Lessons From Waco: What Happens to Kids?

Cult Expert Says Waco and FLDS Kids Share Some of Same Problems

ABC News/April 18, 2008

Fifteen years ago this week, the Branch Davidian compound in Waco, Texas, went up in flames, ending a tense 51-day standoff between the religious cult and the FBI.

David Koresh, the group's charismatic leader, and 70 others, including 20 children, died in the inferno.

There are some obvious parallels between the polygamist Branch Davidians and the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ Latter Day Saints members whose Texas compound was recently raided by government officials.

Both sought refuge in remote parts of Texas, about 200 miles apart. Both involved polygamy and accusations of child brides. And both sects have children who will have to contend with the trauma of having the only way of life they've ever known invaded and upended.

Rick Ross, an expert on cults who has worked with former Branch Davidians and Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints members, said that children who come out of closed-off societies or cultlike groups face many of the same problems. But he says the current case in Texas and the fate of the FLDS children poses unprecedented and complex problems.

"I've worked with a number of children removed by the courts from cults, and I've never seen a case like this," Ross told "Good Morning America."

"These children have no support system on the outside. Everyone they know, they love, everything is tied up in that and that group. The Texas authorities have a tough road ahead," he said.

Growing Up With Koresh

Sky Okimoto was nearly 4 when his mother, Koresh's sixth wife, left the Waco compound. Today he is a 19-year-old college student and still struggling with the confusion and sadness, and the fading memories of Waco.

"Being the son of David Koresh, yes it was pretty hard," Sky told "GMA." "I felt like something was wrong with me because so many people hated my father."

He continued, "I was angry when I was young because I had just lost my father. It was only until the eighth grade really when I decided to be a happy person again."

The Waco Branch Davidians, a splinter group of the Seventh-Day Adventist church, believed they were living in apocalyptic times. Their lifestyle was extremely austere, based on strict discipline, physical labor and intense Bible study.

Koresh, the group's self-proclaimed messiah, took multiple wives with whom he had at least 14 children. Koresh was also accused of abusing underage girls -- one of his wives was 14 years old and another was 12.

After beginning to question Koresh's doctrine, Okimoto's mom, Dana, left the group just months before the standoff with the government.

Still, she said watching her former home go up in flames was horrifying.

"That was probably the worst day of my life, because those were my friends, those were my family," she said in an ABC News "Primetime" interview in 2003. "What made it even harder for me was knowing I would have been in there."

Dana Okimoto told "GMA" that she has avoided watching TV coverage of the FLDS case because of the similarities she sees between the two groups and the emotions it brings back.

Sky Okimoto, who is also a budding actor, says that grappling with mixed feelings about his father has been difficult.

"I'm pretty much at peace with the fact that he existed," he said. "Sometimes I look up to him because of his charisma. Other times I think he was crazy."

Tough Road Ahead for FLDS Kids

Ross says that the Okimotos were lucky in many ways.

"Sky came out at a very young age and was very fortunate his mother had the critical thinking to leave the compound and he had something to go out to. They had extended family. They could build a life."

But the FLDS children and mothers are "like visitors from another planet" who know no other way of life, Ross said

"It's a group that's almost 100 years old. It's a group that represents generations of abuse, and the mothers that we're seeing on television were literally born into the group as were their mothers and grandmothers," he said.

"The children that we're seeing in CPS [Child Protective Services] custody, they have no one to go out to and their mothers completely endorse the group and continued abuse."

Ross said, though, that the state did the right thing in taking the children from their mothers; if the state had not, it would be tantamount to letting sexual abuse continue indefinitely.

The key to integrating the children into mainstream society, Ross said, is "communication and the fact that they've removed them from the controlled environment and cut off their information from the group itself."

"If they can gain their trust and move forward, and they have good people in Texas, I think they can make headway," he said.

Dana Okimoto says Sky is an example of kids' ability to bounce back.

"There are times he has been very, very angry." she said of Sky. "And other times where I learned about the resliency of children."

To see more documents/articles regarding this group/organization/subject click here.