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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
This is Part One of Two of the actual report. Click
here for Part Two.
Appendixes A to G are found in the following pages:
Appendix A and B:
* A: Chief Willie Williams' Report
* B: Tactical Operations Expert Reports by Wade Y. Ishimoto, John A. Kolman, George Morrison, John J. Murphy, Rod Paschall, Robert A. Sobocienski
Appendix C to F:
* C: ATF Operations Plans
* D: Chronology of Events (note: not yet formatted and very confusing in some places)
* E: ATF Advisory to Treasury Office of Enforcement
* F: Mission Charter
A Brief History of Federal Firearms Enforcement
Remainder is actual text.
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DEPARTMENT OF THE TREASURY
SECRETARY OF THE TREASURY
September 30, 1993
The Honorable William J. Clinton
President of the United States
The White House
Washington, D.C. 20500
Dear Mr. President:
I submit to you the report of the Department of the Treasury's Waco Administrative Review (the "Review").
I established the Review on April 29, 1993, after you directed that
Treasury conduct a "vigorous and thorough"
investigation of the events leading to the loss of law enforcement and civilian lives near Waco, Texas, on February
Over the past five months, at my direction, Assistant Secretary for
Enforcement Ronald K. Noble has conducted
a comprehensive review of the adequacy of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms' ("ATF's") procedures,
policies, and practices, and whether they were followed during ATF's investigation of Vernon Howell, a/k/a "David
Koresh," and his followers. As promised, the Review left no stone unturned in finding out what happened and why.
The Review's final report recounts the events that culminated in the
unsuccessful raid of the Branch Davidian
Compound and analyzes why the raid ended in the deaths of four courageous ATF special agents, Conway LeBleu,
Todd W. McKeehan, Robert J. Williams, and Steven D. Willis.
I know well that no inquiry can bring back any of the lives that were
lost near Waco. It is my fervent hope,
however, that this review and the changes it will precipitate will prevent the recurrence of such a tragedy in the
In Memory of
Conway C. LeBleu
December 23, 1962 - February 28, 1993
Todd W. McKeehan
October 19, 1964 - February 28, 1993
Robert J. Williams
March 1, 1966 - February 28, 1993
Steven D. Willis
December 18, 1960 - February 28, 1993
The Department of the Treasury
The Waco Administrative Review Team
Ronald K. Noble
Assistant Secretary of the Treasury for Enforcement
Edwin 0. Guthman
Henry S. Ruth, Jr.
Willie L. Williams
Lewis C. Merletti
Assistant Project Director
H. Geoffrey Moulton, Jr.
David L. Douglass
Assistant Project Director
Kenneth P. Thompson
Daniel C. Richman
Andrew E. Tomback
Robert B. Blossman
Colleen B. Callahan
Rafael A. Gonzales
Paul D. Irving
Frederick R. Klare
Joseph A. Masonis
Lewis H. McClam
Dick M. Suekawa
Jennell L. Jenkins
Robert L. Cockrell
John J. Devaney
Robert M. Gattison
Susan G. Rowley
Thomas R. Smith
Robert K. Tevens
Ina W. E. Boston
Vanessa L. Bolden
Mary C. Balberchak
Kenneth L. Buck
Federal Law Enforcement
John H. Battle
The General Counsel
Billy S. Bradley
Sarah Elizabeth Jones
DEPARTMENT OF THE TREASURY
September 24, 1993
MEMORANDUM FOR SECRETARY BENTSEN
Deputy Inspector General
SUBJECT: Department of Treasury's Waco Administrative Review
On April 29, 1993, the Department announced its plans to examine
the events leading to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms
(ATF) execution of search and arrest warrants at the Branch
Davidian compound, near Waco, Texas, on February 28, 1993. The
purpose of the Department's administrative review was to
comprehensively evaluate all aspects of ATF's investigation of
David Koresh and the Branch Davidians through and including the
events occurring at the compound on February 28, 1993. The review
was performed under the leadership and direction of Mr. Ronald K.
Noble, Assistant Secretary for the Office of Enforcement. As part
of this review, the Department was to analyze and assess whether
ATF's procedures, policies, and practices were adequate and
whether they were followed up and until the time ATF decided to
raid the compound.
In addition, on May 3, 1993, the Department further announced the
selection of three independent reviewers to ensure that the
Department's administrative review was comprehensively and
impartially conducted. These reviewers were selected because of
their national prominence, integrity and law enforcement
expertise. The reviewers are responsible for providing guidance to
the investigation, reviewing the investigative team's findings and
providing an independent assessment of the information contained
in the final report.
The Office of Inspector General (OIG) was requested to monitor the
administrative review for the purpose of providing assurance to
the Department that the project plan was complete and properly
implemented. Moreover, the OIG was to comment on whether relevant
information obtained during the investigation was properly
considered and included in the final report.
This memorandum transmits the results of our assessment and
provides a level of assurance that the Departmental effort was
objective and comprehensively performed. It is our opinion that
the administrative review team vigorously and thoroughly examined
all significant information surrounding the events leading to
ATF's execution of the search warrant at the Branch Davidian
compound on February 28, 1993. In addition, the administrative
review team's report addresses all the issues that are included in
the team's investigative plan. To the best of our knowledge, the
review team's findings are consistent with the facts developed
and, to the extent possible, accurately reflect the circumstances
surrounding ATF's investigation and subsequent raid of the Branch
Davidian compound on February 28, 1993.
To arrive at our conclusions, we focused on determining whether
- all appropriate issues were identified for investigation and
appropriately considered in the team's planning process;
- the team reviewed pertinent documentation and information
obtained by other law enforcement organizations involved in the
- all appropriate individuals were identified and interviewed that
could provide insight of the events leading up to ATF's raid
and/or the issues being examined;
- all appropriate leads from interviews with ATF agents and
management personnel and other relevant persons were properly
followed up and satisfactorily resolved;
- external experts were consulted in order to obtain an
independent assessment of ATF's planning, training, and execution
of the search and arrest warrants;
- input and advice provided by the independent reviewers were
properly considered by the project team leaders; and,
- the resultant report reflects the body of information examined
and that any conclusions made by the review team are well-founded.
From the outset of the project, we provided our views and comments
to the project leadership as we thought would be appropriate. We
provided the team with an extensive list of issues and questions
that we felt needed to be examined during the course of the
administrative investigation. These issues and associated
questions were included in the team's investigative plan.
