February 28, 1993 – Gun Battle Erupts Near Waco, Texas

On this day in history, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) agents tried to serve a warrant on the religious group calling themselves Branch Davidians; four agents and six Davidians were killed as a 51-day standoff began. Another 16 agents were wounded.

The Branch Davidians were a Christian sect that originated in 1955 from a schism in the Davidian Seventh-day Adventists (“Davidians”), a reform movement that began as an offshoot from the Seventh-day Adventist Church (“Adventists”) around 1930. The sect was led by David Koresh and occupied a Mount Carmel Center ranch in the community of Axtell, Texas, 13 miles east-northeast of Waco.

Members of this sect believed the time had arrived for the final divine judgment to come to pass in preparation for Christ’s second coming. But rumors about the cult included accusations of child abuse, polygamy, statutory rape, and weapon stockpiling. Following the unsuccessful attempt by the ATF to raid the religious compound as described above, the FBI then initiated a siege. Eventually, the agents used tear gas to attempt to force the Branch Davidians out. A fire engulfed the compound, killing the Branch Davidians’ leader, David Koresh, as well as 75 other Branch Davidian men, women, and children. The Texas Rangers’ arson investigator report concluded that many of the occupants were either denied escape from within or refused to leave until escape was not an option. Autopsy records also indicated that at least 20 Branch Davidians were shot, including five children under the age of 14.

Much controversy remains as to the actual events of the siege, including the cause of the fire. The events at Waco were cited as the primary motivation for the Oklahoma City bombing that took place two years later. On April 19, 1995, a truck bomb attack destroyed the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building, a U.S. government office complex in downtown Oklahoma City, and damaged numerous other buildings in the vicinity. The attack claimed 168 lives (including 19 children under the age of 6) and left over 600 injured in the deadliest act of terrorism on U.S. soil prior to the September 11 attacks.

The fire spreading at the compound on April 19, 1993

The fire spreading at the compound on April 19, 1993

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