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On This Day 1993: Waco cult siege ends with inferno

Apr. 19, 2004 • Monday April 19, 2004

At least 70 people are feared to have died in a fire at the besieged headquarters of the Branch Davidian sect near Waco, Texas.

The fate of the cult‘s leader, David Koresh, is still unknown.

The White House said the blaze had been started deliberately by those inside after the FBI began a dawn assault.

In Context

Approximately 77 cult members, including David Koresh, died in the fire.

Some cult members, including David Koresh, were found to have died of gunshot wounds.

In January 1994 11 surviving Branch Davidians were put on trial.

They were all cleared of the most serious charges relating to the deaths of the four government agents.

Five were convicted on the lesser charge of voluntary manslaughter.

In July 2000 a government-appointed investigator cleared the FBI of any blame in starting the fire after hiring a specialist firm to stage a re-enactment.

In September of the same year a $675m (433m) claim against the US Government by relatives of those who died and survivors was thrown out by a judge.
Source: BBC

Tear gas canisters and stun grenades were fired into the cult’s fortified compound and an armoured vehicle moved in to demolish the walls.

Three hours later they broke down the main entrance.

At one point reports said the cult members had agreed to come out but then reneged on the deal.

When the fire started at around 1200 local time (1800GMT) several children were believed to be inside with David Koresh and his followers.

By the time firefighters arrived the fire had taken a firm hold on wooden buildings inside the compound.

The fire worsened when the cult’s store of munitions exploded.

Eight cult members escaped but David Koresh is not believed to be among them.

Orders from God

The cult’s buildings been surrounded since February when four agents with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) were killed as they attempted to arrest Mr Koresh on firearms charges.

It was hoped Mr Koresh would give himself up last week but he sent FBI agents a message saying he had not yet received his orders from God.

The Branch Davidians descend from a breakaway group from the Seventh Day Adventist Church.

President Bill Clinton said yesterday he had had advance warning of the assault on the compound.

But the president added that newly-appointed Attorney-General Janet Reno made the decision to begin the operation.

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