Our opinions are based primarily upon a review of information
contained in memoranda of interview from selected interviews with
ATF agents involved in the execution of the search warrant;
memoranda of interview of selected ATF management personnel; and,
the Texas Rangers' investigation of the murders of four ATF
agents. In addition, we attended numerous daily team debriefing
sessions conducted by project leaders discussing the status of the
administrative teams efforts and the required follow-up that
should be performed to satisfactorily pursue/resolve issues being
examined. These briefing sessions provided an excellent
opportunity to gain insight of the quality of the project
management and direction and provided a comfort level regarding
the integrity of the efforts of the administrative review team.
We also attended the briefings held with the three independent
reviewers selected to review the team's findings to judge the
quality of the information being provided for use in their
assessment of the Treasury's administrative investigation. We
believe that the information provided to the reviewers was
accurate, based on information obtained at that time by team
investigators, and was relevant to the main issues under
examination. Additionally, we attended the briefings held with the
tactical experts employed to assist in evaluating ATF's tactical
operations plan and Special-Response Team training. The tactical
experts' recommendations have adequately been considered and the
results of their reports have been incorporated in the final
With regard to the contents of the administrative review team's
report, it is our opinion that the report provides an accurate
account of the events leading up to the ATF's assault of the
Branch Davidian compound. Furthermore, we believe that any
conclusions made by the review team have a basis in fact and are
consistent with the nature of the findings developed.
During the course of our oversight role, we experienced total
cooperation on the part of the project leaders and had unlimited
access to the information and documentation compiled by the
administrative review team during its investigation. We would like
to compliment the team for vigorously and aggressively pursuing
this enormous undertaking in order to determine what really
happened in Waco, Texas on February 28, 1993. The findings and
recommendations in this report should be invaluable to the law
enforcement community as a whole and hopefully will serve as a
guide for improving how law enforcement approaches the new waves
of violent behaviors and the groups that perpetuate them.
TABLE OF FIGURES
Figure One Map
depicting location of Compound and Mag Bag.
Figure Two Photograph of buried school bus used as firing range and bunker.
Figure Three Photograph of David Koresh and other Branch Davidians before Roden
Figure Four Photograph of Ammunition seized from Koresh after Roden shoot out.
Figure Five Photograph of Mag Bag taken after execution of search warrant.
Figure Six Photograph of AK-47 assault rifle.
Figure Seven Photograph of M-16 assault rifle.
Figure Eight Photograph of.50-caliber rifle.
Figure Nine Photograph of typical "pineapple" type grenades.
Figure Ten Illustration depicting undercover house, Compound, and hay barn.
Figure Eleven Photograph of main Compound Building (front side.)
Figure Twelve Photograph of rear of Compound.
Figure Thirteen Photograph of Mt. Carmel houses before construction of Compound.
Figure Fourteen Photograph of Mt. Carmel after construction of Compound before demolition of
Figure Fifteen Diagram of Compound's first level.
Figure Sixteen Diagram of Compound's second level.
Figure Seventeen Diagram of Compound's third and fourth levels.
Figure Eighteen Photograph of Compound designating pit.
Figure Nineteen Photograph of undercover house.
Figure Twenty Aerial photograph of command post at TSTC.
Figure Twenty-One Aerial photograph of Bellmead Civic Center, (staging area).
Figure Twenty-Two Side view of cattle trailer.
Figure Twenty-Three Rear view of cattle trailer.
Figure Twenty-Four Photograph indicating planned deployment for SRTs.
Figure Twenty-Five Diagram of communications network used for the raid.
Figure Twenty-Six Organizational chart of national response plan.
Figure Twenty-Seven Map depicting staging area, Mag Bag, Compound and road blocks.
Figure Twenty-Eight Map depicting location of media vehicles.
Figure Twenty-Nine Photograph of Kalashnikov rifle taken after April 19, 1993.
Figure Thirty Photograph of load-bearing
ammunition vests, magazines, and military helmet taken
after April 19, 1993.
Figure Thirty-One Photograph of Compound taken after February 28, 1993.
Figure Thirty-Two Photograph of Compound designating location of wounded agent Kenny King.
Figure Thirty-Three Gunshot related deaths and injuries sustained by ATF on February 28, 1993.
Figure Thirty-Four Non-gunshot related injuries sustained by ATF on February 28, 1993.
Figure Thirty-Five Deaths and injuries sustained by cult members on February 28, 1993.
Figure Thirty-Six Photograph of "pineapple" type grenade casings.
Figure Thirty-Seven Photograph of arms bunker with arsenal of assorted weapons.
Figure Thirty-Eight Photograph of remains of assault rifle.
Figure Thirty-Nine Photograph of remains of assault rifle.
Figure Forty Diagram depicting Rodriguez's undercover contacts with the Compound.
On February 28, 1993, near Waco,
Texas, four agents from the Treasury Department's Bureau of Alcohol,
Tobacco, and Firearms (ATF) were killed, and more than 20 other agents were wounded when David Koresh(1)
and members of his religious cult, the Branch Davidian,(2) ambushed a force of 76 ATF agents. The ATF
agents were attempting to execute lawful search and arrest warrants at Mount Carmel, the Branch Davidian
Compound. Tipped off that the agents were coming, Koresh and more than 100 of his followers waited inside
the Compound and opened fire using assault weapons before the agents even reached the door. This gunfire
continued until the Branch Davidians agreed to a cease-fire. The ensuing standoff lasted 51 days, ending on
April 19, when the Compound erupted in fire set by cult members after the Federal Bureau of Investigation
(FBI) used tear gas to force its occupants to leave. The fire destroyed the Compound, and more than 70
residents died, many from gunshot wounds apparently inflicted by fellow cult members.
In the wake of the tragic events
of February 28 and April 19, the Executive Branch, Congress, the media,
and the general public raised serious questions about ATF and FBI actions at the Compound. President Clinton
promptly directed the Department of the Treasury and the Department of Justice, which are responsible for
ATF and the FBI,
(1) Born Vernon Wayne Howell on August 17, 1959, Koresh formally changed his name in 1990. According to
his court petition, Koresh changed his name because he was an entertainer, and wished to use the name for
publicity and business purposes.
