From - 1996 to May 1996, the Subcommittee on Crime of the House Committee on the Judiciary and the Subcommittee on National Security, International Affairs, and Criminal Justice of the House Committee on Government Reform and Oversight jointly conducted an investigation into the actions of the federal agencies involved in law enforcement operations against a group known as the Branch Davidians near Waco, Texas in late 1992 and early 1993. As part of its investigation, the Subcommittees held 10 days of public hearings. During the course of those hearings, over 100 witnesses appeared and gave testimony concerning all aspects of the government's actions. The Subcommittees also reviewed thousands of documents requested from and provided by the agencies involved in these actions. Additionally, the Subcommittees met with others who were involved in these actions or who offered additional information or opinions concerning them.
This report is the final product of that investigation. It summarizes many of the most important facts about the key issues of these activities considered by the Subcommittees. The report also sets forth the Subcommittees' conclusions with respect to disputed issues and new facts uncovered during the investigation.
Who shot first?
Much has been made of the issue as to which side in the gun battle shot first. Conflicting evidence on this point was presented to the Subcommittees at the ATF agents who were involved in the raid, the Texas Rangers who conducted an investigation into the events of the raid following the end of the stand-off on April 19, and by the attorneys for the Davidians.
ATF Special Agent John Henry Williams, a member of the SRT team assigned to enter the front door of the Branch Davidian Residence, and who spoke to David Koresh at the front door of the Branch Davidian residence as the raid began, testified that he was convinced that the Davidians shot first. As Williams testified before the Subcommittees,
"As we approached the front door, David Koresh came to the front door dressed in black cammo fatigues. As he closed the door, before we reached the door, one agent reached the door, and at that point that is when the doors erupted with gunfire coming from inside. It was 10 seconds or more before we even fired back."
Later on that same day, Williams testified at greater length about the start of the gun battle.
Mr. Scott: Can you go through just very briefly, you were walking up to the door, and how close to the door were you when the shooting started?
Mr. Williams: About 10 feet from the door.
Mr. Scott: Was it your intention prior to that to - had Koresh come out by then?
Mr. Williams: Yes.
Mr. Scott: And how far from the door were you when he closed the door in your face?
Mr. Williams: Approximately 15 feet from the door.
Mr. Scott: And did you continue walking forward?
Mr. Williams: Yes.
Mr. Scott: And how close were you when the shooting started?
Mr. Williams: I - basically about 10 feet. After that, the shooting started immediately after he closed the door.
Mr. Scott: Is there any question in your mind as to where the shooting began?
Mr. Williams: None.
Mr. Scott: Thank you - excuse me, that was from the inside coming out.
Mr. Williams: Yes, from the inside coming out.
Senior officers of the Texas Rangers also testified as to the findings of their investigation into these events after April 19. The Rangers interviewed virtually everyone who was present at the Branch Davidian residence on February 28, including several of the surviving Davidians and all of the ATF agents who were present. As Texas Ranger Captain David Byrnes testified to the Subcommittees:
I believe the evidence was to me overwhelming in the trial that the Davidians fired first. The cameraman and the reporter, although very reluctant, finally I believe conceded that. He had broadcast that several times. He was more or less a hostile witness. But in my mind there is no doubt who fired first.
The Subcommittees believe that the question of who fired the first shot on February 28th cannot decisively be resolved given the limited testimony presented to the Subcommittees. It appears more likely, however, that the Davidians fired first as the ATF agents began to enter the residence.
Were shots fired from the helicopters?
Allegations also were leveled by the Davidians' attorneys that agents in the National Guard helicopters used in the raid fired into the Branch Davidian residence from the air. The attorneys testified that when they met with the Davidians, they were shown holes in the roof of the structure which appeared to them to be bullet holes fired from the outside into the structure. Phillip Chojnacki testified, however, that no shots were fired from the helicopters. He testified that ATF personnel on the helicopters were armed only with nine millimeter sidearms and that he observed no shots fired from the helicopters.
Texas Ranger Captain David Byrnes also testified as to what the rangers' investigation concluded with respect to this issue. He stated that the Ranges found no evidence that shots were fired from the helicopters.
Additionally, the Subcommittees staff reviewed video tape of the raid shot by agents in the helicopters as well as video tape of the exterior of the helicopters involved in the raid after the helicopters withdrew from the scene. At no point in the video tape is any ATF agent firing weapons from the helicopters and the helicopters do not appear to have been equipped with machine guns or other weaponry. The video tape reviewed, however, is not continuous from the point from which the helicopters lifted off to the conclusion of the raid. The fact that videotape was taken at some points in the raid and not at others has not been explained to the Subcommittees.
