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Lawman kept Koresh on the line • Friday February 28, 2003

The Dallas Morning News, Feb. 27, 2003
By BRIAN ANDERSON / Dallas Web Staff

It was hard to be inconspicuous.

Sunday mornings in Waco tend toward the mundane, even in the local 911 emergency communications center. The unexpected presence of a ranking law officer was bound to draw attention.

So when Lt. Larry Lynch of the McLennan County Sheriffs Department showed up unannounced the morning of Feb. 28, 1993, he tried to keep a low profile. He told dispatchers he simply was stopping by for a cup of coffee.

Lt. Lynch said nothing of the pickup trucks and cattle trailers, packed with federal agents in Kevlar helmets and tactical gear, that were rumbling down a narrow country road to the east. He said nothing of the National Guard helicopters that were circling nearby in the cold, gray sky.

His assignment was to be a simple one: stand watch in the 911 dispatch center in case members of the Branch Davidian sect telephoned from their Mount Carmel compound where Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms agents were to conduct a raid in search of illegal weapons. Raid organizers reasoned that Lt. Lynch was a local lawman known to some of the Davidians, a possible advantage should sect members come calling.

They figured there would probably be some gunshots, Lt. Lynch said, although that possibility had been downplayed earlier that morning at the raids staging area. The agents would move quickly. Surprise would be their ally.

Lt. Lynchs watch was supposed to be equally brief.

They said handle it a few hours and Id be out of there, he remembered.

‘I hear gunfire’

911. Whats your emergency?

A dispatcher took the first call at 9:48 a.m.

There are men, 75 men around our building shooting at us! proclaimed the voice on the line, identified as Wayne Martin, a lieutenant to Davidian leader David Koresh.

Lt. Lynch had no way of knowing how horribly wrong the ATF raid had gone.

Hello, hello, this is Lt. Lynch. May I help you?

Mr. Martin continued: Yeah, there are about 75 men around our building shooting at us in Mount Carmel.

Warning that there were women and children inside the compound, Mr. Martin screamed for an end to the sudden siege.

As a steady stream of bullets pocked the walls of the crude Davidian stronghold, Lt. Lynch began to realize the scope of the situation.

Hello? I hear gunfire. Oh, [expletive]. Hello? Who is this? Hello?

Call it off! Mr. Martin cried in response.

So began a 36-hour odyssey of phone calls between the 911 dispatch center and the holed-up Davidians, during which Lt. Lynch struggled through biblical banter and broken cease-fire agreements.

Hello, this is David Koresh, said a second caller to the dispatch center. Weve been attempting to call you guys.

Yeah, this is Lynch.

A calm Mr. Koresh continued: Hey, Lynch. That is sort of a funny name there.

The jesting soon turned to scolding.

There is a bunch of us dead and a bunch of you guys dead. Now, thats your fault, Mr. Koresh said.

‘I cant believe this’

With casualties mounting on both sides, Mr. Koresh began an impromptu sermon with Lt. Lynch as the only member of his telephone congregation. Revelations 22, the Seven Seals, prophecies minutes passed before the sheriffs lieutenant was able to steer the conversation toward the more immediate task of a cease-fire and evacuation of the wounded.

But as Lt. Lynch struggled to reach the ATFs field communications van via radio, he lost the phone connection with Mr. Koresh. Calls back to the compound were met by an answering machine while ATF agents and Davidians continued to trade sporadic gunfire.

A frantic Wayne Martin eventually picked up the line to continue talks with Lt. Lynch. Gunshots remained audible in the background as an unsteady truce began to take shape.

OK, start passing the word. Tell them just to hold their fire, Lt. Lynch begged. Tell them not to return fire.

At the lawmans urging, Mr. Martin began tallying the Davidian casualties inside the complex while weary ATF agents, their hands in the air, moved about the grounds to gather their dead. A lone ambulance, with two agents hunkered down in the front seat, moved cautiously into the yard.

Try to get me a head count, Wayne. Work with me so we can get some help to people so they dont lay there without help, Lt. Lynch said.

Ill do right now, Mr. Martin replied.

OK. Thanks, Lt. Lynch said, punctuating the moment with a final comment to himself, I cant believe this.

‘I did the best I could’

By the time the federal agents made their way back up that narrow country road in eastern McLennan County, four of their own and six Davidians were dead. More than 80 other Davidians would die 51 days later as fire consumed their compound during a tank and tear gas assault by FBI agents.

In the 10 years since the Branch Davidian standoff, the audio recordings of Lt. Lynchs conversations have become standard fair in civil and criminal court proceedings, governmental inquiries and public probes. But nowhere have the conversations been replayed more than in the law officers own mind.

You know, for a long time, I wondered about my negotiations, said Larry Lynch, who was elected McLennan County sheriff in 2000.

He wondered if he could have done more to stop the shooting, rescue the wounded or end the siege in its early hours.

Im pleased I was able to get a cease-fire and get some children and the wounded agents out, Sheriff Lynch said. But beyond that, he has learned to put aside his second-guessing and the pervasive controversy that has surrounded what he now refers to as the event.

I got to thinking that I did the best I could at that time, and you have to let go of it, he said. I really do wish for the other folks that they could reach that closure. Its 10 years, and they are still hung up on issues that have been addressed in court a couple of times.

Just as hes made his own peace, Sheriff Lynch said the Waco community has moved on.

I believe this is behind us, he said. There are folks who think Waco is a gun-toting, baby-raping type of community. Thats not true.

The other side of that is that all the people who gathered here law officers, media talked of how friendly the people were and how they rose to the occasion. Thats the side I think people really remember most.

Tourists still stop at the sheriffs office to ask directions to Mount Carmel, though noticeably fewer than in the turbulent years immediately after the siege. Sheriff Lynch said he obliges them, though he and his deputies purposely keep their own presence near the site to a minimum. That, he said, is out of respect for the remaining Davidians who worship at a small church constructed at the former compounds site.

Those who visit out of morbid curiosity are usually disappointed, Sheriff Lynch said.

They get out there and say, Theres nothing there. I say, What did you expect?

Its 10 years later the grass has grown.

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