(2) The Branch Davidian movement was started by a number of Seventh
Day Adventists who believed strongly
in the prophecies of the book of Revelation. David Koresh, then named Vernon Wayne Howell, took over
leadership of the group in 1987. The Compound residents were extremely devoted to Koresh, and many
apparently believed that he was the lamb of God. In the course of this report, the Review has used the term
"cult" to refer to Koresh and his followers. The term is not intended and should not be taken as a reference to
the Branch Davidian movement generally. The Review is quite aware that "cult" has pejorative connotations,
and that outsiders--particularly those in the government--should avoid casting aspersions on those whose
religious beliefs are different from their own. The definition of cult in Webster's Third New International
Dictionary (unabridged) includes: "a great or excessive devotion or dedication to some person, idea or thing"
and "a religion regarded as unorthodox or spurious." In light of the evidence of the conduct of Koresh and his
followers set out in this report, the Review finds "cult" to be an apt characterization.
respectively, to conduct "vigorous and thorough" investigations of the
events leading to the loss of law
enforcement and civilian lives. The President's directive resulted in three separate yet coordinated inquiries.
On April 29, Secretary of the Treasury
Lloyd Bentsen asked Ronald K. Noble, who was then designated to
be Assistant Secretary of the Treasury for Enforcement, to focus on ATF's involvement in the case, from the
initiation of its investigation of Koresh and his followers through its unsuccessful effort to execute search and
arrest warrants on February 28. At the same time, Attorney General Janet Reno directed Philip B. Heymann,
who was then designated to be Deputy Attorney General,(3) to review FBI involvement in the siege of the
Compound from early March, when the FBI Hostage Rescue Team took over the law enforcement effort there,
through April 19, when the Compound burned. Secretary Bentsen and Attorney General Reno also directed
Heymann and Noble to conduct the third inquiry, a joint assessment of federal law enforcement's capacity to
handle such dangerous situations as were presented when ATF tried to enforce federal firearms laws at the
Compound and when the Branch Davidians refused to surrender after February 28.
All three inquiries were undertaken in
a manner designed not to interfere with ongoing criminal
investigations and prosecutions resulting from the cult members' conduct. As of September 1993, 12 Compound
residents have been indicted on charges including conspiracy to murder federal officers and possessing firearms
during a violent crime. Some face additional charges including unlawful possession of machineguns and
conspiracy to possess unregistered destructive devices. On September 9, one defendant pleaded guilty to
impeding and interfering with the lawful execution of the search warrant by use of a deadly weapon.
Charged by Secretary Bentsen to examine
"whether ATF's procedures, policies, and practices were
adequate and whether they were followed," Assistant Secretary Noble promised that "no stone would be left
unturned in finding out what happened and why." To assure that the Waco Administrative Review, conducted
by the Treasury Department, would fulfill its promise of objectivity and comprehensiveness, Secretary Bentsen
selected three prominent individuals with extensive expertise in law enforcement and experience in media
relations to guide the Review's investigation and report to the public on its findings:
(3) Both Noble and Heymann have since been confirmed by the Senate.
- Edwin O. Guthman, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and a professor
of journalism at the University of
Southern California, is the former national editor of The Los Angeles Times and former editor of The
Philadelphia Inquirer. He also served as press secretary to Robert F. Kennedy when Kennedy was Attorney
General and when he was a member of the Senate;
- Henry S. Ruth, Jr. is an attorney who served in the Department of
Justice for more than 15 years and who
was later chief Watergate prosecutor. Ruth has served on many commissions, including the Special
Investigative Commission that examined law enforcement actions in connection with MOVE in Philadelphia;
- Willie L. Williams, Chief of the Los Angeles Police Department since
1991, is a career law enforcement official
who, after joining the Philadelphia Police Department in 1964, rose through its ranks to become Commissioner
Each of these distinguished reviewers
generously agreed to serve without pay, and each will provide a
written assessment of the Review's investigation to the Secretary of the Treasury.(4)
The mission of the Treasury Department
Office of Enforcement was to conduct a comprehensive inquiry
into the ATF operation, from the initiation of its investigation of Koresh's activities through the raid at the
Branch Davidian Compound on February 28 and its aftermath. Under the overall supervision of Assistant
Secretary Noble, a team of attorneys and law enforcement agents conducted interviews, obtained primary
source materials and exhibits, viewed the Compound and other key sites near Waco, and analyzed the materials
and information gathered. Based on this investigation, including credibility assessments and circumstantial
evidence, the Review made factual determinations and analyzed those facts. Assistant Secretary Noble provided
final oversight of the report before its submission to Secretary Bentsen.
The Review's day-to-day operations were
supervised by the project director, H. Geoffrey Moulton, Jr.,
Associate Professor at Widener University School of Law in Delaware, and the assistant project directors,
Lewis C. Merletti, Deputy Assistant Director
(4) Chief Williams' assessment has been received and is included in Appendix A.
of the U.S. Secret Service, and David L. Douglass, an attorney on leave
from Wiley, Rein & Fielding in
Washington, D.C. The Review's investigators included 17 senior agents from the Secret Service, the Customs
Service, the Internal Revenue Service (both the Criminal Investigation Division and the Internal Security
Division), and the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network. These agents, whose names and bureau affiliations
are listed at the front of this report, brought to the Review an extraordinary range of investigative and tactical
experience from law enforcement and the military. Their collective expertise enabled the Review to conduct a
comprehensive examination of ATF's investigation of Koresh.
In addition, the Review was assisted
by a computer expert from the Federal Law Enforcement Training
Center, an intelligence research specialist from the Customs Service, and clerical support from several Treasury
agencies. These agents and other personnel were detailed to the Review full-time. Four other attorneys were
also assigned to the Review: two from Treasury's Office of General Counsel, another detailed to Treasury from
the Interagency Council on the Homeless, and one who had recently completed a federal district court
The investigative team maintained offices
at the Department of the Treasury's main building. Access to
these offices, the Review's computers, and records compiled by the Review was restricted to ensure the
confidentiality and integrity of the investigation.
Other Consultants and Experts
The Review sought technical assistance
from several specialists with experience in law enforcement and
military operations. For their expertise in tactical command and control, intelligence gathering, and crisis
decisionmaking issues, the Review consulted the following:
? Commander George Morrison, a 37-year veteran with the Los Angeles
Police Department, with extensive
experience planning and executing tactical operations;
? Deputy Chief John Murphy and Lieutenant Robert Sobocienski from the
New York City Police Department,
the commanding officer and a leading line officer in the department's Special Operations Division,
? Captain John Kolman, retired from the Los Angeles County Sheriff's
Department, who planned and carried
out numerous tactical operations in his 23 years with the department and is a founder and director of
the National Tactical Officers Association.
