The Dallas Morning News
BYLINE:Jennifer Files, Todd J. Gillman
Souvenir sales jump near cult compound as the end becomes clear
WACO -- On Overlook Hill, Bill Powers sold T-shirts while the Branch Davidian compound burned.
The hill -- 3 1/2 miles from the cult compound -- was "more crowded than the State Fair,' said Mr. Powers, a motivational speaker from San Antonio.
As the flames flared and the smoke billowed out, he said, customers for his T-shirts were lined up 10 deep.
"If (David) Koresh would have stayed in there for a year, we could have retired rich,' he said of the cult leader.
The climax of the Waco siege, awaited for so long, was over with unbelievable speed. Armored vehicles moving like a military wrecking crew. Gas being fired into the compound. The flat pops of gunfire.
Then the horrible half-hour of orange flame and black smoke.
When the inferno was over and the compound had been leveled, business was still brisk at a roadside souvenir stand 3 miles down the road. Mugs and bumper stickers were going cheap -- and the tasteless jokes were free.
An almost festive atmosphere reigned at the souvenir stand. Country music blared from a boom box.
The tragic end to the cult standoff can only help his business, said the souvenir stand's operator, Hector Antuna of Kaufman.
"I hate it. It's awful. I feel for the people bad,' said Mr. Antuna, 37. "But someone has to sell something. It's just an honest living.'
He addressed the 24 customers crowded around his tables: "Everyone, we are having a fire sale.'
"Dishwasher, microwave safe,' Mr. Antuna shouted, holding aloft a mug commemorating the standoff. "ATF, FBI approved.'
Among the customers were Jan and David Niesman from Decatur, Ill., who stepped back from the hectic stand for a moment to praise federal agents for taking decisive action.
"I wish they would have gone in and done something a lot sooner,' said Mr. Niesman, a home video camera dangling at his side. "You give someone 52 days, they got a lot of time to plot strategies. I guarantee you what they did today (setting the compound ablaze) was premeditated.'
As Congress and law enforcement officials sort out and second-guess, Mr. Antuna said he expected a sales boom Tuesday.
"People from Dallas are already here. From Fort Worth. Oklahoma . . . ,' he said. "Tomorrow will be killer.'
On the highway, Mr. Powers was still hawking his T-shirts.
He said he's been selling them since March 5, a week after the siege began. He won't say how many he sold or what his profit has been.
"I don't want the IRS to know that,' he said.
"It's become like a street fair. We know it's tragic, but we're all just having fun.'
The Dallas Morning News
BYLINE:George Kuempel, Lee Hancock
Authorities say sect members are solely at fault for fatal fire
WACO -- The inferno that roared through the Branch Davidian compound Monday was the cruel, final act of cult leader David Koresh, federal authorities said.
Here and in Washington, top law enforcement officials insisted that the FBI's activities did not ignite the blaze. Instead, they said, it was Mr. Koresh's fulfillment of his prophecy that the 51-day standoff would end ruinously.
"I have absolutely no doubt at all that the cult members set it,' Attorney General Janet Reno said in Washington of the fire. She defended the FBI's efforts to end the siege peacefully by gassing people inside the compound.
"What we were told was that it could go on indefinitely, and we have to make the best judgment we can make as to what is in the interests . . . particularly of those children,' Ms. Reno said. "It was our earnest hope that we could try to negotiate without endangering human life to get those children out as soon as possible.'
FBI Agent Bob Ricks, one of the agency's commanders in Waco, said aerial surveillance and the accounts of FBI snipers on the ground made it clear that the fire was deliberately set by people who were in the compound.
"I can't tell you the shock and horror that all of us felt when we saw those flames,' Agent Ricks said. "It was, "Oh my God. They're killing themselves.' . . . We did not want this to occur.'
He said the blaze appeared to have been started in three spots. It spread through the compound -- a collection of flimsy frame buildings -- almost instantaneously.
The first wisps of smoke were seen wafting from the windows about 12:10 p.m. At 12:18, a huge explosion sent an orange ball of flame shooting skyward. Two minutes later, the upper floor of the compound was engulfed in flames.
"He wanted to have as many people killed in that complex as possible,' Agent Ricks said.
Nine people were known to have survived the blaze. Mr. Koresh said previously that there were 95 people inside. Neither the cult leader nor any of the 17 young children believed to have been holed up with him were among the survivors, officials said.
"We can only assume that there was a massive loss of life,' Agent Ricks said. "It was truly an inferno of flames. Unfortunately, we have to assume that the children probably are also dead.' Statements from survivors indicated that Mr. Koresh told them the children had been secured in a bunker. After the fire burned down to where agents could approach safely, firefighters doused the underground bunker with water, hoping to find living children. But authorities found only a few bodies -- probably the bodies of those killed in the Feb. 28 raid, Agent Ricks said.
A list of the dead was not completed Monday. Agent Ricks said that effort was stalled by small explosions, possibly from caches of smoldering ammunition, that continued to pop inside the compound throughout the afternoon.
After nightfall Monday, the glaring spotlights that agents had previously trained on the compound were again flipped on, this time illuminating only the empty prairie.
Agent Ricks said one survivor told authorities that just before the flames erupted, someone inside the compound shouted: "The fire has been lit. The fire has been lit.' Another survivor "heard discussions of using lantern fuel' to accelerate the blaze's spread, the agent said.
He said that one FBI agent outside the buildings reported seeing a black-uniformed cult member wearing a gas mask and kneeling with his hands cupped. Flames then appeared to erupt from the cult member's hands, he said.
When the fire broke out, the FBI was trying to force the cult members into surrendering by flooding the compound with an irritant gas.
"We were hoping . . . that the women in the compound would grab those children and flee,' Agent Ricks said.
Shortly after 6 a.m., agents used armored vehicles to bash large holes in the compound's walls.
Agent Ricks said that the gas was "nonpyrotechnic' and that it was being delivered with a hose and compressed air, rather than in an explosive canister, to avoid the possibility of a fire.
"The gas had absolutely nothing to do with the fire that occurred at that compound,' he said.
The chemical agent in the gas is an irritant known as CS, named for its British inventors, B.B. Corson and R.W. Stoughton. It is delivered in fine crystals, resembling talcum powder or flour. Dissolved in liquid, it is used to make products such as Mace.
The chemical has a peppery odor and severely stings the skin, eyes, nose and throat.
By attacking the mucous membranes, CS can also cause a runny nose, cough, tightness in the chest and dizziness. Doses can incapacitate a person for five to 10 minutes.
Its chemical name is orthochlorobenzalmalononitrile.
The irritant was developed in 1928 and later adopted for use by the U.S. Army. Police departments used it for riot control during the 1960s.
Agent Ricks defended the FBI's decision not to have firetrucks standing by when the bureau began its tear-gas assault on the sect members. The first firetrucks, from Waco and nearby Mart, arrived at the compound about a half hour after the first puffs of smoke were visible.
The FBI agent said gunshots early Monday morning from inside the compound -- 75 to 80 rounds -- meant firefighters would have been endangered if they were in the area.
FBI agents were protected inside armored vehicles. But firetrucks "were not equipped to withstand the gunfire that was in that compound,' he said.
The makeshift nature of the compound -- built over the years by cult members -- may have hastened the fire's spread and exacerbated its killing power.
"We believe it is poorly constructed,' Agent Ricks said before the blaze. "If we wanted to knock the buildings down, we could probably do it in less than an hour.'
The flames did so, in much less time.
