Waco's kids, 10 years later

Young survivors recall cult's terror, mourn those lost in fire

Tucson Citizen/April 19, 2003

Waco, Texas -- Two-year-old Kimberly Martin fell asleep on a chapel bench during a rambling sermon about the end of the world. The religious group's leader, David Koresh, got angry. He jerked the sleepy toddler and made her sit beside him as he kept on preaching.

"I don't remember much, but I remember that he spanked me in front of people," said Martin, now 14. The girl was among the 21 children and 14 adults who left the Branch Davidian compound near Waco a decade ago during a 51-day standoff following a botched raid by federal agents.

But more than 80 people, including two dozen children, were still inside when the buildings were consumed by flames April 19, 1993. Only nine people escaped. Martin's father, oldest brother and three older sisters did not.

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 with relatives or returned home to Canada and Australia.

Seven Davidians remain in prison on charges stemming from the shooting deaths of four federal agents who raided the compound in February 1993, trying to arrest Koresh for stockpiling illegal weapons and explosives.

Children who left the complex during the siege remember being terrified during the initial raid, hiding under mattresses as bullets shattered windows and walls. Some say they helped adults load ammunition.

Their vivid memories support an extensive government investigation revealing that the Davidians shot each other and set the blaze to end the standoff.

They say Koresh taught his followers - even the youngsters - how to commit suicide. "You didn't want to stick the gun to your temple because you might live. You wanted to stick it in your mouth and point up," Kiri Jewell, now 22 and a Michigan college student, told ABC's "PrimeTime" Thursday. "He never was very specific, but at some point we were gonna have to die for him. I didn't expect to live past 12."

Jewell left the compound in 1992, but her mother died in the standoff's fiery end. In a 1995 congressional hearing, a teenage Jewell recalled how Koresh began having sex with her when she was 10.

Many in the complex were too young to understand that Koresh had multiple "wives," including underage girls, with whom he fathered a dozen children. Neither did they know why they had to sit through all-night Bible studies.

But some say they have fond memories of riding go-carts, eating ice cream, swimming in the pool at the compound and listening to Koresh play the guitar. Heather Jones, 19, said she had a hard time adjusting to life outside the compound, where she was born. She doesn't blame the tragic finale on Koresh, whose legal wife was her aunt, but she has turned against religion.

Jones still grieves over her father, grandfather and other relatives who died there, and she was in counseling for years.

"I have really bad dreams. Every year around this time I get depressed," said Jones, who plans to graduate from high school next month. "I think about it. I don't talk about it, though."

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