Waco Tribune-Herald, Apr. 6, 2003
By MIKE COPELAND, Tribune-Herald staff writer
» Part 7 of a 9-part series. See FlashPoint in History: 10 years after Mount Carmel
To the world, David Koresh was the Waco madman. To 11-year-old Kevin Jones, he was just Uncle David, the wavy-haired guy who wowed him with electric guitar solos and bored him with long, apocalyptic sermons.
To the world, Mount Carmel was a cult compound festering with child abuse and violent extremism. To the boy, it was like summer camp, a rough-hewn retreat where he rode go-carts, fished and helped his father install electrical wiring.
That boyish idyll ended the same Sunday morning the world learned of Mount Carmel and its master. On Feb. 28, 1993, Kevin’s father, David Jones, came home to alert Uncle David to an impending federal raid.
Shortly afterward, Kevin remembers, cattle trucks came rumbling up the driveway. Inside were armed agents from the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, ready to carry out search and arrest warrants on Koresh involving weapons charges.
“We laid down on the floor,” Kevin Jones, now 21, recalls. “They pulled up, and there were a bunch of people yelling. Then there was machine-gun fire. I was laying on the floor and I could see bullets flying through the walls. Things were flying off the shelves. I was scared to death, under a blanket with my brother. I think we stayed there a couple of hours.
“At that first shootout, I heard my grandpa get shot. I heard him screaming for my uncle to shoot him.”
Kevin Jones doesn’t tell this story often. He speaks about it now in a calm monotone, slumping on the sofa in his mother’s living room in Robinson, a Central Texas town alongside Waco. His clear eyes, which resemble his dad’s, are fixed on television cartoons.
He lost his grandfather, Perry Jones, as a result of the ATF raid on Feb. 28, 1993. He lost his father in a cataclysmic fire 51 days later, as a result of an FBI-led tank and tear-gas assault.
Along the way he lost his childhood friends, and his childhood.
One of 21 children released during the standoff, Kevin Jones has had 10 years to ponder why it all happened. He isn’t much closer to an answer. He just keeps replaying the same loop of questions in his head – why, for example, the government didn’t just arrest Koresh on one of his frequent trips to nearby Waco.
“After they did it, I was thinking, ‘Why are they doing it?'” he says. “They were killing my family, my friends. I didn’t know why they came out there and started shooting at us.” —
From the beginning, it was all about the kids. David Koresh preached that the children of Mount Carmel – especially the dozen or so he sired – would rule the earth some day. Some of his followers later said the children were so beautiful, it was easy to believe.
The government portrayed the children as abuse victims who needed to be rescued from a psychotic cult leader. U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno, a lifelong child advocate, later said suspicions of ongoing abuse at the compound persuaded her to sign off on the disastrous April 19 assault of the compound.
And in the end, the children suffered most. Twenty-one children died in the mysterious fire, and those who escaped before the blaze would be scattered like buckshot across three continents, largely left to reckon alone with the psychological fallout.
That trauma was unusually complex, recalls Dr. Bruce Perry, a renowned child psychiatrist who led a team that spent thousands of hours with the children after the initial raid. He noted that the children grew up in an unstable, authoritarian environment, then suffered through a two-hour shootout, then were torn from their families.
Most lost family members in the fire that leveled the Branch Davidian compound.
“I can’t imagine how hard that is, having your whole world turned upside-down, dealing with separations and loss, and having where you come from vilified,” Perry says. “I really wish the government had seen fit to realize, whether they take responsibility for what happened or not, that this created a whole group of orphans, essentially. There should have been some real attempt to help them adjust. The kids didn’t have any responsibility in this.”
With varying degrees of success, the children have carved out new lives for themselves. Scott Mabb, 21, son of Mount Carmel defender Kathryn Schroeder, recently enlisted in the Air Force. His younger sister and two brothers live with their mother in Florida.
Daniel Martin, 16, son of attorney Wayne Martin and his widow, Sheila, is studying business at Waco’s A.J. Moore Academy and is focused on going to an elite college and becoming a corporate CEO.
Kevin Jones is married and has a baby, as does his sister, Heather, 19. Kevin works with his brother, Mark, at a Waco supermarket.
Kiri Jewell, who left Mount Carmel the year before the siege and changed the course of a congressional hearing on the Branch Davidians with her testimony about Koresh’s sexual abuse, is 22. She is finishing a political science and economics degree at a state university in Michigan, pulling straight As and starring in a local theater production.
But the children of Mount Carmel still bear the heavy burden of memory.
“Sometimes I’ll be walking down the hall in school and start thinking about it, and I’ll be in shock,” says Daniel Martin, a soft-spoken but intense young man. “I can’t believe it happened to me. I can’t believe I’ve been shot at, that I almost didn’t make it.