Staff writers Rachel Boehm, Jennifer Nagorka and Bruce Tomaso and The Associated Press contributed to this report.
The Dallas Morning News
BYLINE:Diane Jennings, Nancy Kruh
Waco embarrassed by image presented throughout world
`We're not all crazy,' resident says
WACO -- For seven weeks, Waco hoped for an end to its image problem. But the end, when it came, was a flaming horror that none had expected.
The worldwide link-age of Waco to the Branch Davidian cult barricaded outside the city limits was a public relations nightmare, many residents said. But the fiery death of the cult on live TV was not the way anyone here wanted the standoff to end.
"You want to hope it stops here,' said Donna Brown, secretary at St. Mary's Catholic School. "Among people wanting to move here, there's bound to be some who wonder, is it a safe place to live? They (the Waco Chamber of Commerce) are going to have to have a strong pitch to get over and around this.'
"We're not all nuts,' said Wilma Sosbe, a receptionist at the Heart of Texas Council of Governments. She said she was disappointed that her home had been associated with the cult leader for so long. "We're not all crazy. I think Waco is taking a very bad rap.'
At the Bill Daniel Student Center on the Baylor University campus, students straggled by the two televisions tuned to the news coverage.
"It was horrible,' said senior Trista Long, who was watching TV when the compound caught fire.
Though the confrontation is over, the effects on Waco's reputation will not vanish so quickly, she said.
"I remember an article in the London Times,' she said. "It said the cuisine ranged from hamburgers and cheese-burgers, and Wal-Mart was the place to buy clothes.
"I've really enjoyed Waco,' said the 21-year-old education major. "I've hated to see Waco get a rap for this.'
Weidong Duan, a 30-year-old graduate student from China, was transfixed by the news coverage.
"I will never believe the FBI didn't know David Koresh would choose suicide,' said the geology student. "They knew what would happen today. If they'd taken more time and had more patience, we could have had a peaceful end to this.'
Lawyer John Hand, a Waco native, had counted a member of the Branch Davidians among his friends.
Mr. Hand said that fellow lawyer Wayne Martin "was as mild-mannered as he could be. Knowing him the way I did, I thought he'd protect the children.'
At a hastily convened news conference, Waco Mayor Bob Sheehy pointed out that the Branch Davidian compound was "well outside the city limits.'
When asked whether the city could rebound from the sometimes negative recent image, he answered sharply, "Yes. Just simply yes.'
Waco is a friendly, open-hearted town, Mr. Sheehy said. "Those things were here before -- they're still here.'
In the aftermath of the tragedy, the Greater Waco Chamber of Commerce postponed its annual membership banquet, one of its biggest events of the year.
"It's difficult to be relieved when you've got so much of a loss of life out there,' said chamber president Jack Stewart. "We've been hoping and praying for a peaceful solution.'
Leon Willhite, executive director of the Heart of Texas Council of Governments, said Waco's image as the buck-le of the Bible Belt will require some polishing in the wake of this peculiarly religious tragedy.
"It's something we'll have to rebound and work on.' he said.
But Joe Cavanaugh, director of the Dr Pepper Museum, suggested that people might view Waco differently than they have in the past.
"If anything, it's put a focus on Waco as a city that's open to religious toleration,' he said, "which is an all-American viewpoint.'
For seven weeks, health-care worker Alan Smith said he heard people say how glad they would be when the stalemate ended.
"I've heard that over and over,' he said while watching news reports of the compound engulfed in flames. "But nobody wanted to see it end this way.'
The Dallas Morning News
Cult's actions no surprise to religious experts
Biblical imagery of fire, expression of faith suggested
In the end, the apparently suicidal fire that killed most of the Branch Davidian sect came as no surprise to religious scholars who had been following the standoff with federal agents.
"What a tragedy. What a tragedy,' said Dr. Lonnie D. Kliever, a professor of religious studies at Southern Methodist University.
"The reaction of the people inside the compound was predictable from the first attack on them,' he said, referring to the Feb. 28 raid on the cult compound in which four federal agents were killed.
And the way the end came -- by fire -- carries a strong symbolic meaning throughout the Bible:
God destroyed the enemies of ancient Israel by fire. And God was manifested by appearing before Moses as a burning bush on Mount Sinai.
"The idea that God in his transcendence is so holy . . . that he shows himself in the phenomena of nature, particularly fire,' said Dr. Eugene H. Merrill, professor of Old Testament at Dallas Theological Seminary.
But he warned against using any biblical justification -- or even parallels -- for cult leader David Koresh's actions.
"We're looking at a twisted mind,' he said, adding that "we have to wait to see who set the fire.'
Federal authorities said Monday that they were certain that the Branch Davidians set the blaze and that most willingly stayed inside. They said they believe Mr. Koresh ordered the action, although it isn't clear who actually carried out the mandate.
Mr. Koresh's theological rantings for nearly seven weeks received such widespread publicity that they could not be ignored. At various times, he claimed to be Christ, the Lamb of God or various figures in Jewish history.
There are numerous references to fire in the Bible, and he relied heavily on apocalyptic sections.
These books predict that the end of the world will come in a consuming fire that will destroy the wicked and save the virtuous -- who, in some prophetic literature, will join Christ for a 1,000-year rule on earth.
Fiery imagery abounds in the books of Ezekiel and Daniel in the Hebrew Bible, and the Book of Revelation in the New Testament.
Take Revelation 8:1-5. In these verses, the Lamb of God opens the seventh seal as an angel stands at the altar in heaven holding a golden censer, burning incense for all the saints in heaven.
"Then the angel took the censer and filled it with fire from the altar and threw it onto the earth; and there were peals of thunder, rumblings, flashes of lightning and an earthquake.'
The mass suicide brings to mind not just biblical imagery but also the Jonestown tragedy 15 years ago, in which more than 900 followers of Jim Jones died from drinking cyanide-laced drink in Guyana.
Mr. Jones even practiced suicide drills using a poisoned soft-drink mix -- or "white knights,' as he called them. He told his followers that the suicides would be a symbolic protest against an evil world. Their lives would be transformed, the cult leader said, and they would live with him eternally.
The suicides occurred hours after U.S. Rep. Leo Ryan of California and four others investigating the cult were ambushed and killed.
Although there are some parallels, Dr. Kliever noted a major difference.
"The Jonestown suicides were a pre-emptive strike against perceived enemies,' he said. But the professor added that the Branch Davidians' suicides appear to have been "a reactive strike against a real threat.'
The fire outside Waco was set after federal agents rammed the Mount Carmel compound with tanks and pumped in tear gas. Authorities said they had hoped only to prompt the cult members to surrender.
Where the two mass suicides are similar, according to some scholars, is that they both show an all-or-nothing approach to the outside world -- and the government.
The cult followers believe that they are good and the world is evil.
By self-immolation, "they are making a statement to the world,' said Dr. James Breckenridge, who teaches a course on cults at Baylor University in Waco. "They are saying, "You are not worthy to take us into your custody.' '
Dr. Kliever of SMU said that these millennialist religious groups "take very literally the description of the end of the world in the Book of Revelation.'
The Davidians "chose either fight or flight,' he said. The first time they fired their weapons at federal agents, and the second time they opted for a "radical kind of flight in terms of self-immolation.'
The Dallas Morning News
FBI says cult torched compound; 26 believed dead Blaze follows attempt by authorities to drive out sect with tear gas
WACO -- The Branch Davidian compound became a hell on Earth Monday as David Koresh ordered his followers to set fire to their home, federal officials said. An estimated 86 sect members, including 17 children, were believed to have died in the blaze.
