Reorganized Davidians envision 'PLACE OF HEALING'

Branch Davidian Ray Feight prays during a service at the site of the group's former compound outside of Waco, Texas.

The Pueblo Chieftan, Colorado/March 17, 2007
By Diane Jennings

Waco, Texas -- Fourteen years after a February shootout and April inferno killed almost 100 people, tourists still trek to Mount Carmel, drawn by the bloody tragedy of cult leader David Koresh and his Branch Davidian followers.

''Awful things happened here,'' says Charles Pace, the self-proclaimed leader of The Branch, The Lord Our Righteousness, a newly reorganized church on the same site. Still, he has grand plans for the property, envisioning it as ''a place of healing and restoration.''

Pace, fellow Branch member Ray Feight and son Robert, hope to build a multiuse complex, including an amphitheater, a Biblical petting zoo, a museum and gift shop, a wellness center, a deli, an organic farm and a model of the tabernacle that housed the Ten Commandments.

''I feel like the Lord has been dishonored here,'' Ray Feight said. ''And I want to see God honored.''

The task appears daunting at best.

Branch membership is tiny - about a dozen including Pace's wife and three children.

Right now the property contains only a handful of mobile homes, some stone markers and a modest church.

There is no septic system and no running water. Pace has to haul water for his family in 500-gallon containers.

But Pace, a licensed massage therapist by profession, is confident.

''The Lord provides it, that's all I'm going to tell you,'' he said. ''And that's all you need to know. This work is the Lord's work.''

He cites the construction of the church seven years ago as an example. The simple white building was built and paid for by volunteers led by radio talk-show host Alex Jones.

''Just like the finances of this building and the talents for building it, the spirit of God is going to bring it all together,'' Pace said. ''I've got big faith.''

The group's Web site notes that donations to the Branch Restoration fund are welcome. However, contributions are not tax deductible.

''We're not organized that way and never will be,'' Pace said.

Pace also said he does not have access to the funds. ''The donations aren't going to me,'' he said. ''They're going to the fund. I don't touch it. I don't have anything to do with it.''

That's probably just as well. According to public records, the Internal Revenue Service filed liens against Pace in 2004 for more than $200,000.

Pace said the records are wrong. ''They have misinformation,'' he said, ''but it's on record, and they leave it on record for everybody that wants to look at it for smear tactics.''

Pace said he was appointed by God to pick up the pieces after the Branch Davidian church leadership was destroyed in 1993. The Canadian has lived on the property off and on since 1973.

He said he left in 1985 after publicly challenging Vernon Howell, who later became known as David Koresh.

''I pointed my finger right at him and said . . . 'Women, men and little children are going to be slaughtered, and the whole place is going to be burned up,' " he said.

''They were following a man instead of the spirit of God. That's why this whole thing happened.'' Pace said that he does not condone Koresh's sins, which allegedly included sex with young girls and adultery, but that Koresh was told by God to suggest such actions and ''the elders should have straightened him out. They should have said: 'No, we're not going to let you do this. You're breaking the law and the testimonies.' "

Pace returned to the property in the mid-1990s. His family, including wife Alexa, a daughter and two sons, joined him in 1998. His wife home-schools their two boys, ages 12 and 15, who amused themselves when they were younger by collecting bullets found on the property.

''They had a lot of fun doing that,'' Alexa Pace said. ''There were people who came to visit that wanted to buy them as souvenirs.''

Except for the markers and a memorial grove, little about the site recalls those horrific days. In fact, when the sun warms the grass, a breeze ruffles the pond, and the only sounds are of birds and bugs, it's hard to believe this pastoral place once echoed with gunshots and screams, shouts and the crackle of flames.

Pace said he has wanted to develop the property for a while, but it has taken years to obtain control from the remaining Koresh followers. Last year, Clive Doyle, who operated a small museum at the entrance, finally left the property.

On Saturdays, Pace conducts services, though he said he doesn't have followers. Rather, he regards himself as a ''teacher of righteousness, a spiritual leader.''

The new church includes only one former follower of Koresh - Ofelia Santoyo.

Santoyo lost her only daughter and five grandchildren in the 1993 fire and has repudiated Koresh, Pace said. Santoyo did not return calls for comment.

Now that he has control of the property, Pace said, it is ''going to be rebuilt, and it's going to glorify the name of the Lord and the law and the testimony.''

The law - the Ten Commandments - is central to the new group, Pace said.

Feight, who has lived in Waco for 38 years, hopes the new development will lift the stigma he said still surrounds the Central Texas city. ''They call it 'Wacky Waco,' " he said, grimacing. ''That needs to be changed.''

The nickname doesn't worry Lesly Rascoe, communications director for the Greater Waco Chamber of Commerce. ''It's not something that comes up a lot,'' she said.

The chamber rarely gets inquiries anymore about Mount Carmel - which, in fact, is outside the city limits - she said, adding that Waco has received plenty of positive publicity lately.

Today, ''people are interested in finding where is the president's ranch,'' she said. ''I think people are interested in current events, not negative things that happened a long time ago.''

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