Religion News Service, Feb. 15, 2003
BY BRUCE NOLAN, RELIGION NEWS SERVICE
NEW ORLEANS — Stepping into an elevator at a hotel here, David Koresh’s mother lit up at the sight of the toddler peering up from a stroller. “She’s so precious,” she told the baby’s mother in her soft Texas drawl.
Bonnie Haldeman lost David, a daughter-in-law and 13 grandchildren in a single horrific fire one day 10 years ago. They were among about 80 Branch Davidians killed when their Mount Carmel compound in Waco, Texas, burned to the ground after a federal assault that sought to end a 51-day siege. Koresh was their leader.
Three of the children belonged to Koresh and his wife, Rachel. The others were Koresh’s by other women in the Branch Davidian community.
“He said they were God’s children; he was raising God’s perfect children for, I don’t know — something,” Haldeman said after a morning of arguments in federal court.
Haldeman and others who lost family members in the assault sued the federal government for hundreds of millions of dollars in damages, but lost in a lower court. They were in New Orleans this week to argue an appeal before the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
Some of the things Koresh taught his mother about the Bible went over her head, Haldeman said. And some things he did she still struggles with. But she says her son was “anointed,” led by a God who shared things with him.
In any case, the children were real, and lovely, and she doubts she will ever recover from the loss of them.
Haldeman was and remains a Branch Davidian, having been mentored by a precocious son who immersed himself in Scripture as a boy and in time became his mother’s teacher.
After the fire, benefactors rebuilt a small chapel on the Mount Carmel grounds for the group’s remaining members. They still gather there regularly, Haldeman said.
Haldeman and many of the relatives of those killed say they still believe federal authorities triggered the disastrous events.
They say agents of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms fired the first shots Feb. 28 in an assault on the compound that left four agents and six Davidians dead. They say the federal attempt to end the siege started the fires.
The government inquiry into the FBI’s actions declared with “100 percent certainty” that Koresh and his followers set the fires that destroyed the compound. They said a number of the victims, including some children, had died of gunshots, suggesting either murder or suicide. And they said investigators found illegal weapons in the ruins, in support of authorities’ initial claims.
Haldeman feels no bitterness toward the federal agents who surrounded Mount Carmel: “I feel sorry for the agents who lost their lives, and their families, because I’m in the same boat. God is the judge of all of us. ”