As federal agents and a stricken public watched helplessly, the wooden structure was consumed by a wind-driven wall of orange flames.
The fire began shortly after noon, about six hours after federal agents started bashing holes in sections of the compound and filling it with non-flammable tear gas.
Nine cult members escaped the conflagration, said federal officials. No bodies had been recovered Monday night.
FBI officials said they "have not been able to confirm' that Mr. Koresh, the self-styled messiah who led the sect, was among the dead, but added that they did not expect to find additional survivors.
"We can only assume that there was a massive loss of life,' said FBI Agent Bob Ricks. "It was truly an inferno of flames.
"We did not introduce fire into this compound. David Koresh, we believe, gave the order to commit suicide, and they all followed willingly his order.'
Among religious groups, only the mass suicide in 1978 by People's Temple members in Jones-town, Guyana -- in which more than 900 people died -- claimed more lives than Monday's tragedy. In 1985, 11 members of the cult MOVE died after Philadelphia authorities dropped explosives on their headquarters.
"This is what we hoped would never happen,' said Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms spokesman Jack Killorin in Washington. "We dared on February 28th to try to take the compound in the way that we did because of this, because of this end.'
The siege began after four ATF agents were killed and 16 were wounded during a 45-minute firefight that erupted when they tried to serve a search warrant on the compound and a federal arrest warrant on Mr. Koresh. The federal government said it had information that the cult leader had illegal automatic weapons and possibly explosives.
The ensuing seven weeks were a roller coaster of hopes raised and then dashed by Mr. Koresh. Several times the cult leader thumbed his nose at authorities by promising to surrender, then mocking those promises.
Agent Ricks revealed Monday that one surrender offer, on March 2, almost culminated in a public suicide by Mr. Koresh. But he said the cult leader "chickened out' on a plan to blow himself up with grenades. Mr. Koresh later said God had instructed him to wait for a message before surrendering.
At a Monday afternoon briefing, Agent Ricks released the names of nine survivors from among the 95 men, women and children believed to have been inside the compound. The youngest survivor was 16.
Four people who escaped the compound were hospitalized with burns and broken bones; three were flown to Parkland Memorial Hospital in Dallas. The five other survivors were being held in the McLennan County Jail, ATF officials said.
Fire's been lit'
The blaze, which erupted about 12:05 p.m. and engulfed the compound within minutes, shocked officials at the scene.
"I can't tell you the shock and the horror that all of us felt when we saw those flames coming out,' Agent Ricks said. "We thought, "Oh my God, they are killing themselves.' '
He emphasized that the tear gas that agents sprayed into the building was not flammable and was delivered by compressed air hoses rather than explosive devices.
One person who escaped the compound told investigators that he had overheard cult members making plans to splash lantern fuel throughout the complex, Agent Ricks said.
He said another survivor reported hearing someone inside yell: "The fire's been lit. The fire's been lit.'
He said one FBI agent reported seeing a black-uniformed cult member wearing a gas mask and kneeling with his hands cupped near a second-story window. The agent said flames erupted from the area around the individual's hands, Agents Ricks said.
Agent Ricks said the fire appeared to be set in three locations, including Mr. Koresh's quarters on the second floor. The flames touched off at least three explosions throughout the compound, he said.
The largest blast appeared to come from the tower room where officials believe the sect kept its cache of weapons.
"I had hoped to report that today's careful and humane efforts by the FBI and ATF agents to bring the Branch Davidians out of their compound had resulted in a peaceful resolution of the standoff,' FBI Director William Sessions said in a statement read by Agent Ricks.
"Instead, we are faced with destruction and death. However, I have no question that our plan was correct and was conducted with professionalism,' he said.
In Washington, Attorney General Janet Reno took responsibility for the decision to step up pressure on the embattled cult with aggressive tactics.
"I made the decision. I'm accountable; the buck stops with me,' Ms. Reno said Monday afternoon at a Justice Department news conference.
The White House issued a statement late Monday afternoon in which President Clinton defended the FBI's actions. "I told the attorney general to do what she thought was right, and I stand by that decision,' he said.
Ms. Reno said she knew there was a risk that Mr. Koresh would order a mass suicide rather than surrender.
"Obviously, if I thought the chances were great of a mass suicide, I would not have approved the plan,' she said. "Everything that we were told, every indication -- reactions to the pressure up to that point -- was that that would not occur.'
Agent Ricks also said Mr. Koresh had repeatedly assured the FBI and the cult leader's attorney that he did not intend to end his life.
Tear gas warning
Monday's gas attacks began around 6 a.m., about 10 minutes after negotiators warned cult members by telephone that they would be gassed if they did not immediately surrender.
Agent Ricks said cult member Steve Schneider responded to the warning by hanging up the phone and throwing it out of the building.
Cult members fired on the armored vehicles, Agent Ricks said, but no government personnel were seriously injured in the assault, adding that federal agents did not return fire.
After the gas attacks began, he said, one individual waved what appeared to be a white flag at federal agents, but there were no attempts at surrender before the fire broke out.
Even as the complex became engulfed in flames, "a man on the roof was spotted and signaled that he did not want to be rescued,' Agent Ricks said.
"A woman in flames was seen coming out of the compound and tried to run back into the building. An FBI agent exited his armored vehicle, ran toward the building and physically rescued the female despite her attempts to fight him off,' he said.
The cult's compound included a tunnel system, an underground bunker and firing range.
Agent Ricks said Monday that much of the tunnel system was believed to have been inundated by recent rains and that other underground areas were unusable because they were filled with the group's excrement and other refuse.
Agent Ricks said the gas attack was the FBI's next "logical step' in ratcheting up pressure on the group, and he stressed that FBI agents were not entering the compound or trying to destroy it.
"We are using the ultimate amount of restraint,' he said.
Tarrant County medical examiners will perform autopsies to identify the bodies of cult members and determine how they died. However, authorities said it probably would be at least Tuesday morning before the embers cooled sufficiently to let them begin retrieving bodies.
More than 200 ATF agents were in the Waco area Monday night, charged with securing the 77-acre compound site, Mr. Killorin said.
Between 4 and 5 p.m., Texas Rangers performed a cursory sweep of the ruined compound after ATF explosives specialists probed the area for booby traps, he said. They were expected to begin processing the crime scene Tuesday morning after ATF specialists make a detailed sweep for explosives, an ATF official said.
The Rangers did see some bodies in the compound's wreckage, the official said.
What led to raid
The ATF said the Feb. 28 raid followed an eight-month investigation of the Branch Davidians that produced evidence that the group had amassed more than $280,000 in assault rifles, explosives and other firearms, including two .50-caliber sniper rifles.
Some independent tactical experts have questioned the planning and execution of the raid. A handful of agents have complained anonymously that their superiors ordered them into the compound even after they knew the cult had been tipped off by a phone call.
ATF officials have staunchly defended the raid but have acknowledged that they lost the element of surprise crucial to their raid plan.
"It all gets back to: Who the hell told those folks we were coming?' Mr. Killorin said Monday. "All we know is we needed one minute of surprise, and we didn't get it.'
Twenty-one children and 16 adults left the compound during the first days of the standoff. Nearly all those adults remain in custody, and five have been charged with federal offenses, including conspiracy to murder federal officers.