It has been suggested that the bullet holes in the roof of the Branch Davidian residence many have come from ATF agents on the roof who were firing into the structure as the firefight continued. Jack Zimmerman, the attorney for Branch Davidian Steve Schnieder during the stand-off, conceded during his testimony before the Subcommittees that this was a possible explanation. Given that there were several ATF agents who were on the roof of the residence during the firefight with the Davidians, this explanation seems plausible.
The evidence presented to the Subcommittees generally supports the conclusion that no shots were fired from the helicopters at the Branch Davidian residence.
There was the possibility of on-going physical and sexual child abuse.
It is clear that Koresh sexually abused minor females at the residence, in addition to having consensual sexual relations with several of the adult females who lived there. A number of former Davidians provided affidavits detailing these sexual relations, including the sexual abuse involving minors females. Joyce Sparks, an employee of the Texas Children's Protective Services agency provided the FBI with a report of an interview she conducted with a child who lived at the residence detailing an incident of sexual abuse. This child, Kiri Jewell, testified about her experience before the Subcommittees at the July hearings. Also, during conversation between FBI and Steve Schneider during the week of April 14, Schneider admitted that he knew of Koresh's sexual abuse of a minor female. While all of these incidents occurred prior to February 28, FBI behavioral expert Dr. Paul Dietz, in an April 17 memoranda to the FBI, opined that "Koresh may continue to make sexual use of any minor female children who remain inside."
It also appears certain that Koresh employed severe physical punishments as a means of disciplining the children. A March 26 report of Dr. Bruce Perry, a - who interviewed the children who had been released from the residence during the stand-off, confirmed that Koresh physically abused children who had misbehaved.
At 12:07 p.m., Central Standard Time, more than six hours after the FBI began to implement the plan to end the standoff, fire was detected inside the Branch Davidians residence. Within a period of two minutes, two additional fires were detected in two other parts of the structure. In less than - minutes the fire had spread throughout the structure. By the end of the afternoon, the structure was completely destroyed.
One of the important areas of inquiry during the Subcommittees' hearings into the government's actions towards the Davidians at Waco was the cause of the fire that destroyed the Branch Davidian residence. At the hearings the Subcommittees received testimony from the leader of a team of fire experts called together by the Texas Rangers to investigate the origins of the fire, a fire expert retained by the Justice Department to join with the team assembled by the Texas Rangers, and from an independent arson investigator.
During the testimony of these witnesses, the Subcommittees also reviewed videotape recordings of the development and spread of the fire. Included in this review was a videotape using "forward looking infrared" (FLIR) technology, which was taken from an FBI observation plane circling the Branch Davidian residence throughout the morning and afternoon of April 19. The FLIR type of video, also called a Thermal Imaging System, is a type of video photography which images thermal heat sources. Because of its sensitivity to changes in the quantity of heat given off by an object the FLIR videotape showed the beginning of the fires within the Branch Davidian residence prior to the point at which was the flames were visible to persons on the outside of the structure. Time lapse indicators on the video recordings were used by the witnesses to establish the times at which each fire within the Branch Davidian residence began.
Summary of the Development of the Fire.
During the hearings, James Quintiere, Professor of Fire Protection Engineering at the University of Maryland and one of two fire experts retained by the Justice Department's to join the fire review team assembled by the Texas Rangers, used the FLIR video tape to demonstrate the development of the fire on April 19. Dr. Quintiere's responsibilities as a part of the Review Team were to analyze the development of the fire and draw interpretations and conclusions from that analysis. In addition to reviewing the FLIR video, the fire investigation team reviewed television coverage of the fire by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, which was also time dated, and television coverage of the fire by a local Waco television station. The team also reviewed aerial photographs and other materials. During his testimony to the Subcommittees, Dr. Quintiere played a video tape that simultaneously played each of the three video tapes of the fire synchronized to the same time.
The videotape demonstration showed that the first fire began at 12:07:42 p.m. As part of his testimony to the Subcommittees, Dr. Quintiere narrated the videotape demonstration. As the first fire developed, Dr. Quintiere testified.
Finally, Dr. Quintiere described the inception of the third fire, which occurred on the first floor in the chapel area. He also noted that 38 seconds later there emerged hot gases at a point 45 feet away from the point where the third fire began. He testified that this could have been a separately set, fourth fire, but that the development of this fire was consistent with someone placing a trail of gasoline or other liquid fuel between those two points and allowing the third fire to spread over that trail.
Analysis of the Issues Relating to the Fire.
