1986. Before that Act, it was legal for citizens to make, sell, and possess machineguns as long as they complied with the taxing and registration requirements of the National Firearms Act. Since 1986, no machineguns have been permitted to be manufactured in the United States except those used by government agencies or for export.
- Footnote 8 in original document:A receiver is a part of a firearm that normally houses the barrel and bolt assembly. Many modern military-style rifles are constructed with a horizontal split in the receiver--hence the terms "upper receiver" and "lower receiver." With respect to the AR-15, which has a split-receiver design, the lower receiver, by legal definition, constitutes a "firearm" for purposes of federal firearms laws. See 18 U.S.C. §921(a)(3)(B).
- Footnote 9 in original document: 18 U.S.C. §922(o)(1) provides that, save for certain specified exceptions: "it shall be unlawful for any person to transfer or possess a machinegun." The National Firearms Act makes it unlawful for any person other than a qualified manufacturer to make a machinegun without first filing an application to make and register the item with, and receiving approval from, the Secretary of the Treasury. 26 U.S.C. §5822 and 5861(f). For purposes of Section 922(o) and the National Firearms Act, 'machinegun' means any weapon which shoots, is designed to shoot, or can be readily restored to shoot, automatically, more than one shot without manual reloading, by a single function of the trigger." The term includes "the frame or receiver of any such weapon, any part designed and intended solely and exclusively, or combination of parts designed and intended for use in converting a weapon into a machinegun, and any combination of parts from which a machinegun can be assembled if such parts are in the possession or under the control of a person." 26 U.S.C. §5845(b). A part not yet assembled into a machinegun can still be illegal if it is (I) "designed solely or exclusively for use in converting a weapon into a machinegun"; (2) a "combination of parts designed and intended for use in converting a weapon into a machinegun"; or (3) "any combination of parts from which a machinegun is assembled" if one person has possession or control of all of the parts. See United States v. Bradley, 892 F.2d 634, 635 (7th Cir. 1990).
- Footnote 10 in original document:The National Firearms Act makes it unlawful for any person other than a qualified manufacturer to make a destructive device without first filing an application to make and register the item with, and receiving approval from, the Secretary of the Treasury. 26 U.S.C. §5822 and 5861(f). In addition, the National Firearms Act makes it unlawful to possess any unregistered firearm, including, for example, components that readily could be assembled into a hand grenade or any other destructive device. 26 U.S.C. §§5845(a)(8) and (f) and §5861(b), (c), (d) and (e). 18 U.S.C. §922(a)(1)(A) provides that "[i]t shall be unlawful for any person except a licensed importer, licensed manufacturer, or licensed dealer to engage in the business of importing, manufacturing, or dealing in firearms, or in the course of such business to ship, transport, or receive any firearm in interstate or foreign commerce." 18 U.S.C. §921(a)(3) defines "firearm" to include, among other things, "destructive devices." In turn, "destructive device" is defined to encompass "any explosive, incendiary, or poison gas bomb or grenade ... [or] ... any combination of parts either designed or intended for use in converting any device into any [of the above destructive devices]." 18 U.S.C. §921(a)(4). 18 U.S.C. §§842(a) and (j) make it unlawful for any person "to engage in the business of importing, manufacturing, or dealing in explosive materials without a license" or "to store any explosive material in a manner not in conformity with regulations promulgated by the Secretary."
- Footnote 11 in original document:(11) See 18 U.S.C. §922(g)
- Footnote 12 in original document: A "hell-fire trigger" is an external attachment designed to return the trigger to the forward position more quickly after each firing, thus enabling a semiautomatic weapon to be fired more quickly. The device does not enable a semiautomatic weapon to fire as rapidly as a typical machinegun, and its use does not change the classification of a semiautomatic weapon into an unlawful weapon.
- Footnote 13 in original document: A "drop-in sear" is a part or combination of parts placed inside the weapon to convert a semiautomatic weapon into a machinegun. As a rule, the term refers to the "AR-15 drop-in auto sear," which was designed specifically to convert an AR-15 rifle into a machinegun. Because the sear is designed and intended exclusively for use in converting a weapon into a machinegun, it is considered an unlawful machinegun if it was manufactured after 1981 and not registered properly. 26 U.S.C. §§5841 and 5845(b); ATF Ruling 81-4.