About three weeks ago, Mr. Koresh had again raised hopes for a surrender when he began talking with Dick De-Guerin, a lawyer retained by the cult leader's mother. Mr. De-Guerin and Jack Zimmermann, a Houston lawyer retained to represent Mr. Schneider, eventually met several times with cult members inside the compound. They emerged with promises that the group intended to surrender after the Branch Davidians' Passover holiday, which ended last week.
However, Agent Ricks said the FBI had information that Mr. Koresh considered the meetings with the attorneys "a fiasco.'
Monday's fire came as no surprise to one person who had analyzed Mr. Koresh's apocalyptic teachings in detail.
"It was always ordained that David and his followers must die,' said Frank Leahy.
Mr. Leahy is a private investigator in Waco who has access to taped conversations recorded over the past year in which Mr. Koresh details his religious beliefs.
Mr. Leahy's analysis, which he provided to the FBI earlier this month, led him to conclude that the cult leader anticipated a fiery end. The Bible is sprinkled with prophecies of flaming wrath for God's enemies. Mr. Koresh made the same threat last week in a letter to officials.
Mr. Leahy also predicted that the standoff would end after the seventh week, in accordance with prophecy. He said Mr. Koresh would be expecting an angel to appear at that point to direct his actions. Mr. Leahy said FBI agents told him Sunday night they were preparing to attack the compound.
He said one agent told him, "We're going to be the angel.'
Staff writers Victoria Loe and Anne Marie Kilday contributed to this report.
The Dallas Morning News
Cult members' families seek answers to tragedy
`I just can't comprehend it,' relative says
CORRECTIONS, CLARIFICATIONS: On Page 1A Tuesday, it was reported incorrectly that Molly Sonobe, the mother of Branch Davidian member Scott Sonobe, said her son and David Koresh's other followers deserved to die. Mrs. Sonobe, whose English is heavily accented, said that she had said they did not deserve to die. (Ran: Wednesday, April 21, 1993)
Monday's horror was only the end of years of pain for families of some Branch Davidians.
As they waited to learn whether their relatives survived the inferno that consumed the sect's compound, they wondered again at the incomprehensible force that had wrested their loved ones from them.
"I just don't know what this David Koresh has done to this group of people,' said Gail Magee, whose sister, Lorraine Sylvia, and Ms. Sylvia's 13- and 2-year-old daughters were inside the compound.
"To think that they could stay in a burning building with children -- I just can't comprehend it.'
Mr. Koresh's mother, Bonnie Haldeman of Chandler, Texas, remained unwilling Monday night to give up hope that some of those missing in the rubble might yet be alive.
"Today's events have been most disturbing to everyone in our family,' she said in a prepared statement read by a man who identified himself only as a family friend. "We are very concerned about our son, daughter-in-law, three grandchildren and everybody in the compound.
"There are many questions which have not been answered, and we are praying that in the coming hours, we might see more people emerge safely,' Mrs. Haldeman said.
Mr. Koresh's grandmother, Jean Holub of Houston, rejected allegations that sect members started the fire. "No, no way,' she told The Associated Press. "He wouldn't do that to those children.'
But Ms. Magee, who lives in Massachusetts, blamed Mr. Koresh.
"I think the FBI waited as long as they possibly could,' she said. "I don't think David Koresh would ever have come out. He's just a liar.'
Neither her family nor any others who could be reached for comment had been notified that their relatives were dead. However, their names were not among the survivors listed Monday afternoon at an FBI news briefing.
"We're in a waiting game,' Ms. Magee said. "I hate it.'
For a few others, the waiting was over. After 51 days, Balenda Ganem did what most mothers take for granted. She spoke on the telephone to her son David Thibodeaux, one of a handful of cult members who escaped the burning compound.
It didn't matter to Ms. Ganem that her son was in police custody Monday afternoon nor that the phone call was cut short by authorities. What mattered to her was that she finally got the opportunity to do what she set out to do since she first arrived in Waco from Maine weeks ago.
"He didn't say anything that you would understand,' she told reporters gathered outside her hotel. "We re-established our relationship with each other. I had not spoken directly with him for seven or eight weeks, and now he knows I am here.' Ms. Ganem was thankful her son escaped the compound inferno but saddened over losing her daughter-in-law and three grandchildren.
"I will probably not be able to spend a waking moment of my life without thinking of my son's wife' and the grandchildren, she said, fighting back tears. "I am angry with David Koresh and with authorities for not allowing family involvement from the beginning.
"We wanted our tapes and letters to be broadcast rather than the screaming animals and music they (authorities) played. We felt what they needed was real family contact. We feel we did not get the opportunity to know if our influence might have had a more positive outcome. Now, we will never know.'
Molly Sonobe of Hawaii, whose son, Scott, and daughter-in-law, Floracita, were inside the compound, was philosophical as she waited.
"He deserved it,' she said of her son, who, she said, had ignored repeated pleas to leave the sect.
"The boy wouldn't listen,' she said. "He was brainwashed.'
She and her husband were content to gain temporary custody of their two grandchildren, she said. The children were at school Monday. Mrs. Sonobe said she plans to tell them nothing until she receives official word of their parents' fate.
Ms. Magee said her family, too, had tried to get her sister to leave the Branch Davidians.
"The more we tried to get her out of it, the more she tried to get us into it,' she said.
She said the sect's apocalyptic teachings gave the family "this awful, doomsday feeling,' but "you dismiss those things as kind of crackpot.
"We never thought it was ever, ever going to end like this,' she said.
Ms. Magee said her sister joined the Branch Davidians before Mr. Koresh took control of the sect. When he did, she said, Ms. Sylvia became increasingly remote, returning all her family photos. The greatest tragedy, Ms. Magee said, is that most sect members were seeking only to lead a godly life.
"They're so sincere,' she said. "David Koresh made a mockery of everything the people believed in. That's what hurts so much.'
For now, she said, her family's most pressing concern is getting custody of her sister's son, who was released from the compound and is in the care of child-welfare workers in Waco.
"My first concern right now is to get that little boy here,' she said. "That's the only thing that's been keeping us going.'
Ms. Ganem, Mr. Thibodeaux's mother, described cult members as "extremely innocent people' who got caught up in Mr. Koresh's rhetoric -- themselves "completely misunderstood' victims.
"He took control of these people's lives and put them in this situation,' she said. "My son is very strong in his faith. He is very determined to bear what he needs to bear. He's got a long way to go to clear some of the debris from his mind.'
Staff writers Nora Lopez and Todd J. Gillman in Waco contributed to this report.
The Dallas Morning News
BYLINE:Anne Marie Kilday, Kathy Lewis
FBI plan had Reno's approval Goal was to force talks or evacuation, she says
WASHINGTON -- Attorney General Janet Reno took full responsibility Monday for the FBI actions that resulted in the apparent mass suicide of followers of Branch Davidian sect leader David Koresh.
"I approved the plan and I am responsible for it,' the attorney general told reporters at the Justice Department, which oversees the FBI.
Ms. Reno called the events near Waco "an extraordinarily tragic and horrible situation.'
The FBI plan to "put pressure' on Mr. Koresh and his followers inside their compound had been under consideration for about a week, Ms. Reno said. By Monday, the 51st day of the siege, the situation appeared to be reaching a crisis, she said, citing reports that Mr. Koresh was beating babies.
"We had information . . . that babies were being beaten,' she said. "I specifically asked, "You really mean babies?' (and the reply was) "Yes, that he's slapping babies around.' '
"These are concerns that we had,' she said.
Ms. Reno said she informed President Clinton about the FBI plan "over the weekend' and that he said, "OK.'
