Waco: The Aftermath: Koresh denied cult children safe refuge: FBI says empty shelter shows leader intended followers to die, writes Phil Reeves in Waco

Investigators picking through the charred mess that used to be the fortified Texas compound of self-appointed messiah David Koresh made a sickening discovery, which strengthens evidence that the cult leader intended his followers to die.

Underneath the debris, they found that an underground shelter had escaped the huge fire that ripped through the complex several hours after the FBI began pumping in teargas in an attempt to end a 51-day siege.

The agency believes that if any cultists had taken refuge in the shelter, a bus buried underground, then the tragedy which ended in the death of 86 people, including at least 17 children, may have been averted. 'We went down to the bus hoping to find children,' said Jeffrey Jamar, an FBI Special Agent. 'The air was cool and there was no gas. If Koresh had wanted those children to survive, that was one place he could have put them safely.'

The FBI was yesterday adamant that Koresh alone was to blame for the tragedy at the Mount Carmel fortress, his headquarters outside Waco, Texas.' It was not because of our actions,' said Mr Jamar. 'Those children are dead because David Koresh had them killed . . . He had 51 days to release those children. He chose those children to die. We don't have anything to do with those deaths.'

Retributions over the botched operation was gathering pace, as FBI officials tried to fend off questions about why they decided to gas the compound in an attempt to end a siege which began on 28 February, when four federal agents were killed in a raid. During weeks of negotiations, the 33-year-old Koresh had become increasingly erratic and violent-tempered, repeatedly breaking promises to surrender. Also, conditions in the compound were deteriorating. 'If we had waited 90 more days, until children die, how would the Federal Government look when we finally got into the compound to find children dying of hunger and disease.'

According to the authorities, the cultists were calm and disciplined when the gas started to flow into their headquarters at 6am on Monday. They slipped on their masks and headed for to a central area where the fumes did not penetrate. 'People were in such control, and very few resisted instructions until the very end when some were forced to stay,' said Mr Jamar. He dismissed as rumour reports that the Branch Davidians took lethal injections beforehand.

As one survivor was led into court yesterday, he shouted that the fire began when a FBI vehicle knocked over a lantern as it began punching holes in the compound wall, under fire from heavily armed cult members. But the agency claims it has aerial photographs of multiple fires and eye- witness reports of cultists apparently lighting flames.

Two Britons who survived the fire have told a British diplomat that there was no talk of suicide beforehand, saying they also had no idea how the blaze started. Renos Avraam, 29, and Derek Lovelock, 37, a chef from Manchester, were in their bedrooms, trying to escape the tear-gas, when the flames erupted. Mr Avraam leapt through a window, while Mr Lovelock escaped via a hole battered in a wall by a FBI tank, squirting tear gas. They were in McLennan County jail last night, awaiting possible charges.

Attention yesterday also begun to focus on why the fire was allowed to burn without an attempt to put it out. It began at 12.10am, and within 30 minutes the fortress in which Koresh had built his mad empire had been reduced to ashes. According to local officials, the fire brigade arrived at 12.22pm, but weren't allowed past an FBI checkpoint because of safety fears. When they were allowed to approach, at 12.45pm, it was too late.

The death of the children inside the compound has touched a nerve in Waco, a Bible-belt town which was yesterday holding church services to mourn the loss of life. When the stand-off started, some Texans were highly critical of the federal authorities for raiding the cult. But the mood has changed, as evidence mounts that Koresh was willing to allow defenceless children to die with him. Exactly how many were killed is still in dispute but it could be as high as 24 - Koresh appears to have classified any child over 10 as an adult, and included some among his harem of 'wives'.

Janet Reno, US attorney general, and William Sessions, FBI director, have attempted to justify the raid on the ranch by saying that they had information that children were being abused. However, the evidence of this is contradictory. When 21 children were released in the early part of the siege, they proved to be well looked after, and showed no sign of abuse. They had, however, acquired some odd attitudes, reflecting the bizarre and warped world in which they had been bought up.

