Doomed cult had a local connection

Branch Davidians had local connection

SGV Tribune/April 18, 2003
By Marianne Love

La Verne -- David Koresh, the cult leader of the Branch Davidians, is something of a faded memory for those who live near the two-story house he resided in for a short period of time.

And although today marks the 10th anniversary of the fiery ending of a 51-day standoff between Koresh and the federal government outside Waco, Texas, that killed 80 people - including two dozen children - some people say they wish they could forget the tragedy.

"At that time he was like everyone else. It wasn't until Waco he became notorious in the eyes of everyone,' said longtime La Verne resident Frank Soldo, 69.

Koresh lived with several of his 18 "wives' in a five-bedroom home in the 2700 block of White Avenue in La Verne in the late 1980s and early 1990s. His life ended in the prolonged siege at the Texas compound when federal officers mounted a paramilitary assault.

Only nine residents of the compound escaped the inferno.

Today's anniversary might have gone unnoticed had the media not stirred up the consciousness of those still living in the foothill city.

Resident Mickey Forde's memory was jogged Friday about the day in March 1993, when White Avenue and the surrounding neighborhood were cordoned off near his home.

"How many times, in La Verne, do you have helicopters circling and telling you to get back into your house?' Forde recalled.

During the La Verne Police Department's search of the home, they found bunk beds in every room enough accommodations for about 30 people, said La Verne police Chief Ron Ingels, who was a detective at the time.

Ingels said his department got involved with Koresh in 1991, based on a complaint from Robyn Bunds, who claimed to have a child with Koresh.

Bunds said Koresh kidnapped their son and took him to the Waco compound.

La Verne authorities went to Waco months before Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms agents tried to search the Davidian compound for illegal weapons and arrest the sect leader.

"We go there to contact him and find him there and he's visibly shaking because he had to speak with the police,' Ingels said. "I remember his hands were shaking.'

Ingels said Koresh came to La Verne and returned the child within 48 hours of being contacted in Waco.

Robyn Bunds, who now lives in Pomona, did not return phone calls seeking comment. But her father, Don Bunds, said his daughter has a sleeping disorder as a result of the ordeal and still seeks the advice of psychologists.

The elder Bunds said he was at the Waco compound an hour before the fiery explosion. He said his grandson, Shaun Bunds, never knew his father.

"I didn't like Koresh,' said Don Bunds. "He was too arrogant for me.'

The White Avenue house is now occupied by a family of five. A person who refused to give his name said in the beginning people would come by, take photos and knock on the door, but that has all ended.

Some survivors remain in central Texas, and a handful still follow Koresh's teachings and attend a weekly Bible study at a chapel built on the compound's remnants.

The rest moved to other states or returned to Canada and Australia.

Seven Davidians, including an El Monte native, remain in prison on charges stemming from the shooting deaths of four federal agents.

In 1994, El Monte native Jaime Castillo was convicted and sentenced to 40 years in prison for an incident that happened a month before the deadly fire.

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