“I can’t shed a tear now. Even when something is touching. I can’t cry even if I want to. Maybe what happened desensitized me.”
The young survivors are ambivalent about the legacy of Mount Carmel – about how they were raised, about the actions the government took and about David Koresh, the 33-year-old would-be rock star who assumed control of a cult in Central Texas.
“A lot of people want me to say he was a phony,” says Daniel, whose mother still takes him to Branch Davidian services. “A lot want me to say he was who he said he was.”
Daniel Martin left Mount Carmel in March 1993, when he was 6.
“At that age, it was very believable,” he says. “He seemed to play the guitar well and knew the Scriptures well. In living my life now, it looks horrible. It looks like that couldn’t be real, that he couldn’t be who he said he was. But having lived there, I can’t say that. I can’t say he was or wasn’t a fake.”
Daniel Martin remembers life at the compound as confining but not abusive. Families lived without modern conveniences, such as indoor plumbing, and Daniel remembers children being spanked often. But he doesn’t remember feeling scared.
“I’m not going to say it wasn’t fun,” he says. “I don’t know what it would be like to be put back in that environment. I was 6 years old. I’d never seen a video game system or name-brand clothes or fast food.
“I had my eyes open at all times. I was always watching. I was always deep in thought. But I had fun. I was always happy.”
Kevin Jones lived much of his life in his family’s mobile home next to Mount Carmel, and he only spent a couple of years at the compound itself. His father’s sister, Rachel Jones, was Koresh’s legal wife. But he says Koresh gave his own children more privileges than the other children were allowed.
“Sometimes he was a little mean to us,” he says. “I don’t ever remember getting in trouble. I never saw him spank anybody. One time I got in trouble. We put ant poison in the sand box or something. He said he was going to spank me, but he just pretended to.”
His older brother, Mark Jones, was 12 when he left. He says he hated how Koresh controlled everyone’s life, right down to what they could eat and when they could sleep.
“Mostly, I avoided him,” he says. “Most of the time when I saw him, I was in trouble with him.”
Kathryn Schroeder says that as a young girl her daughter was confined to her room for several months for pulling down her pants. But her family kept her good company, she says.
“That sounds really bad, and harsh,” she says, “but if you knew the amount of love they had, it didn’t feel like punishment.”
Even Marc Breault, the ex-Branch Davidian who later turned against Koresh and drew official attention to Koresh’s treatment of children, says the environment was a mixed bag.
“If a kid made a mistake, he would be quite frightened,” Breault says. “There was a lot of fear. And love, too. Even Koresh loved the kids in his own way.”
Ex-Davidians reported before the siege that Koresh’s followers spanked babies as young as eight months old, and beat some children until they bled.
From interviews, Perry’s psychiatric team gathered that the children had been spanked severely with wooden spoons for offenses as minor as spilling milk. Yet Perry says he is not surprised to hear that some survivors still have fond memories of Mount Carmel.
“The way the living environment was set up for them, it was not as though they had the hell beat out of them all the time,” he says. “I think the environment was much more malignant than it was abusive. It was a subtle and persistent twisting of beliefs rather than an assaultive attack on a person.”
Most of the children were too young to make sense of Koresh’s seemingly improvised theology, which included his belief that he was the sinful reincarnation of Christ, that all women in the world belonged to him, and that Mount Carmel was to be ground zero of the Apocalypse. They also didn’t know then that Koresh was taking young girls to bed.
Davidian apologists have tried to dismiss reports by ex-cultists that Koresh had sex with underage girls, but the evidence is clear. In a video Koresh released to the FBI during the siege, he showed off numerous children he claimed to have sired by various “wives.” One woman – his legal wife’s sister – bore his child when she was 14. Another gave birth at 16.
DNA testing of the women and children in the video who died in the April 19 fire confirmed that the children were his.
In a 1995 congressional hearing on the Mount Carmel disaster, 14-year-old Kiri Jewell presented graphic testimony of how Koresh had sexually abused her in a Waco motel room when she was 10. In a 1992 custody battle, a judge had heard Kiri’s account of molestation and ordered that she be kept away from Koresh and Mount Carmel.
However, Perry says, no evidence of ongoing child abuse surfaced during the siege – certainly nothing to justify a tank and tear-gas assault on the compound.
“None of the kids we worked with were sexually abused,” he says. “When the fire happened, Janet Reno said that children were being abused. I said, ‘What is she talking about? Was there some group orgy happening out there?’ What I found was that nothing had changed.”
He says he warned the FBI against provoking Koresh.
“I feel terrible about what happened,” he says of the April 19 assault in which 76 Branch Davidians perished. “If anything we did was used in an inaccurate way to make that decision, I would feel really bad.”
Daniel Martin remembers his confusion when he was “rescued” from Mount Carmel.