? Colonel Rod Paschall, a retired commander of the U.S. Army First Special
Forces Group--Delta (Delta Force)
and now affiliated with the Office of International Criminal Justice at the University of Illinois at
? Wade Ishimoto, a retired Delta Force intelligence officer, who is
currently a manager of Sandia National
Laboratories, Albuquerque, New Mexico.
Each of the tactical experts also generously
agreed to serve without pay. Each provided the Review with
an independent assessment of ATF's operation within their field of expertise. These assessments can be found
in Appendix B. The experts had access to all data collected by the investigative team and were free either to
request that additional inquiries be pursued or to pursue them on their own.
The Review also received assistance from
two weapons experts, William C. Davis, Jr., and Charles R. Fagg,
and two explosives experts, Captain Joseph Kennedy, a retired Navy officer, and Paul Cooper. Davis, a
registered professional engineer retired from the government, has more than 50 years of federal government
and private experience analyzing and designing weapons. Fagg, a mechanical engineer, has more than 30 years
of experience analyzing and designing weapons for the federal government and private industry. Kennedy is the
former commander of the U.S. Navy Explosive Ordinance Disposal Technology Center in Indian Head,
Maryland. Cooper, an explosives expert with Sandia National Laboratories, is well known for his work in the
investigation of the battleship New Jersey explosion and the Marine barracks bombing in Beirut, Lebanon.
The weapons and explosives experts also
served without pay and provided the Review with written reports
answering specific questions about whether the materials ATF investigators determined to have been delivered
to Koresh and his followers constituted explosives or illegal firearms or whether they are commonly used to
produce such items. These reports are also contained in Appendix B.
Treasury Offices of General Counsel and Inspector General
Treasury Department General Counsel Jean
Hanson and Assistant General Counsel Robert M. McNamara
served as counsel to the Review. The Office of General Counsel secured employment contracts, ensured that
the Review complied with the Privacy Act, and the Federal Advisory Committee Act, and provided legal
opinions when appropriate during the course of the investigation. The Treasury's Office of Inspector General
monitored the Review to ensure that the project plan was complete and implemented properly and that all
relevant facts were fully considered and included in this report. In a memorandum to Secretary Bentsen, the
Office of Inspector General has concluded that the Review "vigorously and thoroughly examined all significant
information surrounding the events leading to ATF's execution of the search warrant at the Branch Davidian
Compound" and that "the report provides an accurate account of these events."
Even before the Review formally began,
the Treasury Department Office of Enforcement directed ATF to
gather and provide all information available concerning raid planning and execution.
The process continued throughout the
review period, as additional materials were requested and provided
to the Review. The Review team also began interviewing ATF agents. Because of allegations that statements by
ATF management about the raid did not accurately reflect the understanding of those on the scene, the Review
started by interviewing line agents who had been involved in the investigation of the case and the planning and
execution of the raid. Before conducting any interviews, peer support counselors briefed the investigative team
concerning the reactions they could expect from agents who had lived through the extraordinary trauma of the
raid and murders on February 28. Subsequent interviews followed the chain of command, from assistant special
agents in charge and special agents in charge, through the ATF director and Treasury Office of Enforcement
In all, 508 individuals were interviewed
between May 17 and the publication of this report. Most interviews
were conducted in person, with many lasting more than a full day. As the Review progressed and new facts
emerged, agents and attorneys often conducted follow-up interviews.
Throughout its inquiry, the Review took
pains to avoid interfering with ongoing investigations and
prosecutions being conducted by the Department of Justice into criminal violations by Branch Davidians. The
Texas Rangers, deputized as U.S. Marshals for the criminal investigation and prosecution, gave the Review
access to their reports, and the Waco U.S. Attorney's Office granted Review investigators access to
investigatory materials not restricted by Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 6(e). Their willingness to share
information with the Review was predicated on their trust that the Review would exercise appropriate
judgment in determining what information to make public in light of those sensitive investigations and
First and foremost, the Review's goal
was to learn what happened near Waco and to tell the story. The
Review tried to explain why the February 28 raid ended in tragedy. In the course of that effort, the
investigation confirmed that the rank and file agents of ATF who were sent to enforce federal firearms and
explosives laws at the Branch Davidian Compound did their best to perform their assigned tasks and showed
dedication and often spectacular courage in the face of murderous gunfire. Unfortunately, the investigation also
found disturbing evidence of flawed decisionmaking, inadequate intelligence gathering, miscommunication,
supervisory failures, and deliberately misleading post-raid statements about the raid and the raid plan by
certain ATF supervisors. Inevitably, the Review's discussion of what went wrong in the operation must refer to
certain individuals by name, but the Review sought not to accuse but to explain. This explanation contains
lessons that can strengthen the ability of the law enforcement community to deal with similar situations, which
unfortunately can be expected to occur.
Part One of this report is a narrative
account of the events leading up to and through the raid on
February 28. The narrative is divided into five sections, each devoted to one of the major components of the
story. Part Two presents the Review's analysis of critical aspects of the events addressed in Part One. An
overview of the report structure and content follows.
Part One The Facts
Section One: The Probable Cause Investigation
Part One, Section One summarizes the
ATF investigation of David Koresh and his followers to determine
whether there was probable cause to believe that federal firearms laws had been violated. The investigation
began when a McLennan County sheriff's deputy asked ATF to look into suspicious United Parcel Service
(UPS) deliveries to Koresh and the Branch Davidians. After determining that many such deliveries had been
made to the Compound, that the packages contained materials commonly used to manufacture grenades
unlawfully, and that Koresh had a violent past, Special Agent Davy Aguilera opened a formal investigation.
Section One describes Aguilera's painstaking
effort to piece together evidence of Koresh's accumulation of
a formidable arsenal of firearms, including many illegal machineguns and other unlawful destructive devices.
Aguilera gathered evidence from many sources, such as records of previous deliveries to Koresh and interviews
with a broad range of people, including local law enforcement officers and former cult members. The evidence
that Koresh posted guards at the Compound, trained followers to fire the weapons, and believed he would have
a violent confrontation with law enforcement indicated strongly that Koresh was prepared to use the arsenal he
was amassing. Aguilera learned other disconcerting information about Koresh, including his propensity toward
violence and violent rhetoric, his sexual conduct with minors, and his control over the lives and minds of his
Eventually, ATF agents established an
undercover house near the Compound, met with Koresh, and
corroborated some of the evidence Aguilera had obtained. These contacts with Koresh only confirmed the
reports about Koresh's violent nature and his hatred for law enforcement.
