Waco siege 20 years on: the survivor's tale

Livingstone Fagan took his family from Britain to live with the self-declared Messiah David Koresh in Waco, Texas, where his wife and mother died. As the 20th anniversary of the bloody end of the seige approaches, Fagan explains why has no regrets ... and is still a believer

The Telegraph, UK/March 24, 2013

Livingstone Fagan is waiting for the end of the world as we know it, which he believes is coming soon.

"The tables will turn," he says, pacing his bare council flat in a tower block in Nottingham. "We endure what is thrown at us, no matter how extreme, because the day will come, as David says."

This trim 53-year-old with ashen dreadlocks is talking about David Koresh, the self-declared messiah who was holed up in a compound in Waco, Texas, with an armed group of followers, 20 years ago today.

Fagan was there, willing to fight in defence of his family and the man he believed was a second Christ. He had done so in the gunfight at the beginning of the siege in late February 1993, when federal agents attempt to storm the compound and were repelled. And when it all finished with another attack, 51 days later, Fagan lost his wife, his mother, and many of his friend.

"We understand why God executes vengeance," says this intense man, who was jailed during the siege and served time for voluntary manslaughter and a firearms offence before being deported to his home town of Nottingham six years ago.

"The anniversary is significant," he says, as we approach the date when it all ended, April 19. The world's media watched on that day in 1993 as the FBI attacked the compound with tanks and tear gas and a fire broke out that quickly destroyed the buildings. At least 76 men, women and children died. The former attorney general Ramsay Clark called it "the greatest domestic law-enforcement tragedy in the history of the United States".

Fagan saw it all from a prison cell, having left the compound in mid-March to act as an envoy to the outside world. "I didn't want to go, but I was asked to do so by David. In the event that we were all killed, there needed to be some voices outside to tell the story from our point of view."

He had hoped to help with the negotiations. "That's not how it turned out. I was placed in the county jail with little or no contact into what was going on there." He saw the tragedy unfold on television, along with millions of others. "That was quite ... that was quite something."

His voice falters, for the first time. His son and daughter, aged four and seven, had been among the children who left the compound during negotiations. His wife Yvette and his mother Doris were still inside, however, along with others that he loved. "The thought of tears, as I watched it ... I couldn't let that happen."

His eyes glitter. Has he ever allowed himself to weep over this? "Since then? Tears? No. I refuse to do that. I saw it as yielding to them. I had seen the others stand their ground, despite gas and flame being used to stir their emotions. I felt I had to be the good soldier too, relative to what we believed."

He still believes it, passionately, however bizarre those beliefs may appear to others. "There's a game being played here that in the end leads to the Kingdom of Heaven coming to Earth and the eradication of evil from the universe forever," says Fagan, who preaches when he speaks, his accent sliding between America, his birthplace, Jamaica, and Nottingham, where he was brought up.

More than 30 British citizens lived in the Waco community, most having joined through their connections with the Seventh-Day Adventist Church. Fagan originally trained as a social worker but became an Adventist in his early twenties and took a master's degree in pastoral ministry.

"I was looking for something more," he says, and he found it in the teachings of a visiting American speaker called Vernon Howell, who was approaching 30 and about to change his name, legally, to David Koresh, in tribute to two Biblical kings.

Fagan insists there was nothing particularly charismatic about the man who changed his life. "None of that physical stuff – what you hear, see and touch – was the influence. The reason why people were there is that he was revealing truth."

Koresh claimed to have been visited by an angel, who revealed to him the nature of the Seven Seals, as described in the Biblical book of Revelation. The opening of the seals would be an escalating series of events leading to the Day of Judgment.

Fagan came to believe – as he still does – that Koresh was descended from Christ and "the spirit and the word of God" were embodied in him.

He began to visit the Branch Davidians, as the followers of Koresh were called, at their communal home in Texas. At the end of 1992, Fagan took his whole family over to live. When the siege happened, they had been there for just eight weeks. "What I saw there was primitive godliness," he says.

Isn't it true, though, that many of the women lived as the wives of Koresh, while the other adults practised celibacy?

"These were not sexual partners. These were actually wives," says Fagan. "God says he is against adultery and fornication. That was still in place. It was only as God directed him that David was to have these wives. The purpose of this was to bear children."