The White House issued a statement late Monday afternoon in which Mr. Clinton defended the FBI's actions.
"I told the attorney general to do what she thought was right, and I stand by that decision,' the president said.
Ms. Reno said the FBI's plan was designed to either "induce serious negotiations or the evacuation of the compound' with limited risks to sect members and federal agents.
The standoff began Feb. 28, when four agents of the Treasury Department's Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms were killed in a raid on the sect's headquarters.
In its deliberations, Ms. Reno said, the FBI considered the possibility that its plan -- ramming the compound with armored vehicles and spraying tear gas inside -- might prompt Mr. Koresh and his followers to commit mass suicide.
But she said law enforcement officials did not believe that would happen.
"Obviously, if I thought the chances were great of a mass suicide, I never would have approved the plan. Everything that we were told, every indication -- reactions to the pressure up to that point -- was that would not occur,' she said.
Ms. Reno said she had carefully reviewed the FBI's plan, to the extent of consulting with doctors about tear gas to ensure that there would be no lasting health effects on those inside the compound.
About six hours after law enforcement officials launched their efforts, the sect headquarters erupted in flames. FBI officials said agents with high-powered rifle scopes observed sect members setting fires at opposite ends of the compound.
"I have absolutely no doubt at all that the cult members set it, based on all the information that has been presented to me,' Ms. Reno said.
The blaze reduced the compound to a smoking ruin in less than an hour.
White House press secretary Dee Dee Myers said the president "expressed sadness at the events today in Waco, particularly at the apparent deaths of the children.'
According to White House communications director George Stephanopoulos, Mr. Clinton raised no objections to the FBI's plans when they were presented over the weekend.
"Of course, the president takes responsibility for what's done in his government, but it is under the operational control of the Justice Department,' Mr. Stephanopoulos said.
Although White House aides said Mr. Clinton did not directly authorize the FBI actions, he did not overrule them.
"Had he raised objections, I'm certain that that may have had an effect on the decision. But the Justice Department clearly has the authority,' Mr. Stephanopoulos said.
"He's clearly relying on the judgment of the FBI and the attorney general, and he's combining that with his own judgment as the options are presented to him,' he said.
Mr. Clinton received periodic reports from the FBI throughout the day Monday and was monitoring the situation closely, Mr. Stephanopoulos said.
Asked about reports that the White House previously had rejected various FBI plans to end the stalemate, Mr. Stephanopoulos said the Justice Department had the authority to use its best judgment in handling the situation.
"Avoiding loss of life is implicit in using best judgment,' he said.
Ms. Reno played down speculation that she was taking heat for the White House over the unexpected "mass suicides.'
"I made the decision. I am accountable,' she said. "I don't do spin stuff. I'm telling you what happened.'
Later on CNN's Larry King Live, the attorney general said she would welcome congressional investigations of the events in Waco.
"I think one of the reasons that I have to be accountable to people and be willing to answer questions is so that everybody will understand that there is no cover-up.'
The Dallas Morning News
BYLINE:Ken Parish Perkins
Television news showed horror of destruction
Viewers watch live broadcast of fire ravaging compound
Television news, ready, willing and waiting for the past 51 days, gave viewers a front row seat Monday in the standoff between cult leader David Koresh and federal officials.
The pictures were ghoulish and shocking. Viewers, some calling television stations to object to the images, watched live as a wind-driven fire burned the Branch Davidians' frame compound to the ground.
As anchors delivered conflicting reports -- did two cult members confess to torching the building? Was that eight survivors or 30? -- field reporters scrambled to answer the questions. Did Mr. Koresh burn to death? Were there children still inside the house?
All three local affiliates, Channels 4, 5 and 8, stayed with the story through live reports, using pairs of anchors in the studio and reporters in the field who tried to explain to viewers what they were seeing. CNN reported live all day from Waco. CBS, NBC and ABC broke into regular programming across the country for about an hour after the fire started.
Locally, Channel 5 took the early lead, going on the air at 6:07 a.m., minutes after the assault began. News director Dave Overton said the station had learned of the FBI's plans late Sunday night.
"We just had a source that told us something might happen,' Mr. Overton said. "We sent a full crew there and waited. We knew it was going to happen. We just didn't know when.'
When it did, viewers watched as an armored vehicle smashed through doors, walls and windows to insert tear gas. Flames first appeared from a second floor window around noon. With winds gusting to 35 mph, fire spread quickly, engulfing the building in less than 30 minutes.
"This is a devastating fire,' said Brad Watson, who was anchoring Channel 8's coverage. "How can anyone survive these flames?'
Mr. Overton defended using footage of the burning building and its gruesome images repeated over and over in taped replays.
"There was no second-guessing at all,' Mr. Overton said. "Especially while it was happening. It was a tragic situation. We all agree on that. But we were all in the same boat when the smoke started coming out. We felt it was important that we stayed with it.
"In 20/20 hindsight, we might have done something differently. But sitting here right now, I can't imagine what that would be.'
Many interviews triggered heartfelt responses. Bonnie Haldeman, Mr. Koresh's mother, told CNN's Bonnie Anderson that the government agents "said they wouldn't do anything drastic. That they would let him write his book. I was surprised. It scares me because those are not bad people in there.'
But the most gripping came from FBI spokesman Bob Ricks, who said during an afternoon press conference that dozens of people were killed.
"And what about the children?' shouted one reporter.
"We have to assume,' Agent Ricks said, "that they're dead.'
The Dallas Morning News
BYLINE:Todd J. Gillman
Evidence for many cases burned with compound, lawyer says
FBI declines to assess damage to investigation, says other proof was saved before fire
WACO -- With the incineration of the Branch Davidian compound Monday, invaluable evidence in numerous criminal cases went up in smoke, said a lawyer who had played a prominent role in talks aimed at ending the siege peacefully.
"I can't think of any worse result than this, can you?' said Jack Zimmermann of Houston.
"Even for the people that survived. All the physical evidence that could help in their defense, all the witnesses, are gone.'
The FBI declined to comment on the effect of the fire on the federal investigation of the Branch Davidians but has said that other evidence preserved earlier will aid in the prosecutions.
Mr. Zimmermann had been representing Steve Schneider, the chief lieutenant to cult leader David Koresh. Mr. Schneider, and the man he regarded as his messiah, were among those unaccounted for and presumed dead after the midday conflagration that reduced the compound to smoking ash.
The case against them may now be moot.
But more than a dozen adults were released from the cult compound in the weeks since Feb. 28, when four agents of the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms were killed in a shootout with cult members.
Most of those adults face federal criminal charges, ranging from attempted murder and conspiracy to murder a federal agent to possession of a firearm and obstructing the duties of a police officer.
Despite the destruction of the wood-frame compound, authorities said, they already have secured valuable evidence from the scene. And, they added, they'll glean more in coming days.
On Sunday, for example, cars parked in front of the compound's main doors were carefully towed away by tanks to preserve whatever evidence they may hold, FBI Agent Bob Ricks said. The cars were parked in the area where most of the shooting occurred on Feb. 28.
The FBI earlier photographed the compound before moving some of the cars, especially in areas where the initial gunbattle occurred.
Authorities are to begin combing methodically through the remains of the compound Tuesday.
"It is still a crime scene, and certain things will have to be preserved,' Agent Ricks said Monday.
The ATF has previously said that agents videotaped the Feb. 28 raid and shootout. That tape has not been released, but a Waco television station also recorded and broadcast part of the shooting.