Section Two: The Decisionmaking Process Leading to Forceful Execution of Warrants
Part One, Section Two describes ATF's
effort to develop a tactical plan to execute a search warrant at the
Compound. By fall 1992, ATF's investigation had uncovered sufficient evidence of federal firearms violations to
meet the threshold probable cause requirements for a warrant to search the Compound. Anticipating having to
apply for warrants and recognizing that executing warrants at the Compound safely would pose a
substantial challenge, Aguilera's supervisor, Assistant Special Agent
in Charge (ASAC) Chuck Sarabyn of the
ATF Houston office, organized a team of tactical planners. The team consisted of several experienced leaders of
ATF Special Response Teams (SRTs), all of whom specialized in dynamic, high-risk entries to execute warrants,
but only one of whom had participated previously in a tactical operation comparable to the one being
contemplated for the heavily armed, fortresslike Compound.
As Section Two sets forth, the planners
concluded that their principal options for executing warrants in
the face of resistance were either by a siege, which would establish an armed perimeter around the Compound
until its residents surrendered, or a raid, a dynamic entry relying on the element of surprise. Although the
planners considered trying to lure Koresh away from the Compound, they abandoned the idea quickly because
of intelligence reports that Koresh rarely ventured off Compound grounds. The planners rejected a siege
because of the physical attributes of the Compound, because of a fear of mass suicide, and because former cult
members reported that Koresh had enough food, water, and other resources to withstand a lengthy siege. The
planners decided to conduct a raid and developed a tactical plan that hinged on separating the Compound's
men from the weapons.
The section then describes how ATF's
plan was formulated, the intelligence on which the planners relied,
and how the weaknesses of the intelligence went unrecognized. It explains how the plan that ATF developed
contained critical flaws.
Section Three: ATF and the Media Prepare for the Raid
Section Three describes how media interest
in the Branch Davidian Compound came to hamper ATF's raid
planners and commanders. The Waco Tribune-Herald began investigating Koresh in April 1992. In October
1992, ATF learned of the Tribune-Herald newspaper's investigation. By January 1993, reporters had completed
drafting the newspaper's "Sinful Messiah" series, which contained startling revelations about the Branch
Davidians' life-style and possession of dangerous weapons.
In January, the raid planners decided
to ask the paper to delay publishing the series to ensure the safety
of undercover agents and the integrity of the investigation. ATF held two meetings with newspaper
representatives in February 1993 and disclosed potential dates for the operation and training. The
Tribune-Herald did not agree to withhold publishing its series.
The week before the raid, ATF agents
made final raid preparations and the Tribune Herald prepared to
publish its "Sinful Messiah" series. ATF teams assembled for three days of training at Fort Hood. In addition,
ATF opened a command center at Texas State Technical College (TSTC) near Waco and finalized support
services with local suppliers and law enforcement. During this time, the Tribune-Herald contacted Koresh to
get his reaction to its series of articles and implemented new security procedures.
On Wednesday, February 24, ATF rescheduled
its raid from Monday, March 1 to Sunday, February 28,
because it expected the Tribune-Herald to publish its "Sinful Messiah" series on Sunday. However, on Friday
afternoon, Tribune-Herald officials notified ATF that the series would begin on Saturday morning. The raid
planners did not alter their plan, except to have an undercover agent visit the Compound to gauge Koresh's
reaction to the first article. Later that Friday, raid planners learned from ATF headquarters in Washington
that Treasury officials had directed that the raid not go forward. By Friday evening, however, Treasury officials
permitted the operation to proceed after ATF Director Stephen Higgins addressed Treasury's concerns that
the operation could be executed safely, and assured that those directing the raid were under express orders to
cancel the operation if they learned that its secrecy had been compromised or if those in the Compound had
departed from their established routine in any significant way. On Saturday evening, the undercover agent was
directed to visit the Compound on Sunday to make sure that the Branch Davidian routine immediately before
the raid was normal.
Meanwhile, the Tribune-Herald and KWTX,
a local television station, learned that ATF was about to raid
the Compound. The newspaper, which already knew from its negotiations with ATF that the agency was
contemplating a major operation, received a tip as to the precise timing of the raid. KWTX received similar
information from a dispatcher with the ambulance service ATF had contracted. By Saturday evening, eight
Tribune Herald reporters and three KWTX employees were assigned to be in the Compound area to cover
what they believed would be a large ATF operation and a significant local news story.
Section Four: The Assault on the Compound
Section Four recounts the events on the
day of the raid. The teams were deployed early that morning: the
incident commander, the tactical coordinator and other agents gathered at the command post; the deputy
tactical commander, forward observer teams and
undercover agents were positioned in the undercover house across from
the Compound; and the entry teams
assembled at a pre-selected staging area in nearby Bellmead.
At approximately 8 a.m., under the pretext
of asking Koresh about the "Sinful Messiah" series, the
undercover agent went to the Compound to assess whether the article had incited Koresh to order his followers
to take up arms. When the agent arrived, Koresh invited him to join a Bible study session. It appeared that the
article had not caused the cult to arm itself. However, unknown to ATF, a KWTX cameraman sent to cover the
expected raid became lost on roads near the Compound. A letter carrier, who the cameraman did not realize
was one of Koresh's followers, stopped and asked if he needed directions. In the course of their conversation,
the cameraman told the letter carrier about the impending raid. The letter carrier went directly to Koresh,
called him away from the undercover agent and warned him.
The undercover agent did not hear the
warning but Koresh returned to the room upset and shaking.
Koresh stated words to the effect that the ATF and the National Guard were coming. Concerned for his safety,
the undercover agent immediately left the Compound and reported what had happened to the tactical
coordinator, who in turn related it to the incident commander. Failing to appreciate the significance of the
undercover agent's report, they ordered the raid to proceed.
The entry teams, concealed in cattle
trailers, arrived at the Compound more than 40 minutes after Koresh
had received the tip. Koresh used that time to prepare a deadly ambush. As the agents exited the trailers,
gunfire erupted from the Compound and cult members threw homemade handgrenades at the agents. In the
face of overwhelming firepower the agents displayed extraordinary discipline and courage. The gun battle was
waged for almost 90 minutes before a cease-fire could be arranged and the agents were able to withdraw from
Section Five: Post-raid Events
Section Five describes the hours immediately
following the failed raid and recounts ATF's struggle to
restore order to its law enforcement effort. ATF evacuated its wounded and dead agents and withdrew from
vulnerable positions around the Compound. But ATF failed to maintain a secure perimeter around the
Compound immediately after the shoot-out, which resulted in a deadly confrontation away from the Compound
between ATF agents and cult members.