Not everyone, however, allowed the tragedy to disrupt their lives. On the main road, several miles from the steaming patch of ground that used to be the Branch Davidian compound, Hector Antuna was enjoying a mini- boom in business. 'Fire Sale] Fire Sale]' he bellowed, flourishing a T- shirt showing a picture of Koresh under the legend 'I Ain't Coming Out'.

The fire was still smouldering, yet it had been a good day at his makeshift stall, as the bundle of dollar bills in Mr Antuna's pocket testified. After the FBI had begun pumping tear-gas into the compound, he launched a new product, mugs with the inscription: We're Coming In. 'If only I had remembered to put on the date,' he fretted. 'Tomorrow I'll put on the date, and add a tank and a battering ram and some gas masks. It'll be awesome. It'll be a collector's item that will fetch dollars 200 in ten years' time.'

As Mr Antuna boasted about his business plans (he believes Koresh will be 'bigger than Elvis'), FBI Special Agent Bob Ricks was eating dinner in a restaurant several miles down the road. For weeks, the siege of Waco filled his every waking hour. 'That man was malicious, a manipulator and a liar,' he said quietly. 'What else can you say about him?' He looked totally drained, exhausted by the ordeal and shattered by its outcome.

Was there, he was asked, any moment in all the hours of negotiations that you felt any warmth towards the man who thought he was Jesus, any moment in which he felt he might even have liked him? Mr Ricks, normally quick to answer to most questions, looked up from his plate looking confused. 'I don't know what you mean.' One of his colleagues, another FBI man, interrupted angrily. 'That man was a cop-killer,' he said. 'What more do you need to know?'

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Money
Welcome to tinsel town: retailers such as Selfridges will be Santa's little helpers this Christmas, working hard to persuade shoppers to stock up on gifts
news
News
i100
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
Architect Frank Gehry is regarded by many as the most important architect of the modern era
arts + entsGehry has declared that 98 per cent of modern architecture is "s**t"
Arts and Entertainment
Soul singer Sam Smith cleared up at the Mobo awards this week
arts + entsSam Smith’s Mobo triumph is just the latest example of a trend
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Maths Teacher

£110 - £200 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Secondary Maths Teacher for spe...

Business Analyst - Surrey - Permanent - Up to £50k DOE

£40000 - £50000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

***ASP.NET Developer - Cheshire - £35k - Permanent***

£30000 - £35000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

***Solutions Architect*** - Brighton - £40k - Permanent

£35000 - £40000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

Day In a Page

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news: musician splits with manager after police investigate assault claims

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news

Former Dr Feelgood splits with manager after police investigate assault claims
Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands ahead of the US midterm elections

Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands

The Senator for Colorado is for gay rights, for abortion rights – and in the Republicans’ sights as they threaten to take control of the Senate next month
New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

Evidence found of contact between Easter Islanders and South America
Cerys Matthews reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of Dylan Thomas

Cerys Matthews on Dylan Thomas

The singer reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of the famous Welsh poet
DIY is not fun and we've finally realised this as a nation

Homebase closures: 'DIY is not fun'

Homebase has announced the closure of one in four of its stores. Nick Harding, who never did know his awl from his elbow, is glad to see the back of DIY
The Battle of the Five Armies: Air New Zealand releases new Hobbit-inspired in-flight video

Air New Zealand's wizard in-flight video

The airline has released a new Hobbit-inspired clip dubbed "The most epic safety video ever made"
Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month - but can you stomach the sweetness?

Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month

The combination of cinnamon, clove, nutmeg (and no actual pumpkin), now flavours everything from lattes to cream cheese in the US
11 best sonic skincare brushes

11 best sonic skincare brushes

Forget the flannel - take skincare to the next level by using your favourite cleanser with a sonic facial brush
Paul Scholes column: I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo

Paul Scholes column

I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Jones and Rojo
Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

While other sports are stalked by corruption, we are an easy target for the critics
Jamie Roberts exclusive interview: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Jamie Roberts: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Wales centre says he’s not coming home but is looking to establish himself at Racing Métro
How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

A crime that reveals London's dark heart

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

Lost in translation: Western monikers

Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

Handy hacks that make life easier

New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

KidZania: It's a small world

The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker