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?'

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Arts and Entertainment
The teaser trailer has provoked more questions than answers
filmBut what is Bond's 'secret' that Moneypenny is talking about?
Johnny Depp is perhaps best known for his role as Jack Sparrow in Pirates of the Caribbean
peopleBut how did he break it?
Arts and Entertainment
Paul Walker and Vin Diesel in Fast and Furious 5
Lewis Hamilton secured his second straight pole of the season
f1Vettel beats Rosberg into third after thunderstorm delays qualifying
  • Get to the point
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: Massage Therapist / Sports Therapist

£12000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A opportunity has arisen for a ...

Ashdown Group: Practice Accountant - Bournemouth - £38,000

£32000 - £38000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A successful accountancy practice in...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Uncapped commission: SThree: Does earning a 6 figu...

Recruitment Genius: SEO Executive

£18000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Day In a Page

The saffron censorship that governs India: Why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression

The saffron censorship that governs India

Zareer Masani reveals why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression
Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

Supreme Court rules Dominic Grieve's ministerial veto was invalid
Distressed Zayn Malik fans are cutting themselves - how did fandom get so dark?

How did fandom get so dark?

Grief over Zayn Malik's exit from One Direction seemed amusing until stories of mass 'cutting' emerged. Experts tell Gillian Orr the distress is real, and the girls need support
The galaxy collisions that shed light on unseen parallel Universe

The cosmic collisions that have shed light on unseen parallel Universe

Dark matter study gives scientists insight into mystery of space
The Swedes are adding a gender-neutral pronoun to their dictionary

Swedes introduce gender-neutral pronoun

Why, asks Simon Usborne, must English still struggle awkwardly with the likes of 's/he' and 'they'?
Disney's mega money-making formula: 'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan

Disney's mega money-making formula

'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan
Lobster has gone mainstream with supermarket bargains for £10 or less - but is it any good?

Lobster has gone mainstream

Anthea Gerrie, raised on meaty specimens from the waters around Maine, reveals how to cook up an affordable feast
Easter 2015: 14 best decorations

14 best Easter decorations

Get into the Easter spirit with our pick of accessories, ornaments and tableware
Paul Scholes column: Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season

Paul Scholes column

Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season
Inside the Kansas greenhouses where Monsanto is 'playing God' with the future of the planet

The future of GM

The greenhouses where Monsanto 'plays God' with the future of the planet
Britain's mild winters could be numbered: why global warming is leaving UK chillier

Britain's mild winters could be numbered

Gulf Stream is slowing down faster than ever, scientists say
Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Donation brings total raised by Homeless Veterans campaign to at least £1.25m
Oh dear, the most borrowed book at Bank of England library doesn't inspire confidence

The most borrowed book at Bank of England library? Oh dear

The book's fifth edition is used for Edexcel exams
Cowslips vs honeysuckle: The hunt for the UK’s favourite wildflower

Cowslips vs honeysuckle

It's the hunt for UK’s favourite wildflower
Child abuse scandal: Did a botched blackmail attempt by South African intelligence help Cyril Smith escape justice?

Did a botched blackmail attempt help Cyril Smith escape justice?

A fresh twist reveals the Liberal MP was targeted by the notorious South African intelligence agency Boss