The FBI, moreover, is believed to have tape-recorded scores of hours of telephone negotiations with Mr. Koresh, Mr. Schneider and other members of the cult, and whatever admissions those tapes include have been preserved.
Still, a legal expert said authorities may never be able to answer definitively the question that brought them down a dusty road outside Waco in the first place: Were Mr. Koresh and his adherents were stockpiling illegal weaponry?
"On the possession of illegal weapons violations, it (the destruction of the compound) is going to be harmful unless they get some oral testimony and statements' from survivors, said Baylor University law professor Brian Serr.
Allegations that the cult had collected illegal weapons was one of the reasons for the February raid.
Dick DeGuerin, who had been hired to represent Mr. Koresh, said: "It's going to be a difficult case for both sides.'
Staff writers Lee Hancock and Bruce Tomaso and The Associated Press contributed to this report.
The Dallas Morning News
Cultists' lawyers accuse FBI of precipitating violent ending They say sect leaders had agreed to peaceful resolution to siege
WACO -- The attorneys for cult leader David Koresh and one of his top lieutenants said they were "terribly saddened' by the violence at the compound Monday and blamed the FBI for provoking it.
"This ripping open the walls and injecting tear gas where there were a number of women and children was senseless and did not serve to bring about the peaceful resolution that everybody wanted,' said Houston lawyer Dick DeGuerin, who represented Mr. Koresh.
Mr. DeGuerin said that when he and fellow lawyer Jack B. Zimmermann, who represented Koresh deputy Steve Schneider, talked with their clients last week, "We had an understanding that it was going to end peacefully and soon.'
Mr. Zimmermann said, "I think tonight's gonna be a night of sadness not only for the families of the people inside.
"The FBI agents who did go out on a limb for us are gonna have a tough time tonight, and (Attorney General) Janet Reno is gonna have a tough time tonight, because any way you cut it, there are 17 burned babies at her feet,' Mr. Zimmermann said. He was referring to the children who Mr. Koresh had said remained in the compound.
Ms. Reno defended the FBI's actions Monday and said that cultists started the fire.
Mr. DeGuerin said he saw nothing during the visits to the compound to suggest that Mr. Koresh might lead his followers in a mass suicide.
Mr. DeGuerin, hired by Mr. Koresh's mother, had said that the cult leader would surrender after writing an interpretation of the Bible.
FBI spokesmen had cast doubt on that prediction, noting that the attorneys erred when they previously said cultists would exit after Passover.
Both attorneys said the situation inside the compound shifted abruptly when armored engineering vehicles began ramming the buildings just after 6 a.m.
Mr. Zimmermann asked why authorities moved Monday, considering that Mr. Koresh was working on his view of the Book of Revelation's Seven Seals.
"It seemed to me there was a tank in their living room. That seems pretty aggressive to me,' Mr. Zimmermann said. "What was so important about today? They were working on the Seals.'
Mr. DeGuerin said he hopes to make public the cult members' accounts of the original raid by Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms agents, evidence he contends indicates that federal agents fired the first shots inside the compound and did so without provocation.
"I'm convinced from our discussions that the first shots were fired by the ATF agents unjustifiably,' he said. "I'm convinced that there were at least two people killed inside before any fire was returned. I'm convinced that helicopters also fired on the people inside the compound, and at least one person, perhaps two were killed by gunfire from the helicopters.'
That account contradicts the ATF's accounts and reports from news media witnesses that the cult fired first on the ATF agents.
Mr. DeGuerin also disputed the FBI's contention that Mr. Koresh deliberately misled his attorneys and authorities during the siege.
"That's not what I was told and that's not what I felt from my discussions with him,' he said. "However, the situation changed when the FBI went back and injected tear gas and started ripping apart the walls. I think that could only have been seen by those inside as the apocalypse coming upon them. I just don't see that the escalation today was justified.'
The Dallas Morning News
Waco clergyman organizes `service of prayer and lament'
Ministerial alliance calls Jews, Protestants, Catholics to come together today
WACO -- By 2 p.m. Monday, with the Branch Davidian compound still smoldering, the Rev. George Holland had already decided Waco needed some way to express its spiritual anguish over the sudden, violent end to David Koresh's strange ministry.
"An awful lot of people in town are hurting,' the Presbyterian minister said Monday night. "It's important for people to express those hurts and griefs.'
And so, with the help of the ecumenical Waco Ministerial Alliance, Mr. Holland began to plan a "service of prayer and lament,' to be held Tuesday at his Central Presbyterian Church.
At 12:15 p.m., representatives from the Jewish, Roman Catholic and Protestant faiths will come together for what is expected to be a half-hour service of Scripture, prayer and comfort. Mr. Holland said his church sanctuary seats only about 250 people -- and he said he had no idea whether "we'll have a few people or hordes (to attend).'
But the numbers won't matter, said the Rev. Dan Bagby of the Seventh & James Baptist Church. "I think people want to know that someone is responding to it,' said the Southern Baptist minister, who's a member of the ministerial alliance.
"There's a lot of sentiment in Waco that it's not our religious trouble, yet it happened at our back door,' Mr. Bagby said. "There's a sense of sadness I feel as I walk around town.'
Already, he said, several members of the alliance -- a group that represents more than 50 congregations in Waco -- are planning to observe a moment of silence during their weekend services in honor of those who died at the compound and the survivors they left behind.
"I think everyone was shaken by what happened,' said Barry Click, a pastoral counselor and president of the ministerial alliance. "No one thought it would end in flames. Even more so, no one wanted it to end that way.'
Mr. Click said he senses that many Waco residents seek spiritual guidance to help them come to terms with what has happened in their midst.
"Of course, it causes us to think about the nature of our own faith and religion,' Mr. Click said. "The town has been under unbelievable scrutiny, both nationally and internationally. It's been a painful process. We don't want to be defined by this one incident. We don't want to be reduced to this one tragedy.'
Besides prayers, readings and organ music, the Tuesday service will also include a special reflection in memory of the children who died in the compound's inferno. Mr. Holland asked Jo Pendleton, local director of Habitat for Humanity, to write this "mothers' lament.'
"I think the children are uppermost in our minds,' said Mr. Holland. "It's just incomprehensible that that guy could have let the children die.'
Mr. Holland said he hoped worshipers would be able to express their grief openly at the service Tuesday. He hoped they would feel comfortable enough to cry.
"People need to have a place to do that with dignity and respect,' he said. "It's nothing to be ashamed of. I felt like crying today.'
The Dallas Morning News
BYLINE:Rachel Boehm, Lee Hancock
Vow of kids' safety Koresh's `final lie'
Agent says children died despite pledge
Moments before David Koresh gave orders to set fire to the Branch Davidian compound, he told some of his surviving followers that the children would be safe, the FBI said Monday.
Mr. Koresh said the children were tucked away in a buried bus that served as the group's bunker, FBI Special Agent Bob Ricks said.
But after the blaze devastated the wooden compound, authorities discovered that Mr. Koresh once again had lied: The children, Mr. Ricks said, died inside the living quarters on the second floor of the compound.
"It was his final lie,' Agent Ricks said. He said some of the cultists who escaped the fire said Mr. Koresh ordered it set, apparently killing him and dozens of his followers, the FBI said.
Throughout the 51-day standoff, Mr. Koresh went back on his word more than once. He repeatedly had promised authorities and even his attorneys that suicide wasn't "in the cards.' At one point early in the standoff, he promised to surrender if his taped sermon was aired.
He said he was shot in the initial raid but then had a "miraculous' recovery, the FBI said.