- Footnote 14 in original document: 26 U.S.C. §§5841 and 5845.
- Footnote 15 in original document: A "RAC" is the resident agent in charge of an ATF field office, who acts under supervision of a larger field division, in this case Houston. Buford was a founder of the ATF SRT program.
- Footnote 16 in original document: Johnston informed ATF early in the investigation that he would not authorize a search warrant for the Branch Davidian Compound if it was to be executed through a siege-style operation. He, too, feared that a siege strategy would permit Koresh and his followers to destroy evidence and make prosecution more difficult, as happened in the CSA case. Despite Johnston's views, however, ATF's tactical planners seriously considered a siege plan.
- Footnote 17 in original document: The Compound had evolved from a series of free-standing houses. After Koresh took control of the Compound he and his followers dismantled the homes and built the single structure. (See Figures 13 and 14.)
- Footnote 18 in original document:After the planners shifted their focus to a raid, an ATF military liaison submitted to appropriate military authorities in mid-February a superseding request that did not include the Bradleys. ATF did, however, receive other support from the military, including several flights over the Compound and the Mag Bag to produce aerial reconnaissance photographs, interpretation of the photos, and use of the Thermal Imaging System during flights to identify "hot spots" at the Compound. These flights were directed toward the search for armed guards and drug manufacturing facilities. In addition, the military provided ATF with the Military Operation Urban Terrain training facility at Fort Hood for training purposes and helped ATF set up the facility to resemble the Compound.
- Footnote 19 in original document: The original raid plan had not provided for this undercover visit, or for the one on the day of the raid.
- Footnote 20 in original document: On Monday, March 1, the day after the ATF raid was repulsed, the Tribune-Herald published the remaining five parts of its "Sinful Messiah" series.
- Footnote 21 in original document: Rochner recalls that he next proposed sending a reporter into the Compound on Sunday. According to Rochner, Chojnacki said, "Good luck, you will not be in our way if you go on Sunday." Rochner contends that this reinforced his view that no raid was planned for Sunday. Chojnacki does not recall making such a statement. In any event, the Tribune-Herald did not send reporters to the Compound on February 28 to interview Koresh; it sent reporters to cover a raid.
- Footnote 22 in original document: Despite earlier accounts to the contrary, Wheeler did not divulge any information about the raid in these contacts. The reporters she contacted were not able to determine what law enforcement action she was referring to, based on their conversation. Indeed, none of the stations she contacted were at the Compound until well after the firefight began.
- Footnote 23 in original document: With few exceptions, no definitive record exists of times for the events on February 28. Accordingly, except where otherwise noted, all times are approximations derived from witness recollections, logs, and other records.
- Footnote 24 in original document: There are conflicting reports about what Peeler actually told Jones. In a statement to the Texas Rangers, Koresh's attorneys stated that in one of their visits to the Compound during the standoff between the cult and the FBI, David Jones (now deceased) told them that Peeler warned him not to go near the Compound as there were going to be "60 to 70 TABC (Texas Alcohol Beverage Commission) guys in helicopters and a shoot-out would occur." Peeler has denied giving this much detail to Jones. However, he has admitted that on the morning of the 28th he believed that TABC was involved and had tuned his scanner to the TABC frequency. TABC was not involved in the action on the 28th and Peeler is the only witness interviewed by the Review who believed that TABC was involved. Peeler's admission lends credibility to the account provided by Koresh's attorneys.
- Footnote 25 in original document: Cult members released from the Compound after the raid have stated that prior to the 28th, Koresh had suspected that Rodriguez was an undercover agent. One cult member stated that despite his suspicions, Koresh continued to meet with Rodriguez believing that he could nonetheless successfully recruit him.
- Footnote 26 in original document: There were many acts of sacrifice and heroism during the attack on the agents, only some of which can be recounted here.
- Footnote 27 in original document: Due to the World Trade Center bombing, Potts, Clark, and Acting Attorney General Stuart Gerson were at the FBI command center in Washington, D.C., on the day of the raid.