The Waco Siege: Waiting game ends in a fiery furnace: As the Branch Davidian stand-off ends in tragedy the authorities face questions about their handling of the cult

THE 'Jonestown syndrome' - a mass suicide pact - was always a possible ending to the stand-off with the Branch Davidian cult, but the FBI had not considered a burning fiery furnace as the escape route David Koresh would choose for his followers. Officials did not talk about it at the daily news briefings they gave in a hall behind the Hilton Hotel in Waco, 10 miles from the cult's compound, and if they had considered it when the tanks went in yesterday morning to destroy the cult's compound 51 days after the stand-off began, there were no fire-engines standing by.

Bob Ricks, the FBI agent who took the noon news briefings with his colleagues from the Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) division, spent most of the first days of the siege defending their initial bloody assault against the cult that ended with four agents dead, 16 wounded and at least two of cult members killed. The use of such masssive force, even though Koresh had heavily armed cult members, is an open question which is still the topic of various government inquiries.

The main reason for the raid was the stash of illegal firearms the cult had piled up inside the compound. But why the authorities could not have apprehended Koresh on one of his jogs around the flat Texas plains, or on one of the frequent trips he made into Waco to get supplies, is still bewildering.

Heavy criticism of the raid from inside and outside government kept the FBI and ATF officials on a relatively low profile for the first two weeks of the siege. Evidence that the FBI meant business was everywhere, however. Reinforcements of agents arrived from neighbouring states and could be spotted in Waco's riverside restaurants sporting their navy-blue FBI baseball hats and their navy-blue jerseys with gold lettering - 'Sniper' and 'Sharpshooter' - embossed on their broad chests.

In the fields around the compound four Abrams tanks arrived and their crews mixed with the agents in their camouflage fatigues, patrolling up and down the country roads but always keeping a respectful distance.

Each night, and sometimes until the early hours, Koresh would speak to the FBI by telephone, giving them long Bible lessons and sometimes telling them about his wounds in the wrist and thigh suffered during the intitial shoot-out.

The FBI tried to persuade him to release the women and children from the compound, and he agreed to let a dozen or so out.

But then he tired of the endless calls, and so did the FBI. Koresh started to hand the phone to one of his lieutenants, or simply hang up. At one point, he told the FBI: 'We're ready for war, let's get it on'.

In the third week, the FBI turned up the heat, too. They kept the compound flooded with lights during the night and played music and broadcast recorded conversations of Koresh over loudspeakers. The idea, said Mr Ricks, was to make sure those inside the compound knew what their leader was doing to them.

The tactics took their toll of patience on both sides. Mr Ricks warned that Koresh was 'becoming more and more withdrawn and delusioned', and the FBI was more and more concerned that he might stage a 'Jonestown suicide' similar to the mass suicide of the followers of Jim Jones in Guyana in 1978.

There was a ray of hope. David Koresh talked a lot about the Passover week and the Book of Revelation and waiting for a word from God before he would consider surrender to charges of murder. But to step outside the compound was always to go straight to jail. Those adult followers who got out were charged with conspiracy to the murder of the agents. At the start of the Passover week, the FBI announced a new, tougher policy. 'The Bible classes are over,' they said at the press briefing, 'we are moving to more substantive issues.' Koresh got himself a Texas lawyer and talked about coming out, and the FBI said they were 'cautiously optimistic' about a peaceful end to the siege. But nothing happened.

Mr Ricks warned: 'If it doesn't happen we'll have to decide what else to do.' He said there were various options and implied they were military ones.

Yesterday, apparently with the approval of President Bill Clinton, the FBI started demolishing the compound's fragile wood and plaster walls with an armoured bulldozer of the type last seen in action by television viewers in the Gulf war. At the same time the tanks fired CS gas into the compound. Asked whether this would not harm the children inside, Mr Ricks replied at the daily briefing that 'hopefully the maternal instincts of the mothers would kick in'.

As he was speaking, three cult members were reported to have set the compound on fire, and the sleepy town of Waco saw the end of its most celebrated criminal since Bonnie and Clyde drove through many years ago.

(Photograph omitted)

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Life and Style
A monstrous idea? Body transplants might no longer be science fiction
Science An Italian neurosurgeon believes so - and it's not quite as implausible as it sounds, says Steve Connor
Demba Ba (right) celebrates after Besiktas win on penalties
footballThere was no happy return to the Ataturk Stadium, where the Reds famously won Champions League
Arts and Entertainment
Natural beauty: Aidan Turner stars in the new series of Poldark
arts + ents
Mia Freedman, editorial director of the Mamamia website, reads out a tweet she was sent.
arts + ents
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Arts and Entertainment
The write stuff: masters of story-telling James Joyce, left, and Thomas Hardy
arts + ents...begging to differ, John Walsh can't even begin to number the ways
Jose Mourinho on Sky Sports
footballEXCLUSIVE COLUMN Paul Scholes: It was not a leg-breaking tackle, as the Chelsea manager had claimed
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Bookkeeper

£23000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This small, friendly, proactive...

Recruitment Genius: Photographic Event Crew

£14500 - £22800 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Software Developers - .NET / ASP.NET / WebAPI / JavaScript

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Software Developer is required to join a lea...

Austen Lloyd: Corporate Tax Solicitor - City

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: A first rate opportunity to join a top ranking...

Day In a Page

HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?
How we must adjust our lifestyles to nature: Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch

Time to play God

Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch where we may need to redefine nature itself
MacGyver returns, but with a difference: Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman

MacGyver returns, but with a difference

Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman
Tunnel renaissance: Why cities are hiding roads down in the ground

Tunnel renaissance

Why cities are hiding roads underground
'Backstreet Boys - Show 'Em What You're Made Of': An affectionate look at five middle-aged men

Boys to men

The Backstreet Boys might be middle-aged, married and have dodgy knees, but a heartfelt documentary reveals they’re not going gently into pop’s good night
Crufts 2015: Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?

Crufts 2015

Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?
10 best projectors

How to make your home cinema more cinematic: 10 best projectors

Want to recreate the big-screen experience in your sitting room? IndyBest sizes up gadgets to form your film-watching
Manchester City 1 Barcelona 2 player ratings: Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man?

Manchester City vs Barcelona player ratings

Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man at the Etihad?
Arsenal vs Monaco: Monaco - the making of Gunners' manager Arsene Wenger

Monaco: the making of Wenger

Jack Pitt-Brooke speaks to former players and learns the Frenchman’s man-management has always been one of his best skills
Cricket World Cup 2015: Chris Gayle - the West Indies' enigma lives up to his reputation

Chris Gayle: The West Indies' enigma

Some said the game's eternal rebel was washed up. As ever, he proved he writes the scripts by producing a blistering World Cup innings
In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare and murky loyalties prevails

In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare

This war in the shadows has been going on since the fall of Mr Yanukovych
'Birdman' and 'Bullets Over Broadway': Homage or plagiarism?

Homage or plagiarism?

'Birdman' shares much DNA with Woody Allen's 'Bullets Over Broadway'
Broadchurch ends as damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

A damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

Broadchurch, Series 2 finale, review
A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower: inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

Inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower