Every year, on the anniversary of the Waco siege, I re-post this.
It has been said that without Waco, there wouldn’t have been the Oklahoma City Bombing.
Ever since the Waco siege ended in 1993, I have wanted to visit the site. Over Christmas break, 2010, I got the chance.
by Leon Pantenburg
This post will not evolve into a discussion about who was right or wrong in the 1993 Waco siege situation.
I like going to historical sites. My wife and I walked Pickett’s Charge on the Gettysburg’s battlefield at dusk.
I stood on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, on the spot where one man told about his dream. At the headwaters of the Mississippi River at Lake Itasca, MN, I looked downstream on the tiny creek and wondered where it could take me.
But the ruins of the Branch Davidian compound at Waco stand alone as a unique historical site.
Briefly, according to several internet sources:
The Waco Siege began on February 28, 1993, and ended violently 50 days later on April 19. The siege began when the United States Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) attempted to execute a search warrant at the Branch Davidian ranch at Mount Carmel, a property located nine miles northeast of Waco.
On February 28, shortly after the attempt to serve the warrant, an intense gun battle erupted, lasting nearly 2 hours. In the aftermath of this armed exchange, four agents and six followers of David Koresh were killed. Upon the ATF’s failure to execute the search warrant, a siege was initiated by the FBI.
The siege ended 50 days later when a second assault on the compound was made and a fire destroyed the compound. Seventy-six people (24 of them British nationals) died in the fire, including more than 20 children, two pregnant women, and Koresh himself.
During the Waco siege drama, which was on television every night, I watched in disbelief at federal authorities’ handling of the situation.
I am still appalled that so many children and other, innocent-until-proven-guilty people died. I was shocked at how quickly the forensic evidence, which could have answered many questions, was deliberately obliterated or “lost” by federal authorities.
I always wanted to visit the Mount Carmel site. My sister, Susan, and her family lived outside Waco, and my daughter and I visited them over the Christmas break. The New Mount Carmel Center website indicated the public was welcome to visit the ruins of the Branch Davidian site, so we googled a map, loaded up the kids and drove the 20-odd miles to Mount Carmel.
The scenery along the way is beautiful; it reminded me of parts of Iowa, with the rolling hills, thick stands of timber along the rivers and creeks and black, fertile soil. We ended up at the entrance of the former compound, where several masons were working on a stone entryway. I asked the stone workers if the public was allowed to visit the site, and was assured that we were welcome. There was no admission fee, though donations for maps of the site and building upkeep are accepted. I was told to ask for a man named Charles at the chapel, about a quarter-mile from the entrance.
Charles was talking to a visitor from Georgia at the side of the chapel when I walked up the ramp, and he nodded pleasantly and briefly interrupted his conversation. Charles welcomed me to the site, pointed out key locations and invited us to walk the grounds.
Today, virtually nothing remains of the original Mount Carmel structures. A modern re-built chapel sits on the site of the original compound, and according to Charles, the door is located on the same spot as the former compound entrance.
The side of the chapel, he added, is on the same spot as where the ATF ladders were placed during the initial Feb. 28 assault.
The ruins were bulldozed by the FBI in April, 1993 shortly after the final fire was put out, Charles said, and before forensic evidence could be gathered.
Today, you need a map to figure out where everything happened. In front of the chapel, there is a monument to the Branch Davidian dead, as well as a marker commemorating the four ATF men who lost their lives there, and a stone tablet dedicated to the Oklahoma City victims.
Outside the chapel is a marker welcoming visitors. It says: “(We) declare this tabernacle to be a house of prayer for every nation, kindred, tongue and people.”
Click here for information on the siege from CBS News:
Click here to view the PBS special on Waco. (More Waco photos follow.)
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