FBI officials were warned that the Branch Davidians might start afire if the agency launched an assault and that their compound was a tinderbox, according to a former member and a visitor who sneaked into Mount Carmel during the siege.
One-time Davidian Marc Breault told the Tribune-Herald that the FBI was concerned enough in 1993 about the possibility of a fire to contact him I Australia just three days before flames consumed the Davidian's residence 10 miles east of Waco.
Breault said he was contacted by law enforcement officials in Melbourne, acting on the FBI's behalf, who showed him numerous Scriptures taken from letter written by David Koresh during the 51 day siege. All mentioned fire.
"They were afraid, based on some of the things he had written, that if they tried to assault the compound, he would start a fire," said Breault, a former confidant of Koresh. "They were afraid if they sent people into the compound there would be explosions, there would be fires set. They had lots of Scriptures, all [of them] he had gone over with us many times."
Breault, who left the Davidians in 1989, said he told authorities that fire was very much a part of Davidian prophecy.
"There's a Scripture in Daniel 11 that talks about how the righteous will fall," Breault said. "Some are taken captive; some die by the sword; and some die by the flame. Two parts of that prophecy had already been fulfilled, according to their beliefs. That was the problem. The Davidians thought they were seeing prophecy fulfilled before their very eyes. Flames were the only thing left."
Richard Schwein, former special agent in charge of the El Paso Division, said the FBI had a lot of concerns--not just the possibility of a fire starting at Mount Carmel.
"There was a concern they would burst out of the building shooting," said Schwein, a shift commander during the Davidian siege and now retired. "I know at one point, they intended to come out wired with explosives and set them off to kill FBI agents. We had a lot of concerns. We tried to plan for every eventuality."
Toward that end, the FBI contacted former Davidians all over the world, Schwein said. "We were trying to find out as much as we could--what this was all about," he said.
Louis Alaniz, the Houston man who sneaked into Mount Carmel less than a month after the ATF's botched raid, wasn't really thinking about the place being a fire hazard when he talked to the FBI.
Alaniz left the Davidian's residence on April 17, 1993--two days before the fire that led to the death of Koresh and 75 followers.
He left hoping to act as a mediator of sorts between the Davidians and the government.
"I asked for a pad and paper," said Alaniz. "I drew a diagram of the building. I wanted to help resolve it. I gave them a complete layout. I told them, These people don't want to fight. But if you go in, do it in a way that you don't hurt anyone."
"I told them there was hay up against the wall and in the foyer trying to stop bullets," Alaniz said. "They thought they were going to be shot at again."
A Texas law enforcement official, who asked not to be named, confirmed that Alaniz reported the Davidians were using hay as a barricade.
Worried about the Davidian children, Alaniz said he told authorities that there was a nursery on the second floor where the infants slept. Lanterns were kept there, he reported, to give the mothers light while they bathed their children.
Alaniz said he was shocked to see a tear gas boom rip into the second floor on April 19, 1993. "Why did they have to hit that spot?" he asked. "That told me they didn't care. If they did, they wouldn't have pumped gas inside there where the infants were. No, sir, they can't lie to me no more about caring about those kids. They wanted them all dead."
FBI officials at the time said they believed the Davidian women would flee with their children in the face of a tear gas assault.
It was just another in a series of government miscalculations.
The FBI never got a good grasp on Koresh, said Breault, who calls Koresh by his given name of Vernon Howell.
"I think they decided Vernon didn't believe any of this stuff," Breault said. "They thought he was a con man. They failed to take into account the level of his belief and that of his followers. They couldn't believe there was anyone that dedicated to an apocalypse."
Although critical of the FBI, Breault stresses that he believes that Koresh and the Davidians played a leading role in their destruction.
"I think people should keep in mind that in his theology, the apocalypse was inseparable from fire," Breault said. "I've always believed Vernon started the fire at Mount Carmel or set up a situation where an assault would start a fire. It's possible the FBI inadvertently--you might say negligently--set the fire. But I think Vernon set it up."
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