During the shootout, he had shivered under a mattress next to his 4-year-old sister, Kimberly. His disabled older brother, Jamie, was cut by flying glass while he lay in his bed.
“I remember asking my mom, ‘Why is this happening? Am I going to die?’ I was crying. It was extremely scary,” Daniel recalls.
His father, Wayne Martin, called 9-1-1 and pleaded for authorities to stop the shooting.
Two days later, Daniel’s mother was dressing Daniel in a shirt and tie and telling him and his sister to leave with the men in uniforms.
“I hopped into the vehicle,” he recalls. “There were a bunch of soldiers who looked like the agents who I’d seen earlier that were shooting at us. I remember they said, ‘We’re here to get you away from those bad people.’ I was thinking, ‘They’re not going to hurt me, but where am I going?'”
He was going to the Methodist Home in Waco to wait out the rest of the siege with 20 other Davidian children, including the Joneses.
Daniel’s father, Wayne, and four older siblings stayed at Mount Carmel and died in the fire. His mother, Sheila, left the compound March 21, confident of a peaceful resolution.
“I always hoped that God would intervene,” she remembers. “Wayne told me he was going to stay and make sure everybody got out safely. I don’t think I could have left if I’d known what was going to happen.”
Like Daniel, Kevin Jones couldn’t fathom the reasons for the ATF raid, which some critics suggest erupted into conflict when federal agents began dispatching dogs outside the compound.
“It’s like we were just sleeping one morning, then they came out with guns and started tearing down our walls and killing our dogs,” he says. “The walls were just full of holes. The door was just shot to pieces. I cut my hand on it.”
He had always yawned through Koresh’s preaching about the coming persecution of the Davidians by the evil “Babylonians.” Now it seemed dead-on.
“David always told us that some day something would happen,” he recalls. “He didn’t say specifically what would happen, but that the government would come because they didn’t like that we had guns.”
Kevin Jones doesn’t remember how long he lay under the blanket with his brother while Branch Davidians and ATF traded gunfire. During a lull in the action, the Jones boys got up and went into the arsenal, where they say they helped Davidian Kathryn Schroeder load ammunition clips.
“They had some huge guns in there,” Mark Jones remembers. “I saw some grenades, too, but they had long fuses.”
The boys’ father, David Jones, was involved in the shootout and likely would have faced charges if he surrendered. Perry Jones, their grandfather and a prominent Davidian for many years, was wounded in the raid and died during the siege, possibly by suicide.
The Jones children were released one at a time throughout March.
Heather, then 9, was the last of the Jones children released, through the help of a government negotiator.
He (Koresh) called me in there and asked me if I wanted to talk to the guy on the phone,” Heather recalls. “The guy was trying to bribe me with sodas and cookies and doughnuts, ‘anything you want.’ We set up a time.
“My dad was standing there. He was looking at me real sad. When I said yeah, and set up a time, my dad started bawling. It hurt me so bad. That was the last time I saw him.”
En route to the Methodist Home, she was taken to an airplane hangar at Texas State Technical College, which was the base for the government’s Mount Carmel operations. There she was allowed to talk with her father on the phone.
“He told me to be good to Mom and that he always loved me,” she says.
The children’s mother, Kathy Jones, had left Mount Carmel in 1990 with nothing to her name but her car and her clothes. She had separated from her husband and she couldn’t stand Mount Carmel anymore. But she didn’t have the means to feed her children, while her husband had a good job as a postman.
Like David Jones, she had grown up at Mount Carmel long before the Koresh years, and she had moved back there only at her husband’s insistence.
From a young age, Kathy Jones found Mount Carmel’s environment oppressive, but she was also terrified of the “Sodom and Gomorrah” that she heard lay outside the commune. And at times, Mount Carmel could be a “neat place to live,” with lakes and horses.
“It was very strict, though, especially with the girls,” she recalls.
“We felt like prisoners sometimes. … We started feeling kind of trapped. We’d ride up to the gate and stop. We’d feel like, ‘We’re trapped like rats.’ As you got older, you realized other people your age were skating and going to movies and dating and having fun.
“I think I had a semblance of happiness. It was also a small hell.”
She escaped briefly as a young woman and hopped around the country but found the outside world a scary place and returned to Waco. She married David Jones in 1978, and the two lived near Mount Carmel.
“I didn’t want to go back into that situation of being dominated totally,” Kathy Jones recalls. “I felt like I’d had that all my life. This was my first taste of freedom. Finally I felt like I had found my place.”
Over time, however, David Jones became heavily involved with a faction of Branch Davidians led by Koresh, then known as Vernon Howell. In 1989, the Joneses moved to the compound. Within a year, the couple had drifted apart.
“That was about the time everything started,” she says, referring to Koresh’s increasing domination of cult members, especially the women.