Section Five also explains how ATF's
command post deteriorated into near chaos after the raid. Still,
various agents made efforts to restore order and accomplish urgent tasks, including negotiating with the cult
members to continue the cease-fire and release some children. ATF headquarters personnel arrived at the
command post and attempted to restore order and reestablish a secure perimeter around the Compound. As
additional ATF Special Response Teams provided immediate relief for their embattled colleagues, ATF asked
the FBI Hostage Rescue Team for assistance. The Hostage Rescue Team was mobilized and control of the
operation shifted from ATF to the FBI.
Finally, the section reviews how ATF
attempted to provide support and counseling for raid participants in
the days following the failed raid, and how the media descended on Waco to cover what became an
Section One: The Propriety of Investigating Koresh and Other Cult Members
and Seeking to
Enforce Federal Firearms Laws
Part Two, Section One, considers whether
ATF properly initiated an investigation of Koresh for suspected
violations of federal firearms laws and whether the investigation established probable cause to search the
Compound for evidence of such crimes. Based on a review of the evidence, the section concludes that ATF
focused properly on Koresh after receiving complaints from local law enforcement officials. Similarly, after
reviewing evidence of firearms violations unearthed by the ATF investigation, including Koresh's purchases of
weapons and accounts that he was manufacturing weapons illegally on the Compound, the section determines
that ATF had a firm basis for searching the Compound and arresting Koresh.
The section also reviews allegations
that ATF targeted Koresh because of his religious beliefs and sexual
conduct with minors and finds the allegations lacking in merit. The section concludes that ATF focused properly
on Koresh because of his propensity toward violence and his ability to control his followers.
Section Two: Analysis of the Tactical Planning Effort
Part Two, Section Two analyzes ATF's
tactical planning effort, from the decisionmaking process that led to
the choice of a dynamic entry to the development of the raid plan itself. As this section explains, most of the
Review's tactical experts agree that the plan had a reasonable chance of success if all of the planners' major
assumptions had been correct. If the men in the Compound were working in the pit, separated from the
weapons reportedly locked away in the "arms room," and if ATF agents could drive up to the Compound
without its residents knowing of the operation until it was too late to offer effective resistance, the warrants
might well have been executed without loss of life. But the caveat here is crucial, for significant deficiencies in
the tactical intelligence gathering structure, most notably the lack of an agent dedicated to intelligence
processing and analysis, resulted in a plan that was based on seriously flawed assumptions.
The problems here lie as much in the
planning process as in the plan itself. Not only were the planners too
quick to conclude that a massive mid-morning raid was the best possible enforcement option, but they chose a
plan whose window of opportunity was much smaller than they realized. The planners also failed to prepare for
contingencies that would arise if that window were missed. Against a target as formidable as Koresh, such
errors exposed ATF to grievous consequences.
Responsibility for these flaws cannot
simply be placed at the feet of those who did the actual planning.
Those charged with this mission devoted considerable time and energy to devising a safe and successful
operation. They lacked, however, the training, experience, and institutional support necessary for the
extraordinary operation they were planning, an operation which was qualitatively as well as quantitatively
different from the many smaller enforcement actions each had led successfully in the past. ATF's management
never addressed these deficiencies by giving the planners a supportive structure to supplement their own
experiences. In addition, ATF's upper management did not actively oversee the development of the tactical
plan, even though it involved the mobilization of more than 100 agents--the largest law enforcement effort ever
mounted by ATF and one of the largest in the history of civilian law enforcement.
Section Three: Media Impact on ATF's Investigation
Part Two, Section Three analyzes the
interaction between ATF and the media before and during ATF's
raid on the Branch Davidian Compound. The interest of the media in covering suspected criminal conduct and
official responses to it will frequently be at odds with law enforcement's desire to have the advantage of
surprise in its activities. Here those interests clashed first before the raid, when ATF was unable to persuade
the Waco Tribune Herald to delay publication of its series. Given the substance of ATF's arguments for delay,
the Tribune-Herald's decision to go forward with the series is understandable. But had the negotiations been
entrusted to those in ATF with more expertise in media relations, an arrangement that would have been more
suitable to ATF and the Tribune-Herald might have been made.
On the day of the raid itself, media
activity in the vicinity of the Branch Davidian Compound tipped off
Koresh, allowing him to lay his ambush for ATF agents. KWTX and the Tribune-Herald roamed the roads in
the vicinity of the Compound for more than an hour before the raid. A cameraman for KWTX told a local letter
carrier, whom unbeknownst to him was a cult member, that a raid was imminent. The cult member in turn told
Koresh, who then prepared his ambush.
Section Four: The Flawed Decision to Go Forward with the Raid
Part Two, Section Four addresses why
ATF's raid commanders proceeded with the raid even though they
should have realized that the raid had been compromised. The decision to proceed was tragically wrong, not
just in retrospect, but based on what the decisionmakers knew at the time. It is now clear that those
decisionmakers had sufficient information from the undercover agent to conclude that the raid had been
compromised. They learned that Koresh had proclaimed that neither ATF nor the National Guard would ever
get him, and that he had said "They're coming . . . the time has come. They're coming." In addition, the
undercover agent told two of the raid commanders that Koresh "knows we're coming." Moreover, the actions
and statements of certain raid commanders after hearing the undercover agent's report strongly suggest that
they not only had reason to believe, but in fact did believe, that the raid had been compromised. Unfortunately,
their response was to hurry up, rather than consult further with the undercover agent, case agent, surveillance
agents and raid planners, and carefully assess the likely effect of the tip not only on Koresh but also on the
prospects for the raid's success.
Section Four concludes, however, that
the flawed decision to go forward was not simply a matter of bad
judgment by the raid-day decisionmakers. It was, as well, the product of serious deficiencies in the intelligence
gathering and processing structure, poor planning and personnel decisions, and a general failure of ATF
management to check the momentum of the massive operation.
Section Five: Operational Security
Part Two, Section Five examines ATF's
security practices from the beginning of the investigation through
the day of the raid. It discredits certain reports that surfaced shortly after the raid claiming it had been
compromised because ATF failed to maintain adequate security measures. Some actions undertaken by ATF,
however, failed to preserve the secrecy of their investigation and the timing of the raid. The section examines
the security issues and recommends that ATF improve its security practices.
