It was not the end that anyone wanted or expected—except, perhaps, for David Koresh, the fanatical leader of the Branch Davidians, a radical offshoot of the Seventh-day Adventist Church. Ten years ago this month—on April 19, 1993—FBI agents tried to end a 51-day standoff by pumping tear gas into his cult’s compound outside Waco, Texas. But the building erupted in flames and 75 Davidians—including Koresh and 25 children—stayed inside and died. The tragedy began nearly two months before, when federal agents attempted to arrest Koresh on weapons charges and ended up in a gun battle that killed four agents and at least six cult members. During the siege that followed, 21 children managed to escape. Today their lives remain forever marked by what happened.
In a flash, they lost a father, four siblings—and their innocence
Sheila Martin takes her kids to church Saturdays at a chapel built in 2000 on the site of the original Branch Davidian compound. But son Daniel, a Waco high school sophomore, has little time for religion. “If you push a person too hard,” he says, “they end up resisting.” Still, he has sweet memories of his childhood on the compound—shooting BB guns, swimming in the pool and the time he and some other boys got caught rigging a soda machine to dispense drinks for free. (The relatively mild punishment: an hour-long time-out.) Though Daniel, then 6, Kimberly, 4, and brother Jamie, 11, fled the compound after the initial FBI raid (their mother left three weeks later), their father, Wayne, 42, and four siblings aged 13 to 20 perished in the fire. (Jamie died in 1998 after a long illness.) Although Kimberly likes studying the Bible at church, “I don’t really care to learn anything about David,” she says. “And I don’t think he’ll ever come back.”
Painful memories haunt three siblings from a long line of Davidians
Even now, Kevin Jones still won’t sleep under a window. The memory of cowering in his compound room as bullets came through the thin walls and hearing his grandfather, who was hit, cry out in pain are still too sharp. Growing up was difficult for Kevin and his two siblings, says their mother, Kathy, 44, who was related by marriage to David Koresh. Each year around the anniversary the three kids “all went into a deep depression and cried,” she says. “I’d find them in their room bawling. I don’t know if they knew why. They just sensed it.”
The Joneses were the last children to leave. (Kathy, tired of the sect, had left them there with their father, David, and the others three years earlier.) Their grandfather Perry Jones had been with the Davidians since the 1940s; their parents had been with the cult their whole lives. Today, they all share memories of long services at which Koresh would preach for entire afternoons—and all avoid religion. “Church makes me cry,” says Heather, 19, unemployed and caring for a 7-month-old. Yet they all still live near the site of the old Waco compound. Mark, 22, who works with Kevin, 21, at a local market, feels a bond with other survivors, whom he sees at annual reunions. “I still feel like they’re family,” he says. Adds Kevin, married with an infant daughter: “Sometimes I wish I had stayed. It would have been easier to go with everybody else than live life without them.”
Memories of carefree days, an abrupt exit—and a lost mother
When 11-year-old Natalie left on the siege’s seventh day, her mother told her, “I’ll come out and see you in a couple of days.” But that never happened. By the time Teresa Nobrega died in the fire, Natalie had returned to her native England to live with her father, Vincent, now 60, and two brothers. After a few days “I went into school and carried on like normal,” says Natalie, 21, who has happy memories of life in the compound, where she had her own go-cart and swam often. “It was like a big holiday—easier than normal life,” she says.
Her father, who was never a Davidian, is still angry at the FBI. “I can never accept what they did was right,” says the retired plumber. “I’m going to die before I let it go.” Natalie, now teaching English in Valencia, Spain, says she has moved on from Waco. “It’s there in the mind,” she says, “but it’s hidden.”
A traumatic childhood becomes an unusual source of pride
Chrissy Mabb was 7 when she and her brothers Jake, 9, Scott, 11, and Bryan, 2, hid from FBI gunfire in a concrete room. “I remember every time I heard a gunshot I was supposed to cover Bryan up,” she says. “I told the boys that I was scared, and Jake’s like, ‘I’ll protect you,’ and he had a gun, and he’s like, ‘If anyone comes in the room I’ll hit ’em.’ ”
Chrissy, now 17 and a Tampa 11th grader, and her siblings were among the first to leave the compound after the Feb. 28 shootout, but their mom, Kathy, 40, pleaded guilty to resisting arrest (to avoid more serious charges) and spent three years behind bars. During that time, the three older children lived with their father, long divorced from Kathy, a waitress, and Bryan stayed with other relatives.
In third grade Chrissy figured out she could take advantage of her past. After she wrote an essay about Waco, a teacher offered to send her to a counselor. “I was like, ‘Get out of class? Sure, let’s go!’ ” Now she’s proud of her past. “I’m part of American history,” she says. “I like that.”
Reported by: Kevin Brass and Anne Lang in Waco, Jeff Truesdell in Tampa and Ellen Tumposky in London