Here's the True Story of the Waco Tragedy

Adrianna Freedman
Photo credit: Paramount
Photo credit: Paramount

From Men's Health

During one of the most talked about incidents of the early 1990s, the FBI and ATF engaged in a 51-day standoff with the Branch Davidians, a religious group led by David Koresh that resided at the Mount Carmel compound. And the result, sadly, was a catastrophic fire that killed 76 people, including 25 children. The events play out in Waco, the 2018 miniseries currently streaming on Netflix, leaving many viewers disheartened and curious to learn more about the whole story.

Here are a few details into the events that led up to a tragic ending.

The FBI initially targeted the Branch Davidians for suspicion of illegal weapons

At some point before the siege, the FBI and ATF were tipped off and led to believe the Branch Davidians illegally stockpiled weapons, a moment depicted in the first episode of the miniseries. According to Time, the government believed that the group had nearly 250 weapons, ranging from semi-automatic rifles to hundreds of grenades.

The ATF was adamant at the time that they wanted to take Koresh into custody and they wanted to search the compound for illegal weapons.

The FBI and ATF raided Mount Carmel in February 1993, leading to hostage negotiations

On February 28, the ATF failed to conduct a raid of the compound. The result was a shootout that killed ten people (four were federal agents and six were Branch Davidians) and wounded Koresh. Thus began a 51-day standoff between the two groups, with the FBI coming in to replace the ATF and assist in negotiations. The bureau tried different tactics to get the religious group to surrender, including playing loud music on speakers to prevent their sleep. At the same time, the FBI, led by Gary Noesner, engaged in 60 hours of direct negotiation with Koresh to try and walk onto the grounds.

The standoff concluded with a tragic fire

Photo credit: Paramount
Photo credit: Paramount

On April 19, the FBI finally raided the compound, backed by armored tanks. They used tear gas (approved by then-Attorney General Janet Reno) and threw them in holes made in the walls of the building. Shortly after, a fire broke out, setting Mount Carmel ablaze. Out of the 85 Branch Davidians living on the grounds, 76—including Koresh and 25 children—perished, with the remainder surviving the tragedy.

Since the incident, there has been much discussion over which side started the fire. Then-President Bill Clinton stated that he didn’t think that the government was responsible for the fire; meanwhile, many believe that the Branch Davidians started it as a means of mass suicide.

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