Section Six: Treasury Oversight
The Office of the Assistant Secretary
for Enforcement has oversight responsibility for the Bureau of
Alcohol, Tobacco & Firearms. Although ATF's planned raid on the Branch Davidian Compound had been under
consideration for months, the Office of Enforcement was not advised of the planned raid until fewer than 48
hours before it was to begin. Although the Office of Enforcement's approval was not sought, concerns about the
action caused that office to direct that the raid not go forward. ATF then provided assurances that the raid was
necessary, carefully planned and designed to minimize the risks to all involved. Based on these assurances the
raid was permitted to proceed.
The Office of Enforcement had no regulation
or guideline in place at the time of the raid that required
ATF to notify it, instead, it relied on the discretion and judgment of ATF's bureau head. The responsibility for
ATF's failure to notify the office until fewer than 48 hours before the raid rests with both ATF and the Office
of Enforcement. Given how late in the process the office was notified, there was little opportunity for
meaningful review or evaluation of ATF's planned operation. The office has instituted new guidelines and
regular meetings with enforcement bureau heads to ensure early notification of significant operations that will
permit meaningful oversight and review.
Section Seven: ATF Post-raid Dissemination of Misleading Information
about the Raid and the
This section describes how in the wake
of the tragedy on February 28, the raid commanders and their
superiors in the ATF hierarchy endeavored to answer the call for explanations. Although they had access to the
facts, critical aspects of the information that they provided to the public were misleading or wrong. In
particular, two of the principal raid commanders appear to have engaged in a concerted effort to conceal their
errors in judgment. Their conduct had the effect of wrongfully pointing the finger at a line agent as being
responsible for the failed raid. And ATF's top management, perhaps out of a misplaced desire to protect the
agency from criticism, offered accounts based on those raid commanders' statements, disregarding evidence
that those statements were false. The section also examines the role two of the raid commanders played in the
misleading alteration of the written raid plan after the raid had failed, and their failure to be candid with the
Review when questioned about their role in altering the plan.
Section Eight: National Guard Support
In the aftermath of the raid, questions
were raised about the method by which ATF secured the use of
National Guard helicopters. Specifically, ATF was accused of misleading the National Guard by falsely
representing that evidence of illegal drug activity would be found at the Compound. This section describes how
law enforcement agencies can obtain support from the National Guard and how ATF obtained the use of the
National Guard helicopters in the operation. The section concludes that, although the standards governing what
constitutes a sufficient "drug nexus" to obtain National Guard support need clarification, ATF did not mislead
the National Guard or misrepresent the facts concerning the nexus between the proposed raid and evidence of
Part One Section One: The Probable Cause Investigation
Preliminary Information: Initiation of the ATF Investigation of Koresh and his Followers
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(5), 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
(5) 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
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.)
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
Figure 4: Ammunition seized from Koresh and his followers after the November 1987 shoot out with Roden.
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.
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
Figure 5: The Mag Bag after execution of search warrant.
weapons, including AK-47s, to Koresh.(6) (See Figure 6.) On June 9,
Barber reported that automatic gunfire
was heard recently at the Compound.
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
(6) 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.
Figure 6: AK-47 assault rifle.
Firearms Act weapons.(7) 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
Figure 7: M-16 assault rifle.
(7) 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.
An M-16 CAR kit comprises all component
parts, with the exception of the lower receiver,(8) 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(9) and (2) the illegal
(8) 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).
(9) 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
manufacture and possession of destructive devices, including explosive bombs and explosive grenades and the
materials necessary to produce such items.(10)
The ATF Investigation and Development of Probable Cause to Arrest Koresh
Premises Under his Control
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)
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
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).
(10) 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."
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
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
Figure 9: Typical "pineapple" type grenades.
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.
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
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.(11)
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,
(11) See 18 U.S.C. §922(g)
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 Rodriguez
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
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.
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''(12) and "drop-in sears,"(13) 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.(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.
(12) 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.
(13) 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.
(14) 26 U.S.C. §§5841 and 5845(b); ATF Ruling 81-4.
Section Two: The Decisionmaking Process Leading to Forceful
Execution of Warrants
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
Consideration of Tactical Options
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)(15) 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
(15) 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.
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
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. (16)
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.)(17) After hearing Aguilera describe the
challenge they had before them, the planners began to consider what they deemed the two
(16) 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.
(17) 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.)
principal ways to execute a search warrant: a dynamic entry (raid) or
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.(18)
Interviews with Former Cult Members
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
(18) 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.
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
the day of the raid, the men had built a roof covering more than half of the pit.
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 House
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
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
Figure 19: Photograph of the undercover house.
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.
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 Plan
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
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
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.
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.
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.)
There was also a contingency plan in
case the raid had to be aborted. The cattle trailers could easily take
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 Leadership
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.
Part One Section Three: ATF and the Media Prepare for the Raid
The Waco Tribune-Herald's Investigation of David Koresh and Preparation
of a Series for
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 Media
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 Official
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
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-Herald
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 Publish
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
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-Herald
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
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 24-27
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
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
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
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.(19) 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,
(19) The original raid plan had not provided for this undercover visit, or for the one on the day of the raid.
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.(20)
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
(20) 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.
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.(21)
(21) 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.
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.(22)
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
(22) 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.
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.
Part One Section Four: The Assault On The Compound.
ATF Agents Assemble
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.(23) 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.)
(23) 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
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 Raid
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.)
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.(24)
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.
(24) 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
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.
WHITE BRONCO II
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.
SILVER HONDA ACCORD
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.
WHITE CAVALIER STN WGN
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.
WHITE CAVALIER STN WGN
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.
WHITE BRONCO II
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 . . .
Legend for Figure 28
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 Compound
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.(25) 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
(25) 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.
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
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,
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 Forward
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 Compound
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 Teams
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.
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
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
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 Diversion
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 Arrives
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.
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.
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(26). 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
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
(26) There were many acts of sacrifice and heroism
during the attack on the agents, only some of which can
be recounted here.
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
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.
