Year
1993

Branch Davidian compound burns

At Mount Carmel in Waco, Texas, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) launches a tear-gas assault on the Branch Davidian compound, ending a tense 51-day standoff between the federal government and an armed religious cult. By the end of the day, the compound was burned to the ground, and some 80 Branch Davidians, including 22 children, had perished in the inferno.

On February 28, 1993, agents of the U.S. Treasury Department’s Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) launched a raid against the Branch Davidian compound as part of an investigation into illegal possession of firearms and explosives by the Christian cult. As the agents attempted to penetrate the complex, gunfire erupted, beginning an extended gun battle that left four ATF agents dead and 15 wounded. Six Branch Davidians were fatally wounded, and several more were injured, including David Koresh, the cult’s founder and leader. After 45 minutes of shooting, the ATF agents withdrew, and a cease-fire was negotiated over the telephone. The operation, which involved more than 100 ATF agents, was one of the largest ever mounted by the bureau and resulted in the highest casualties of any ATF operation.

David Koresh was born Vernon Wayne Howell in Houston, Texas, in 1959. In 1981, he joined the Branch Davidians, a sect of the Seventh Day Adventist Church founded in 1934 by a Bulgarian immigrant named Victor Houteff. Koresh, who possessed an exhaustive knowledge of the Bible, rapidly rose in the hierarchy of the small religious community, eventually entering into a power struggle with the Davidians’ leader, George Roden.

For a short time, Koresh retreated with his followers to eastern Texas, but in late 1987 he returned to Mount Carmel with seven armed followers and raided the compound, severely wounding Roden. Koresh went on trial for attempted murder, but the charge was dropped after his case was declared a mistrial. By 1990, he was the leader of the Branch Davidians and legally changed his name to David Koresh, with David representing his status as head of the biblical House of David, and Koresh standing for the Hebrew name for Cyrus, the Persian king who allowed the Jews held captive in Babylon to return to Israel.

Koresh took several wives at Mount Carmel and fathered at least 12 children from these women, several of whom were as young as 12 or 13 when they became pregnant. There is also evidence that Koresh may have harshly disciplined some of the 100 or so Branch Davidians living inside the compound, particularly his children. A central aspect of Koresh’s religious teachings was his assertion that the apocalyptic events predicted in the Bible’s book of Revelation were imminent, making it necessary, he asserted, for the Davidians to stockpile weapons and explosives in preparation.

Following the unsuccessful ATF raid, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) took over the situation. A standoff with the Branch Davidians stretched into seven weeks, and little progress was made in the telephone negotiations, as the Davidians had stockpiled years of food and other necessities before the raid.

On April 18, U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno approved a tear-gas assault on the compound, and at approximately 6:00 a.m. on April 19 the Branch Davidians were informed of the imminent attack and asked to surrender, which they refused to do. A few minutes later, two FBI combat vehicles began inserting gas into the building and were joined by Bradley tanks, which fired tear-gas canisters through the compound’s windows. The Branch Davidians, many with gas masks on, refused to evacuate, and by 11:40 a.m. the last of some 100 tear-gas canisters was fired into the compound. Just after noon, a fire erupted at one or more locations on the compound, and minutes later nine Davidians fled the rapidly spreading blaze. Gunfire was reported but ceased as the compound was completely engulfed by the flames.

Koresh and at least 80 of his followers, including 22 children, died during the federal government’s second disastrous assault on Mount Carmel. The FBI and the Justice Department maintained there was conclusive evidence that the Branch Davidian members ignited the fire, citing an eyewitness account and various forensic data. Of the gunfire reported during the fire, the government argued that the Davidians were either killing each other as part of a suicide pact or were killing dissenters who attempted to escape the Koresh-ordered suicide by fire. Most of the surviving Branch Davidians contested this official position, as do some critics in the press and elsewhere, whose charges against the ATF and FBI’s handling of the Waco standoff ranged from incompetence to premeditated murder. In 1999, the FBI admitted they used tear-gas grenades in the assault, which have been known to cause fires because of their incendiary properties.

