Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

David Koresh: Millennial Violence

Impatience Breeds Anger

On March 12, Davidian Kathy Schroeder came out. When questioned, she denied any plans for suicide, yet when she tried calling back into the compound, she received no answer.  She did admit that some people inside wanted to come out but were afraid of Koresh. They wouldn't leave until he told them to. That message was alarming. That meant that Koresh might well have a plan that exploited his group members' inability to act for themselves.

At that point Special Agent in Charge Jamar decided to shut off the electricity for good. Up until then, he'd allowed it to come on for short periods of time, but he was tired of all the dilly-dallying. This tactic angered everyone inside the compound and further annoyed the negotiators. Koresh rightly called it an act of bad faith, and Schneider said that the three people who'd been about to come out were now going to remain. A couple of days later, the tactical people placed bright lights outside the compound at night to make it difficult for those inside to sleep and stepped up the loud music as an annoyance. Wessinger lists the kind of music used as Tibetan Buddhist chants, bagpipes, seagulls crying, helicopters, dentist drills, sirens, dying rabbits, a train, and songs by Alice Cooper and Nancy Sinatra. (A rock group actually offered to come in and play music that they knew would be psychologically demoralizing, but their offer was rejected.)

Then the HRT drained the compound's diesel storage tanks.

More adults came out, and Koresh said he would send out no one else. Then the loudspeaker system failed, much to Jamar's frustration and to the negotiators' relief, although they later got it working again.

The crisis management team advised Jamar that since Koresh offered no specific time frame for surrender, the wait could be indefinite. At that point, the introduction of teargas was mentioned.

To avoid this, the negotiators made Koresh an offer: In prison he could communicate with his followers and make a worldwide broadcast on CNN. In order to have these privileges, Koresh and his people had to leave by 10:00 the next day, March 23. 

Koresh rejected the deal and tore up the letter, and one more man emerged at this point. Schneider became more belligerent in his phone conversations and many at the command center felt that something negative was building. 

On March 25, the FBI sent in an ultimatum: send a minimum of 20 people out by the end of the afternoon or they would begin to prepare for action. When no one emerged, the FBI removed motorcycles and other vehicles from in front of the compound.

Bonnie Haldeman, mother of David Koresh
Bonnie Haldeman, mother of
David Koresh

Two days later, according to FBI documents, Schneider denied Koresh's self-professed divinity and hinted that the FBI might burn the building to get them out. That seemed like a rather enigmatic comment, perhaps even a hint of what was being discussed inside.  Then several days were taken up with meetings between Koresh, Schneider, and two lawyers, one of whom had been hired by Koresh's mother. Once that was settled, Koresh decided that he wanted to spend Passover in the compound. Since he was the leader of a religious group, there was no real point in arguing. The FBI gave in and waited through the Passover period.

As it neared an end, Koresh announced that he would observe it for seven more days. Passover was officially at an end, but who could argue? Once again, it was clear that he was in charge.

By this time, it was clear to everyone that it was going to be one thing after another with him. He wrote and sent out several letters over the next few days that indicated he would never surrender or leave voluntarily.

Janet Reno, US Attorney General
Janet Reno, US Attorney

By April 10, it appeared to be time to resume discussions about tear gas, and this time, the argument was presented to the newly-sworn Attorney General Janet Reno. Having only recently taken up the reigns, this was a difficult situation to be in.  She asked for information about the gas, in particular whether it was harmful to children. She was assured that it was not.

The FBI wanted to use a substance called chlorobenzylidene malononitrile, or CS gas. They claimed that it was not flammable, but others sources insist that it is highly flammable. Since the FBI did not expect flames to be present, they might have believed there was little real danger. However, inside the compound, to warm things up at night and to read, the group was using kerosene lamps. It seemed reasonable to expect that someone might have thought of that, yet clearly no one did.

Even as these discussions were underway, there were a few intermittent conversations with Koresh, who offered more of what they called "Bible babble," and negotiations appeared to be stalled. Koresh was now saying that he needed time to write a manuscript on the meaning of the Seven Seals, and he was at work on that now. He asked for supplies to accomplish this, and the FBI sent those in.

He completed it on April 16. Yet still he did not come out. Some of his followers who managed to get out said that he had only completed work on the first seal, while the FBI believed he'd finished the entire manuscript and still resisted them. By that time, they'd had it. They no longer believed any of Koresh's promises.

On April 17, Reno approved the use of CS gas to end the six-week standoff. Apparently she felt that the negotiators had come to an impasse and that the sanitary conditions in the compound were deteriorating. She was thinking of the 23 children still inside. In addition to that, the operation was getting expensive, with no foreseeable end. Tear gas was uncomfortable, but it would not harm anyone. The HRT was instructed to insert it gradually over a period of 48 hours and then be ready to capture people as they emerged. Arrest warrants were obtained for every person known to be inside, and search warrants for the compound were in hand. Teams prepared to wash gas off the children as they emerged and to get them to safety.

On April 18, tanks continued to remove vehicles from the front of the compound. Tension was high, and it was clear that Koresh was upset, especially when they moved his black Camaro. He called the command center and said, "If you don't stop what you're doing, this could be the worst day in law enforcement history."

A sniper with a good view of the compound reported that someone from inside had hung a sign on a window that read, "Flames await." It was an ominous message. The negotiators weren't sure what it meant but they suspected that Koresh had a plan. They were soon to find out.

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