Roanoke Times
                 Copyright (c) 1995, Landmark Communications, Inc.

DATE: MONDAY, March 1, 1993                   TAG: 9303010115
SOURCE: From The New York Times, The Associated Press and The Fort Worth
DATELINE: WACO, TEXAS                                LENGTH: Medium


Four federal agents were killed and 15 more were wounded Sunday when they tried to storm the compound of a religious sect to arrest its leader on weapons charges.

The agents were met almost at once by heavy and sustained gunfire from the cult members, two of whom were reported killed.

The battle erupted after more than 100 agents emerged from hiding in livestock trailers and entered the fortified 77-acre compound, 10 miles east of Waco. The agents retreated after 45 minutes of shooting, their dead and wounded carried away by ambulance and helicopter, and negotiated with the group by phone.

Then, about 7 p.m. EST, three members of the Branch Davidian sect came out of the compound and began shooting at agents, said Les Stanford of the ATF in Washington.

One sect member was killed and one captured, he said. A third man apparently was wounded but retreated to the compound.

The standoff then resumed. David Koresh, 33, the leader of the group, said in a rambling interview with Cable News Network that he would release child members two by two if radio stations played his religious messages.

Six children were released from the compound late Sunday, authorities said.

Koresh, who is also known as Vernon Howell, said one of his children, a 2-year-old, had been killed in the battle. In a strained voice, he said he himself had been "shot through the guts" and in the arm.

The federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms had planned the raid for months and had rehearsed it several times, said Ted Royster, special agent for its Dallas field office. But it was clear that despite the elaborate preparations, Koresh members of the sect had learned of the raid in advance.

"They knew we were coming," Royster said. "I cannot tell you what went wrong. It appeared as though they were waiting for us." He did not elaborate.

"We have had undercover contact with members of the group . . . that a phone call from outside the compound warned them we were on the way just at the most critical moment in the raid," bureau spokesman Jack Killorin said from Washington.

The result of that phone call was a withering burst of fire from what agents identified as a .50-caliber weapon, Killorin said.

"We don't know whether it is a semiautomatic .50-caliber rifle or whether it was a machine gun, but we did know the group has a .50-caliber weapon or weapons," Killorin said.

It was one of largest operations ever mounted by the bureau, an agency of the Treasury Department that enforces federal law on trafficking in illegal weapons. And it was "the greatest loss of life ever suffered by the bureau," Royster said.

The battle came a day after the local newspaper, The Waco Tribune-Herald, carried a long report on the sect, calling attention to the weapons and accusing its leader of sexually abusing girls in the compound. Royster said the timing of Sunday's raid was not related to that report.

The federal agents were carrying warrants to search the Davidians' compound for guns and explosives and to arrest Koresh, a musician whose followers believe that he is Jesus Christ.

With helicopters circling overhead, more than 100 federal agents approached the cult's fortress, Mount Carmel, and were met almost immediately by heavy and sustained fire from automatic weapons.

"They came right in, parked right by the front door and made a frontal assault on the building," said John McLemore, a local television reporter who witnessed the shootout.

Television cameras recorded the scene as federal agents wearing body armor crawled up ladders onto roofs of the compound, only to be blasted from within. "It sounded like a war zone," McLemore said. "People were being hit. You could hear people screaming with the agony, the pain of it."

After the shootout the authorities spoke with Koresh and another member of the cult who is also its lawyer, Killorin said.

The bureau estimated that 70 people were in the group: 30 men, eight children and 30 or so women.

"There are a lot of children here," Koresh said. "I've had a lot of babies these past two years. It's true that I do have a lot of children and I do have a lot of wives." In past interviews, he has denied having more than one wife or two children.

The Branch Davidian sect claims to be an offshoot of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, but that denomination has renounced any connection to the sect or Koresh.

The sect moved its base from Los Angeles in 1935, the year after it was formed in a dispute over interpretations of the Bible.


by Archana Subramaniam by CNB