During the their testimony before the Subcommittees, the three fire experts stated their opinions as to the cause of the fire. They also discussed the several other theories as to the fire's origin which had been circulating in the media. Their testimony, coupled with the visual evidence provided by the FLIR and other videotape recordings made on April 19, conclusively prove that multiple fires began in different places inside the Branch Davidian residence and that they were deliberately set by the Davidians themselves.
The Davidians set the Fires.
The evidence presented to the Subcommittees conclusively demonstrated that three distinct fires began in three separate parts of the Branch Davidian residence within a two minute period on April 19. In light of these facts, the Subcommittees conclude that the fires were intentionally set by Branch Davidian members in order to destroy the structure. Supporting this conclusion is that fact that the fire review team found that a number of accelerants were present in the structure, including gasoline, kerosene, Coleman fuel, and other accelerants.
Given that these accelerants were used to contribute to the spread of the fire, the Subcommittees conclude that the Davidians used them as part of a plan to destroy their residence.
The methylene chloride in the CS riot control agent used by the FBI did not cause the fire.
One of the theories forwarded to the Subcommittees comcerning the origin of the fire is that methylene chloride, a chemical used as a dispersant to carry the CS riot control agent injected into the Branch Davidian residence, may have ignited and started the fire. During the hearings Dr. Quintiere testified that it was his opinion that the methylene chloride in the CS agent neither caused nor contributed to the spread of the fire.
In light of this testimony, and the other information reviewed by the Subcommittees concerning the flammability of methylene chloride, the Subcommittees conclude that the presence of methylene chloride in the Branch Davidian residence did not cause the fire nor contribute to its spread.
The combat engineering vehicles used by the FBI on April 19 did not start the fire.
Some theories concerning the origin of the fire involve an explanation that one of the combat engineering vehicles used by the FBI to inject CS chemical agent to demolish portions of the Branch Davidian residence may have actually caused the fire, either intentionally or unintentionally.
At one point in the video record of the operation on April 19, a combat engineering vehicle is seen driving into a portion of the residence. The first fire begins in that same location shortly thereafter. Some have suggested that the CEV might have overturned a lighted kerosene lantern inside the residence, causing the fire to begin. The fire that begins in that area, however, is not discernable in the FLIR video until one and one half minutes after the CEV leaves that side of the structure. During the hearings, Dr. Quintiere was questioned on the significance of this fact.
Some citizens have contacted the Subcommittees and forward to them copies of a video sold by an organization antagonistic to the government which attempts to explain many aspects of the government's actions at Waco, including the start of the fire. The makers of that videotape allege that the combat engineering vehicles used at Waco carried flame throwing devices which were used to intentionally set the fires inside the Branch Davidian residence. During the hearings, the fire experts were questioned about this theory.
On another day of the hearings, a Defense Department witness testified that all of the military vehicles loaned by the Defense Department to the Department of Justice and used at Waco were unarmed. Additionally, the Subcommittees' interviews with other present at the Branch Davidian residence on April 19 confirms that none of these vehicles was armed.
Given this fact, and the fact that had a flamethrower or similar device been installed on one of the CEVs its use would have been observable in the FLIR video, the Subcommittees conclude that the government did not use any of the military vehicles to intentionally set the fire. Additionally, as the evidence before the Subcommittees clearly demonstrate that no fire began near the time when any of the CEVs came in contact with the structure, the Subcommittees conclude that it is highly unlikely that the use of the CEVs inadvertently caused the fires to begin.
The Davidians could have left their residence even after the fire began.
Throughout the morning of April 19, none of the Davidians left their residence. After the fire broke out, however, nine persons left the building. This indicates that at least some opportunity existed for the Davidians to safely leave the structure had they wanted to do so. One of those who escaped the fire left the residence almost 21 minutes after the breakout of the first fire. Clearly, some means of escape from the residence existed for a significant period of time after the fire broke out.
An important question, however, is whether the Davidians might have been overcome by smoke and prevented from leaving the residence. The autopsies of the Davidians indicate that deaths from smoke inhalation or asphyxiation from carbon monoxide poisoning accounted for only half of the Davidians who died in the residence. The other causes of death were gunshot wounds, burns, or other trauma. Thus, even after the fires began to consume the structure, at least half of the Davidians were not so affected by the smoke and fumes from the fire that they were physically unable to leave the structure.
Additionally, the location of the bodies of the Davidians indicates that few of the Davidians actually attempted to escape the building. Many of the bodies were huddled together in locations in the center of the building. Few of the bodies were located at points of exit from the building, and the cause of death of several of the bodies at exit points were self-inflicted gunshot wounds or gunshots from very close range.