“Marriages weren’t marriages anymore,” she says. “It didn’t seem that strange. We’d seen so many changes in our lives before. That didn’t make it any easier.”
She hadn’t seen the last of difficult changes.
When she got the terrible news, Heather Jones crawled under a table and refused to come out.
It was April 20, 1993, the day after the Mount Carmel holocaust. Methodist Home officials assembled the children to tell them the news.
“All of them had relatives in there,” recalls Jack Kyle Daniels, Methodist Home president. “We wanted to make sure we had an accurate list. There wasn’t a big immediate reaction. There wasn’t a big outcry, but you could see it in their faces.”
There was still no official word on who had died, or how many. But Heather drew her own conclusions.
“They said, ‘They started a fire and killed themselves.’ I figured because he didn’t come out, Dad died in the fire,” she says. “That’s why I was so upset, because I was close to my Dad.”
Heather, who was living in a group home supervised by an adult couple, remembers her stress after learning the news.
“I started having bad nightmares,” she says. “I don’t remember what happened, but they were really bad. About David, about the fire. I wanted my Dad. … I didn’t want to be left alone.”
Kevin Jones was equally affected but kept his feelings to himself, even in therapy sessions.
“I just looked at the floor,” he remembers. “I was tired of talking about it. What was that supposed to do? You can’t change what happened. They can’t take it back. The only thing was if the government could admit they did wrong, but they wouldn’t.”
The children of Mount Carmel were whisked away to wherever they had relatives to claim them.
By the time of the fire, only 10 children remained at the Methodist Home. Relatives had taken the other children away to Australia, New Zealand, England, Hawaii and points across the United States. Most would lose contact with each other.
The Jones and Martin children were the last to leave, as their mothers struggled with Child Protective Services to get custody. Daniel Martin went to live for seven months with his grandparents in New Jersey, and he almost forgot who his mother was.
He doesn’t remember his reaction to the fire, but he remembers it affected his behavior for months.
“I do remember I cried a lot,” Daniel recalls. “At that point, it made me mad. I was very bad in school. I would hit people who cared about me.”
His sister, Kimberly, 4 at the time of the siege, remembers hearing adults talking about heaven and being confused about whether her father and siblings were still alive.
“I don’t think I understood what death was,” she says. “They told about how you would see them again. They would tell me that everyone would be waiting for us. I thought there were spirits around us all the time.”
The Jones children went to live with their mother, Kathy Jones, and enrolled in Waco-area public schools.
For years, Kevin kept his past a secret from his classmates. But every time he got angry about anything, memories of the shootout and the fire would flood back into his mind.
“I cried about it every day,” he says. “I would go to my mom, and she’d be crying, too. I didn’t let other people see me cry. That’s what everybody says, I keep my feelings inside. But you can’t fix it.”
Kevin lost most of his Mount Carmel friends, and he didn’t think he fit into his new surroundings.
“It was hard to make friends,” he says. “I felt like I’d just lose them again. I never did have friends throughout high school. My wife was the first girlfriend I had.”
Kevin got married last year, and now he lives at his mother’s house with his wife and his son, barely a half-year-old. He believes he jumped into marriage too quickly.
“We loved each other,” he says. “We still do. But we didn’t have time to get to know each other.”
Heather, 19, also lives at her mother’s home with her daughter, also several months old. She says she has no dreams for the future, but her mother wants her to get a job.
Heather longs for the simplicity of the life she remembers at Mount Carmel. After describing how Koresh used to pull her pants down every day and spank her, she adds: “Now that I think about it, the spanking wasn’t that bad. Now I wish I was back there. I wouldn’t have to worry about everything like I do now. Now, there’s just so many problems.”
Kathy Jones works the night shift 60 hours a week at a retirement home and struggles to keep her family together. She keeps in touch with surviving Branch Davidians, though she doesn’t consider herself part of the sect.
“They’re still my family,” she says. “I believe in a heaven, I believe in right and wrong. I don’t go to church. But I couldn’t have made it if I didn’t believe in God.”
She says many of her closest friends were killed in the fire, and it’s hard to find anyone who can understand what she has gone through.
“They had their hell for a little while,” she says of the Branch Davidians who died. “Now I’m living it every day. I have to live with what happened to all those people, and what it did to my kids.”
Kevin says he has no interest in organized religion after what he has lived through.
“I’m never going to go to church again,” he says. “All church is is something to give people hope. Hope for what? If your government can do something like what they did to us? I still pray. Sometimes I wonder why God let it happen, why he took my dad away.”
Possibly Related Products
Our website includes affiliate links, which means we get a small commission — at no additional cost to you — for each qualifying purpose. For instance, as an Amazon Associate Religion News Blog earns from qualifying purchases. That is one reason why we can provide this service free of charge.