Nearly Twenty five years after the 51-day siege of Branch Davidian cult by the FBI and ATF, a new documentary is looking into the survivors. The A&E documentary is examining why the members of the sect, which separated from the Seventh-day Adventist Church in 1955, were willing to die for their leader, David Koresh.
“I think the FBI never tried to understand our beliefs,” surviving Branch Davidian Kat Schroeder, who was one of Koresh’s numerous wives and the only female member to be charged and imprisoned after the siege, says in an exclusive clip from the A&E documentary special "Waco: Madman or Messiah," according to People.
According to People, the history of the Branch Davidians leading up to the siege and its deadly outcome—a total of 76 people died during the siege—will be examined in the two-part, four-hour special. It airs on Sunday and Monday, Jan. 28 and 29 (9 to 11 p.m. ET) on A&E.
“The FBI tried to figure out what tactic they could use against a group of people that they thought were crazy,” Schroeder says. “They didn’t have any idea that everyone in that building had complete and utter devotion to doing God’s will over man’s will. And that meant we were not coming out.”
The siege started when ATF suspected that Koresh's compound, which they called Mount Carmel, had members with weapons violations. In February of 1993, ATF attempted to raid the compound. The raid ended in a clash of gunfire that left four government agents and six Branch Davidians dead.
"The incident drew instant attention to what would be labeled and dissected as a debacle of federal law enforcement actions," wrote people.
The initial raid resulted in a 51-day standoff between cult members led by Koresh, 33, and the FBI and ATF. It ended on April 19, 1993, when the FBI launched a tear gas attack on the compound. A resulting fire destroyed the compound along with 76 Branch Davidians—including their leader. Among the victims were 23 children.
One of nine surviving Branch Davidians interviewed in the documentary, Livingstone Fagan, lost both his wife and his mother in the fire.
“Here you are in a situation where, under the Constitution of the United States, you’re free to practice your religion, and the very people that are supposed to defend you are the ones that are attacking you,” he says in the documentary. “Who defends you?”
Survivor Kat Schoeder says: “Watching everybody you know die when you know that dying is the right thing to do is actually a good thing. I should have died, too.”
In addition to talking to survivors, the documentary looked at 247 tapes of FBI negotiations. This offered a closer look at Koresh, who had proclaimed himself a prophet and the group’s leader.
"His control over cult members included both physical and sexual abuse, and he shared with his followers an apocalyptic vision: He told them the end of the world was imminent—and he prophesied the attack by the government as it ultimately unfolded," wrote People.
Federal agents also recalled their version of events. They also reveal that local media had been tipped off about the raid.
Heather Burson, another Branch Davidian, recalled how her dad was tipped off by local media and warned Koresh about the upcoming raid.
“A news person got lost and had asked my dad if they knew where Mount Carmel was and told him what they were doing, and that was when my dad went straight to Mount Carmel and told David and warned everybody about it.”
A member of the ATF raid team, Keith Constantino, recalls: “The Branch Davidians knew we were coming, but we were told ‘hurry up, we’re going.’ If the element of surprise was the paramount factor, the mission should have been aborted.”
Another former Branch Davidian, David Thibodeau, also weighed in on the documentary. Thibodeau seemed less convinced of Koresh's mission. Rather, he hoped the documentary would bring humanity to his victims.
"I mean, I really just want the people to be humanized in a way. They've honestly just been demonized through the press. There are real children, real mothers, real dynamics going on. It is very complex when there's that many people, and that many people that are focused in the same direction. Honestly it's about them and I want them to be, you know, honored. You know, no matter what you think of David Koresh or the people that died there, they died for what they believed in. And that's more than I can say for a lot of people."