If you haven’t seen the new Netflix docuseries Waco: American Apocalypse, you may be curious about the shocking details it reveals about David Koresh, the leader of the Branch Davidians — and what happened during the infamous 1993 siege by the FBI and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) on the religious group’s compound in Waco, Texas.
From what life was like inside the compound to how many deaths happened as a result of the siege, here are six of the most shocking details from the docuseries directed by Tiller Russell, who’s also behind another very popular Netflix true-crime docuseries, Night Stalker: The Hunt for a Serial Killer about convicted murderer Richard Ramirez.
The Standoff Lasted for 51 Days
Officials first arrived at the Branch Davidians’ compound at the Mount Carmel Center in Waco, Texas on Feb. 28, 1993. The mission was to take Koresh by surprise, arrest him, and confiscate the cult’s illegal firearms. They did not expect Koresh and the Branch Davidians to put up so much resistance to leaving the compound. It all came to a fiery end 51 days later on April 19, 1993.
David Koresh Convinced the Branch Davidians That He Was the Second Coming of Christ
Koresh first joined the Branch Davidians — a decades-old apocalyptic new religious movement that began in the 1950s as a distant offshoot of the Seventh Day Adventist Church — in 1981. After the death of the previous leader, Lois Roden, Koresh took control of the group. His followers believed, as Koresh told them, that he was the Messiah. They viewed him as a direct mouthpiece of God and believed that following his word was the key to their salvation. Koresh told his followers that it was their destiny to facilitate the Second Coming of Christ through an apocalyptic event, and they had been arming the compound with large amounts of firearms and grenades leading up to the siege in 1993.
What Conditions Were Like for Branch Davidian Children
Heather Jones, who grew up in the religious group and who was 9 years old at the time of the siege, said in the docuseries that, about once a day, Koresh would hold her over his lap and spank her with a paddle. She said that Koresh had sexual relationships with other underage girls in the group, and the doc also reveals that Koresh was, at one time, married to a 14-year-old girl.
Kathy Schroeder, a former Branch Davidian who voluntarily left the compound during the siege, explained that in the eyes of the Branch Davidians, women come of age at 12 years old.
A 1993 New York Times article cites a report done by therapists who interviewed former Branch Davidian children who had been released from the compound during the siege. The therapists reported that several children confirmed that girls as young as 11 were expected to have sex with Koresh.
“Over the course of two months, the kids became increasingly open about 11- and 12-year-old girls being David’s wives,” Dr. Bruce D. Perry, the chief of psychiatry at Texas Children’s Hospital and vice chairman for research of the department of psychiatry at the Baylor College of Medicine, wrote in the report, according to the Times.
About a year before the siege, Koresh denied abusing any children, the outlet added.
The documentary also details the living conditions within the Mt. Carmel compound, including the lack of running water. “The children described using a pot for urinating and defecating, which they would empty every day,” Dr. Perry added.
Officials Used Harsh Psychological Tactics Against the Branch Davidians
In the documentary, FBI crisis negotiator chief Gary Noesner explains that there was disagreement within the bureau about whether to continue using slower, rapport-building tactics to coax out the Branch Davidians or to put pressure on Koresh using more severe methods. Ultimately, the FBI resorted to intense psychological tactics to try to bring the siege to a close. These included playing the same songs over and over at an extremely high volume outside of the compound, and even blasting emotionally disturbing sounds of rabbits being slaughtered, in an effort to get the Branch Davidians to come out.
The Ultimate Death Toll Was 86 People
On April 19, 1993, officials penetrated the compound with tanks and released tear gas into the building in an attempt to force the remaining Branch Davidians out. Soon after, a fire broke out from within the building and Mt. Carmel was engulfed in flames. Nine Branch Davidians fled the building, but 82 stayed inside and perished in the fire, including 28 children and Koresh, according to the doc. Four federal agents were also killed throughout the 51 days of the siege. In addition to several adults, a total of 21 children were released from the compound prior to the fire through crisis negotiation, according to a federal report.
“Watching everybody I know die is painful, but acceptable, because they did it for a reason. They did it for their own glory, worship, and praise of their God,” Schroeder, one of the Branch Davidians who left before the fire, said in Waco: American Apocalypse.
“The people that died at Mt. Carmel were martyrs. They literally died for their faith,” said former Branch Davidian David Thibodeau, who was among those who fled the burning building. “That’s how I look at it; that’s how they looked at it. That was their home, that was their sacred land and they were attacked, and they fought those forces and they held out for 51 days. They died for God.”
Officials Admit They Made Mistakes at Waco
“David Koresh is ultimately responsible, but that doesn’t mean that we didn’t make mistakes as an organization. We did. And in Waco, we did not save every life we could. Therefore, in my mind, it’s a failure,” FBI crisis negotiation chief Gary Noesner said in the doc.
“We tried everything, but we could not overcome the hold he had on their minds. You could not convince them to come out, because that would be a repudiation of the person they believed was God,” said ATF special agent Jim Cavanaugh.
All three episodes of Waco: American Apocalypse are now streaming on Netflix.
Main Image: David Koresh pictured in Waco: American Apocalypse courtesy of Netflix.