GUNSHOT RELATED DEATHS SUSTAINED BY ATF ON
FEBRUARY 28, 1993
(according to CA-6 Forms submitted by ATF)
Conway Lebleu NO Death Gunshot
Todd McKeehan NO Death Gunshot
Robert Williams NO Death Gunshot
Steven Willis HOU Death Gunshot
GUNSHOT AND SHRAPNEL RELATED INJURIES SUSTAINED BY ATF ON
FEBRUARY 28, 1993
(according to CA- 1 Forms submitted by ATF)
Clayton Alexander NO
Two gunshot wounds - thigh in left leg;
thigh in right leg
Roland Ballesteros HOU Gunshot
wounds to the hand
Bill Buford NO Gunshot wounds to both legs Gunshot Hillcrest
Samuel Cohen DAL Shrapnel fragments to lower right thigh Shrapnel Hillcrest
Eric Evers HOU Gunshot and shrapnel wounds to chest Gunshot/ Hillcrest
and shoulder area Shrapnel
Mark Handley HOU Shrapnel wounds in right leg Shrapnel Hillcrest
Walter Glen Jordan NO Gunshot wounds to both legs Gunshot Hillcrest
Kenneth King NO Gunshot wounds to arms, chest and legs Gunshot Providence
Mark Murray DAL Buck shot wounds to left shoulder Gunshot N/A*
Gary Orchowski HOU Shrapnel wound to the right hand Shrapnel Hillcrest
Joseph Patterson DAL Shrapnel wounds to right cheek Shrapnel N/A*
Gerald Petrilli DAL Shrapnel wounds to right hand, wrist, Shrapnel Hillcrest
forearms and left upper arm
Clair Rayburn HOU Gunshot wound to the hand Gunshot Hillcrest
John Risenhoover HOU Gunshot wounds to both legs Gunshot Hillcrest
Robert Rowe HOU Shrapnel wounds to right hand; Shrapnel N/A*
large abrasion on face
Michael Russel DAL Wound to back of left
Larry Shiver HOU Multiple shrapnel wounds to left Shrapnel Hillcrest
lower extremity, tissue loss to
left medial calf, soft tissue injury to
Steven Steele DAL Shot in lower lip and left hand; Gunshot Hillcrest
injured lower back and left leg
Robert White DAL Bullet wound to left shoulder, neck Gunshot N/A*
and bruise to right shin
Curtis Williams HOU Bullet fragments and puncture wound Gunshot N/A*
to upper thigh of left leg
*N/A means Not Applicable, treated by EMT at scene, or by private physician.
SERIOUS NON-GUNSHOT RELATED INJURIES SUSTAINED
BY ATF ON
FEBRUARY 28, 1993
(according to CA- 1 Forms submitted by ATF)
Name Team Injury
Keith Constantino NO Broken hip, extensive injuries
Falling from roof Hillcrest
to both knees and legs
Terry Lee Hicks NO Torn ligament between 3rd & 4th Moving for cover N/A*
vertebra in neck; possible ruptured
disk between 7th and 8th vertebra in
neck; bruised or crushed nerve
between 7th and 8th vertebra
OTHER NON-GUNSHOT RELATED INJURIES SUSTAINED
BY ATF ON
FEBRUARY 28, 1993
(according to CA-1 Forms submitted by ATF)
Wendel Frost N/A Ears
subject to extreme noise levels Noise of two .308
causing possible hearing loss highpowered rifles
Felix Garcia N/A Severe irritation to left heel ATF boots N/A*
Steven Jensen HOU Severe back pain - lower back Carrying dead & wounded
and right leg, muscle spasms from scene N/A*
Kenneth Latimer HOU Sprain/pull to right shoulder Warrant execution N/A*
Charles Meyer N/A Rib and back injury on left side Diving for cover N/A*
John Henry Williams HOU Diving for cover Moving for cover N/A*
*N/A means Not Applicable, treated by EMT at scene, or by private physician.
BRANCH DAVIDIAN DEATHS ON FEBRUARY 28,1993
CULT MEMBERS KILLED BY CULT MEMBERS
NAME NUMBER OF WEAPON DISTANCE
WEAPON CALIBER/ LOCATION OF WOUNDS/
WOUNDS TO WOUND (RANGE) TYPE OF AMMUNITION CAUSE OF DEATH
WINSTON BLAKE 1 TWO TO THREE FEET
PETER HIPSMAN 4 (a) ONE TO TWO FT. 9MM WINCHESTER (a) UPPER POSTERIOR
JACKETED HOLLOW NECK
(b) LESS THAN 1 INCH 9MM COPPER JACKETED
SOFT POINT (b) RT. PARIETAL
(c) MORE THAN 4 FT. 9MM COPPER JACKETED
HOLLOW POINT (c) LOWER LEFT
(d) MORE THAN 4 FT. UNKNOWN (NOT
BULLET (a) (d) ENTRY TO POST-
LATERAL ARM W/EXIT
OF ANTEROLATERAL ARM
DEATH DUE TO (a)&(b)
PERRY JONES 1
WEAPON IN MOUTH UNKNOWN
(NOT RECOVERED) GUNSHOT WOUND TO MOUTH
CULT MEMBERS KILLED BY ATF
NAME NUMBER OF WEAPON DISTANCE
WEAPON CALIBER/ LOCATION OF WOUNDS/
WOUNDS TO WOUND (RANGE) TYPE OF AMMUNITION CAUSE OF DEATH
PETER GENT 1
9MM HYDROSHOCK PERFORATION OF AORTA
GUNSHOT TO UPPER LF.
MICHAEL 6 (a)
9MM HYDROSHOCK (a) RT ANTERIOR
(b) DISTANT 9MM HYDROSHOCK (b) RT LOWER FLANK
(c) DISTANT 9MM HYDROSHOCK (c) LEFT THIGH
(d) DISTANT 9MM HYDROSHOCK (d) RT TEMPORAL SCALP
(e) DISTANT UNKNOWN (e) RT SUPRE-AURICULAR
(NOT RECOVERED) REGION-EXIT RT POSTERIOR
(f) DISTANT UNKNOWN (f) GRAZING GUNSHOT
(NOT RECOVERED) WOUND OF THE LEFT CHEST.
DEATH DUE TO MULTIPLE
JAYDEAN 1 DISTANT 9 MM. HYDROSHOCK CRANIOCEREBRAL TRAUMA-
WENDELL GUNSHOT WOUND TO HEAD
BRANCH DAVIDIAN INJURIES SUSTAINED ON FEBRUARY 28,1993
DAVID JONES *GUNSHOT
WOUND TO GLUTEUS MAXIMUS
DAVID KORESH GUNSHOT WOUND TO PELVIC RIM AND LEFT WRIST
JUDY SCHNIEDER *GUNSHOT WOUND TO INDEX FINGER
SCOTT SONOBE *GUNSHOT WOUND TO LEG
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
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.
Part One Section Five: Post-raid Events
Aftermath of the Shoot-Out on February 28
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 Agents
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
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-Out
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 Perimeter
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 FBI
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.(27) 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.
(27) 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.
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.
For part two, click here.