The intention was to create 24 children who combined the human with the spirit of God that was in Koresh, he says. They would become the 24 elders mentioned in Revelation as God's jury. "We only had a little over half that number. In effect, the world attacked the jury. But of course, that's not what people out there see. What they see is this guy having sex with all these women."

There have been claims of child abuse among the Branch Davidians. Fagan denies it. "I told you there was no child abuse. That's right. There wasn't. But there are those who want to believe that."

They were certainly trading guns to make money. They were also arming themselves against a looming confrontation with the authorities, which Koresh compared to the soldiers coming for Christ.

"We were told to put up a defence, for God had a purpose in this. That purpose had to do with buying time," says Fagan.

Koresh needed to finish writing down what he knew about the Seven Seals. Meanwhile, the US Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms was convinced there were illegal automatic weapons in the compound, and was preparing a raid.

Rather than being scared, many of the adults were excited. "Here we were, literally fulfilling prophecy. That had a profound effect on how we thought about ourselves, and about being there." They felt like they were at the centre of cosmic events? "Indeed. That's a good way of putting it."

His wife and mother were believers, and so at that time, were his children. "Nearing the end, before they attacked, my son said: 'I know what they gonna do daddy. They gonna come and kill us and then we gonna come back to life.' All nonchalant." He sounds proud.

Armed ATF agents made the first attempt to enter the compound on February 28. Both sides still claim the other fired first. "When the initial shots went off, I heard screams. It was quick. I remember going outside and seeing the helicopters. It was a long time ago. I'm not going to go into many details ..."

One direct question, then. Who, if anybody, did he shoot?

"Well, according to the FBI agent in the trial, I was the one who came out of the cafeteria and shot him in his finger. I had nothing to do with that. But there were other things that I was engaged in. I felt it was vital. There was the sound of gunfire everywhere, particularly upstairs. My wife and children, all the other women and kids, were up there. We were not going to let that happen," he says.

"The sense that if we let these people in the building they would kill us indiscriminately? No. I had a responsibility, and I was moved to find whatever means necessary to prevent it. I took that responsibility seriously. I acted on it."

Four agents and six of Koresh's followers died before the Branch Davidians called for a ceasefire, which led to the siege. Fagan was one of several members of the group accused of murder, although they were all acquitted. He served 14 years for voluntary manslaughter and a firearms offence, before being deported to Britain.

"Here I thought I could speak to people on a rational level, to make them understand what had actually happened, but they were afraid to talk to me." He visited his former church twice. "I wasn't welcome. The picture has been painted that we are of the devil."

There are about a dozen Waco survivors in Britain, he says. "On occasion, we do meet."

How often does he see his children, who were brought up here by his brother? "We met when I first came back. There was a gathering. We met, they spoke. They expressed their feelings and thoughts. Subsequently we have met on other occasions, such as my father's 80th birthday. I accept that they have a life. I engage with them to the extent that they wish."

His son is now 21 and his daughter is 23. "I am not going to say that they have rejected what I believe. When they see their mother they will ... no."

His refusal to weep for her and the others is partly explained by the belief that they will be reunited in eternal life, soon. That's also why he has not found another partner. "I've thought about it. I've explored the idea. But it doesn't really work, does it? We have a hope, beyond this."

Sighing, he says: "Ah well, I won't be here for very much longer."

Listening to the quick rattle of Scripture verses, watching the fire in his eyes, I wonder for a moment if this is what it was like to sit with John the disciple, decades after the death of Jesus. The thought passes quickly, not least because I do not believe that David Koresh was a second Christ.

Fagan has kept his head down since returning to Britain, although he did appear on a BBC television discussion about cults last year. Soon afterwards, he lost his job with a social enterprise project. The main donor saw the show and demanded that he leave. "Waco is an issue for a lot of people."

Now he lives on Jobseeker's Allowance. He wants to work, but also lives in the expectation that the Mount of Olives will open up and the Day of Judgment come later this year.

Fagan warns me to take care when writing this article. "If you don't, you will see me in judgment. Forget stuff about Peter at the gates [of Heaven]. It will be me, saying, 'Cole, remember that article you wrote? Where do you think you're going.'"

He laughs. After a moment's reflection, Livingstone Fagan says: "I used to be a happy-go-lucky kind of guy, before Waco."

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