But beneath the broken promises, there always was the prophecy of violence.
"From the very beginning, he said that the people in there were going to be killed, and they were going to do it with an armed conflict with law enforcement,' Agent Ricks said.
"It was to our benefit that we were able to prevent the second part of his prophecy from being realized, and that's to take as many law enforcement people as possible,' he said.
No law enforcement officials suffered serious injuries in Monday's confrontation and, despite early sporadic fire from within the compound, federal agents didn't return fire, Agent Ricks said.
"We had concerns early on with regard to possible suicide,' he said.
But he said FBI negotiators asked the cult leader on at least four occasions to promise that he would not lead a mass suicide, and he gave his word.
When his attorneys also pressed the issue, Agent Ricks said, "He promised them that suicide was never in the cards.'
But that's what authorities believe he did Monday. Federal officials said two cult members set fire to the compound.
The orders came shortly after tear gas began to enter the cinder-block bunker where Mr. Koresh was holed up with his "leadership,' said to include aide Steve Schneider and wife Judy Schneider.
Mr. Koresh's assurances Monday that the children were safe and his promises that he wouldn't lead a mass suicide were not the only times the self-professed prophet broke his word.
On March 2, he agreed to surrender if a taped sermon was broadcast on radio and TV. The sermon was aired, but when it was all over, no one left the compound.
On Monday, Agent Ricks related details of what went on inside the compound the day Mr. Koresh's message aired.
"On the day he was supposed to surrender, on March 2, the plan was, he was going to walk out,' the FBI agent said. "He had grenades. When the FBI approached him, he was going to pull the grenade pins and was going to kill himself. Everyone knew that this was the plan.'
On the day of Mr. Koresh's broadcast, group members convened in the compound's chapel, Agent Ricks said.
"David Koresh kissed the kids goodbye. He was going to go outside and commit suicide in front of the TV cameras. And the last second, he chickened out.'
The day after the broadcast, authorities from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms announced that Mr. Koresh said he would surrender when he received "further instruction from God.'
For the next month and a half, the standoff continued. Some children were released, and cult members used banners to communicate with those outside the compound. Mr. Koresh's mother hired a Houston lawyer, Dick DeGuerin, to represent her son.
Then came Passover. Federal officials said they hoped that the end of the religious holiday, which they said was significant to cult members, would bring with it an end to the impasse. But cult leaders later indicated that there was no plan to surrender when the holiday was over.
Last Wednesday, Mr. Koresh sent out word that he would surrender after he finished a manuscript in which he would reveal the contents of the seven seals in the Bible's Book of Revelation.
His attorney, Mr. DeGuerin, said that when it came time to surrender, Mr. Koresh, in fact, would be the first to walk out.
Monday, as the remains of the compound were smoldering, Mr. DeGuerin, noting there were "a bunch of kids in there,' was critical of the FBI's plan to use armored vehicles to knock holes in the compound and flood it with tear gas.
"When we left it,' Mr. DeGuerin said, "David said he was coming out as soon as he finished writing about the seven seals.'
The Dallas Morning News
Cult kids in state custody unaware of events, officials say
AUSTIN -- Children who were released earlier from the Branch Davidian compound were not told of the tragic events at the compound Monday, state officials said.
Instead, the Texas Department of Protective and Regulatory Services is preparing a treatment team to explain to the children what happened and to answer their questions.
"They have not been told anything yet,' said Stewart Davis, a spokesman for the agency.
"We have highly trained psychiatrists and psychologists who are working regularly with these children, and it would be up to their professional judgment and guidance as to when these kids need to know and the manner in which they will be told,' he said.
"You can imagine that the older children might be told at a different time and in different words than a younger child. It has got to fit the child's individual needs.'
The staff will also need time to recover from the tragedy.
"It's very difficult to stand and watch on televsion children going up in flames,' said Joyce Sparks, a supervisor of the Children's Protective Services, the state agency that has handled the released children. "I don't know if there's any words that can really describe that.'
Ms. Sparks said that several staff members who had worked with the released children gathered in a small office to watch the inferno on television.
"The room was very silent,' Ms. Sparks said. "There were some teary eyes. But we were standing by the phones hoping we were going to get a call that someone had survived.'
"Having held some of those children in my arms, it's just very difficult to really accept that this has happened,' she said.
Of the 21 children released by the cult, about a dozen are living in "home-like' quarters with foster parents in the Waco area.
It has been the practice of the agency and the foster parents to not discuss events at the Branch Davidian compound, just east of Waco, said Mr. Davis. And the living arrangements for the children have shielded them from hearing about those events.
"It leaves it up to the therapists to decide when they should learn,' he said.
"Agency caseworkers and the treatment team are trying to help them deal with the emotional trauma they already have been through . . . and we don't want to add further pressure to that.'
Seven children have been turned over to relatives for temporary custody, including three who were released to their father.
The children were pawns in the game of strategy between cult leader David Koresh and federal authorities.
Although Mr. Koresh said his own 2-year-old daughter was killed in the raid, agents said they never found evidence to confirm that.
Meanwhile, fear over the fate of the children limited law officers' options for dealing with the standoff, the FBI said.
Almost all the children who left the compound were released in the first week of the standoff. Some were released with parcels of favorite belongings. Once they were released, judges determined temporary custody in hearings. Many were given to the state and lived in a group home.
At one point in the negotiations, FBI agents prepared videotapes of those children to prove to Mr. Koresh and his followers that the children were well-cared for. According to state officials, the released children tended to be voracious readers and worked well together.
Although an investigation of the cult by the Waco Tribune-Herald reported instances of physical and sexual abuse, medical exams of the children after their release showed no evidence of physical abuse.
Gov. Ann Richards on Monday voiced sadness for the children whose parents may have died in the fire and for the children who remained in the compound and perished.
"I feel very sad about the children losing their lives because they had no choice in the matter,' she said.
U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno said conditions faced by the children who were still in the compound was one of the reasons that authorities stepped up their efforts to end the standoff.
Ms. Reno said the situation appeared to be reaching a crisis, citing reports that Mr. Koresh was beating babies inside the compound and that children had been sexually molested.
The Dallas Morning News
Sect members often frustrated agents
Criticism of standoff methods resurfaces
From the start, the feds never had it their way.
When a small army of agents with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms assaulted the compound of apocalyptic religious leader David Koresh, they suffered a rout. Four agents died and 16 more were wounded in a raid that went awry Feb. 28.
The Branch Davidians remained inside, reneging on promises to leave while defiantly flying their flags and cryptic banners during a 51-day standoff.
On Monday, federal authorities tried to force them to surrender by smashing holes in the walls of their compound with armored vehicles and spewing tear gas inside. Once again, plans went awry, and the compound became a funeral pyre for the cult members -- including several children.
And once again, federal officials endured a barrage of criticism for an operation that began and ended violently.
Attorney General Janet Reno on Monday defended the FBI for using "remarkable restraint and patience' after taking over negotiations at the besieged compound near Waco.
"Obviously, if I thought the chances were great of a mass suicide, I would not have approved the plan,' she said. "Everything that we were told, every indication -- reactions to the pressure up to that point -- was that that would not occur.'
It may take months before exactly what happened Monday is known. But renewed questions were fast in coming as some lawmakers demanded answers.
State Rep. Betty Denton, D-Waco, called for an immediate congressional investigation.
House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jack Brooks, D-Beaumont, said he wanted to know "whether steps could have been taken to minimize the loss of human lives.'