ALSO ON THIS DAY

Central Park jogger attack shocks New York City

On this day in 1989, a 28-year-old female investment banker is severely beaten and sexually assaulted while jogging in New York City’s Central Park. Five teenagers from Harlem were convicted of the crime, which shocked New Yorkers for its randomness and viciousness and became ...read more

First blood in the Civil War

On April 19, 1861, the first blood of the American Civil War is shed when a secessionist mob in Baltimore attacks Massachusetts troops bound for Washington, D.C. Four soldiers and 12 rioters were killed.One week earlier, on April 12, the Civil War began when Confederate shore ...read more

Truck bomb explodes in Oklahoma City

Just after 9 a.m., a massive truck bomb explodes outside the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. The blast collapsed the north face of the nine-story building, instantly killing more than 100 people and trapping dozens more in the rubble. Emergency crews ...read more

Warsaw Ghetto Uprising begins

In Warsaw, Poland, Nazi forces attempting to clear out the city’s Jewish ghetto are met by gunfire from Jewish resistance fighters, and the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising begins.Shortly after the German occupation of Poland began, the Nazis forced the city’s Jewish citizens into a ...read more

First Boston Marathon held

On April 19, 1897, John J. McDermott of New York won the firstBoston Marathonwith a time of2:55:10.The Boston Marathon was the brainchild of Boston Athletic Association member and inaugural U.S. Olympic team manager John Graham, who was inspired by the ...read more

Warsaw ghetto uprising put down

On this day in 1943, Waffen SS attacks Jewish resistance in the Warsaw ghetto.Shortly after the German invasion of Poland, in September 1939, nearly 400,000 Polish Jews were confined to a 3.5-square-mile area that normally housed about 250,000. The “ghetto” was sealed off with a ...read more

Air Force pilot cited for bravery

Over North Vietnam, Air Force Maj. Leo K. Thorsness, from the 357th Tactical Fighter Squadron, and his electronic warfare officer, Capt. Harold E. Johnson, destroy two enemy surface-to-air missile sites, and then shoot down a MiG-17 before escorting search-and-rescue helicopters ...read more

First Boston Marathon run

On April 19, 1897, the first Boston Marathon is run in Boston, Massachusetts. John J. McDermott of New York ran the 24.5-mile course of the all-male event in a winning time of 2:55:10.The first modern marathon was held at the 1896 Olympics in Athens. The 24.8-mile course was ...read more

Jefferson sells servant to Madison

On this day in 1809, former President Thomas Jefferson writes up a contract for the sale of an indentured servant named John Freeman to newly sworn-in President James Madison.Slavery and indentured servitude were major components of the early American economy. Slaves performed ...read more

Wyatt Earp dropped from Wichita police force

A Wichita, Kansas, commission votes not to rehire policeman Wyatt Earp after he beats up a candidate for county sheriff.Born in 1848, Wyatt was one of the five Earp brothers, some of whom became famous for their participation in the shootout at the O.K. Corral in 1881. Before ...read more

Lord Byron dies in Greece

George Gordon Byron, 6th Baron Byron, dies in what is now Greece, where he had traveled to support the Greek struggle for independence from Turkey. Even today, he is considered a Greek national hero.Byron’s scandalous history, exotic travels, and flamboyant life made such an ...read more

My Big Fat Greek Wedding released

As a struggling actress in Hollywood in the early 1990s, Nia Vardalos had been told to hide the fact that she was of Greek heritage, or to pretend that she was Italian, in order to get film roles. Frustrated, she decided to write her own movie to star in, based on her experiences ...read more

Earthquake rocks Guatemala

The last and most powerful in a series of earthquakes rocks Western Guatemala on this day in 1902. More than 2,000 people were killed and 50,000 left homeless by the destruction. The quakes struck the Quezaltenago area in southwestern Guatemala beginning the previous evening. ...read more

Soviet clowns lampoon U.S. foreign policy

At the opening night of the spring edition of the famous Moscow Circus, clowns and magicians fire salvos of jokes aimed at the United States. Although a relatively minor aspect of the total Cold War, the night was evidence that even humor played a role in the battle between the ...read more