Rep. Don Edwards, D-Calif., chairman of a subcommittee that oversees FBI operations, vowed to "find all about the decision-making issues.'
At a briefing, FBI Agent Bob Ricks said the cultists started the fire and that the continued fortification of the compound justified the actions Monday.
The sight of the inferno, he said, was met with "shock and horror' among law officers.
He placed the blame on Mr. Koresh.
"David Koresh, we believe, gave the order to commit suicide, and they all followed willingly his order,' Mr. Ricks said.
After the abortive Feb. 28 raid, complaints had been limited to the ATF, which had sought to arrest Mr. Koresh on weapons charges.
From the first day, how the compound was approached has been debated.
Some law enforcement experts questioned why no attempt apparently was made to arrest Mr. Koresh away from the compound and most of his followers, why the compound was not under closer surveillance and why the ATF apparently had not sought to have his telephone line monitored.
At first, an ATF spokesman said agents were outgunned. Then some agents said that Mr. Koresh seldom ventured from the compound and suggested that the raid failed because the Branch Davidians had advance warning.
Others point the finger elsewhere.
"The first second I saw the assault going off, I said this violates what your drill instructor tells you the first week in basic training,' said Austin Bay, a military analyst and author.
"They were moving too slowly,' he said. "It almost looked like a camera shot for a war movie where they bunch the squad up so you can see everybody. If you do that in combat, you're a dead duck.'
On several occasions, federal agents stated that they did not believe that those inside the compound might participate in a suicide pact rather than come out.
But many who have studied the Branch Davidians and their deadly encounter with federal law enforcement say they were not surprised at Monday's outcome.
The Branch Davidians, they note, sometimes referred to the rural compound as "Ranch Apocalypse.' And there have been precedents of such messianic cults self-destructing in a mass suicide or preparing followers for that possibility.
Often "cult members feel they have special knowledge and an inside line to God, so when they die, they're not dying -- they're going to a far, far better place and leaving the rest of us to our wretched existence,' said Dr. Ray Eve, a University of Texas at Arlington sociologist.
In published accounts, a former sect member, Robyn Bunds, warned that she thought Mr. Koresh wanted to die -- and that federal authorities had failed to understand his apocalyptic vision.
Dr. Eve said the sight of heavily armed federal agents approaching the compound may have only reinforced that vision for cult members. At the very least, he said, "external threat creates internal cohesion in any crowd.'
Later, as the standoff ground on, other groups that had little in common joined in the criticism: religious conservatives, white supremacists, civil rights proponents, Libertarians and those advocating more liberal laws on gun ownership.
The Associated Conservatives of Texas, a political group based in Dallas, warned Monday that the media should not believe that the fire was set from within, just because federal authorities said so, claiming that "the government has historically blamed everyone else but themselves for its own screw-ups.'
Dr. Bay was not critical of Monday's actions.
"I think that the FBI had, from what I could see, a reasonable plan, a reasonably humane plan, for dealing with deadly fanatics. What happened was their choice.'
Dr. Bay said the tragedy "illustrates how dangerous religious absolutism is.'
Some criminal justice experts theorized that political and financial pressure may have influenced the decision to mount Monday's operation -- allegations denied by senior federal officials.
The ATF alone has estimated spending about $500,000 a week since the siege began.
The FBI, too, is a "political agency whether they like it or not and they can't wait forever without losing credibility -- not only with the public but with the people who control the purse strings,' Dr. Eve said.
Also, Dr. Eve said, "law enforcement agencies are pretty jealous of their image as being highly effective and highly potent.' He said that in his criminal justice classes, he teaches that police shouldn't "try to cowboy on through.'
" "Cowboy on through' is just what it sounds like,' he said. "Don't try to do something by force and machismo and don't try to "teach them a lesson.' Just get the job done with the least loss of life and most effectively as possible.'
Dr. Tony Cooper, a University of Texas at Dallas professor who trains police officers, said he detected recently a "lack of patience on the part of authorities, almost a calculated, acted-out petulance.'
Dr. Cooper said he believed that there was a "clear miscalculation.'
"I think it was believed that by giving him a heavy dose of reality therapy, he could be made to see reason and be forced to "come out with his hands up.' I think that was unrealistic.'
Dr. Eve suggested that mistakes made when the ATF first tried to arrest Mr. Koresh may have set in motion events "like a train running down a mountain toward a crash, without anybody able to stop it.'
The Dallas Morning News
Witnesses stunned, horrified by fire's speed and intensity
WACO -- For the law enforcement officers and news crews who had watched and waited for 51 days, the fire that brought down the Branch Davidian compound Monday turned tedium back into tragedy.
Numbed by the speed and ferocity of the flames that engulfed the cult compound and killed an unknown number of cult members, the observers found a variety of emotions flitting past: relief, horror, guilt, confusion.
"I can't tell you the shock and the horror that all of us felt when we saw those flames coming out,' said FBI Special Agent Bob Ricks. "We thought, "Oh my God, they are killing themselves.' '
All the witnesses to the destruction had questions about what happened -- and why -- but there were no answers.
"It probably was a suicide pact,' said David Voelkel, 35, who was in Waco on a detour before returning home from a weekend trip to Austin.
"To me it seems like a cop-out by David Koresh. He's gone this far. Why did he end it this way? Why did he quit and give up when he fought so long?' Mr. Voelkel asked.
As for cult members who he believes followed Mr. Koresh to their deaths, he said, "I don't believe anyone's the Messiah on this planet, but if you believe in something that strongly, to just cop out and give up -- the whole thing seems so useless.'
The Branch Davidian children seemed uppermost in the minds of many people who witnessed the long siege and its fiery conclusion.
"A loss of life like this is so tragic,' said Waco Mayor Bob Sheehy. "We haven't seen yet, but if the children are involved too -- I have six children and six grandchildren -- that hits hard to me personally.'
Greg David, a manager of Waco's Elite Cafe, where customers and workers watched the events unfold on TV, said he feared that the city would be associated with the cult and its deeds.
"I think Waco'bered for that,' Mr. David said.
"It's sad that it came to this ending,' Mr. Sheehy said. "All of us felt there was a good chance that it would end peacefully. I don't have any way to express just how deeply I feel.'
As has been the case since the news media encampment was established soon after the siege began, journalists had only a limited view of what was happening.
"You see all this activity, you see fire, hear artillery, but you don't see any humans,' said Matt Flores, a reporter with the San Antonio Express-News .
"We figured they would just come out with the gas going,' said David Todd, bureau chief for Waco television station KCEN. "We never expected the fire.
"Then it sets in that, my God, there's people inside. They're not just David Koresh. . . . Innocent or guilty, they're people.'
Mr. Todd's KCEN colleague Olivia Fernandez fumbled for the words to describe what she was feeling while the compound burned to the ground.
"The most horrible thing is . . . ' she said, and then described the rumor that Mr. Koresh had told his followers they had to stay in the compound "until they see God.'
"They're only doing what they've been told all their lives to do. It makes you sick for them,' she said.
Lisa Turner, a field producer with ABC News, had been at the compound for 51 days.
"It didn't surprise me that they gassed the place,' Ms. Turner said. "It didn't surprise me they were knocking holes in the wall. The fire did surprise me.
"I'm real sad about the way it ended,' she said, shaking her head.
As a parent, Ms. Turner added, "I'm appalled. . . . He killed them all. It's totally outside my realm of understanding.'
Staff writer Todd J. Gillman in Waco and The Associated Press ontributed to this report.