[Ed. Note: This chronology was published in 1995 with the initial broadcast of "Waco: the Inside Story." In August, 1999, documents were uncovered which indicated that during the raid on the Branch Davidian compound, the FBI used a limited number of flammable tear gas canisters. This revelation contradicted assertions of the FBI and the Department of Justice that the government had done nothing that could have contributed to the start or spread of the fire. In response, Attorney General Janet Reno appointed a special counsel, former Republican senator John C. Danforth, to reexamine the assault to determine how the fire started and whether there was a cover-up of information implicating law enforcement officials or the Justice Department.
On July 21, 2000, after a 10 month investigation, Danforth issued a preliminary report exonerating the government and its agents. His report concluded that federal agents did not start the fire, direct gunfire at the complex, or improperly employ US armed forces. Danforth assigned responsibility for the tragedy to the Branch Davidians and David Koresh. According to the report, they contributed to the tragedy by refusing to exit the compound during the 51 day standoff, directing gunfire at FBI agents, shooting members of the compound, and ultimately setting the fire that burned the compound down.
Danforth did find, however, that an FBI agent fired three pyrotechnic tear gas rounds at a concrete pit 75 feet from the living quarters of the compound. Although these rounds did not start the fire, government officials did not admit their use until August 1999, more than six years later. Danforth found that this negligence was at best a mishandling of evidence, and at worst a criminal attempt to conceal the truth from investigators.
The full text of Danforth's preliminary report is available online from the Center for Studies on New Religions. A final report is expected in the fall of 2000.]
FRONTLINE's chronology of the siege, which starts below, is drawn from two reports (OCT. 8, 1993) issued by the Justice Department: "Report to the Deputy Attorney General on the Events at Waco, Texas, February 28 to April 19,1993," (hereinafter designated as "Scruggs"), compiled by Richard Scruggs, who is an assistant to the Attorney General, and five other officials in the Justice Department; and "Evaluation of the Handling of the Branch Davidian Stand-off in Waco, Texas February 28 to April 19, 1993," (hereinafter designated as "Dennis") by Edward S. G. Dennis, Jr., a Philadelphia lawyer and former assistant attorney general in the Criminal Division of the Justice Department. Both reports were issued on October 3, 1993. (As of July 1994, Richard Scruggs is no longer an assistant to the Attorney General.)
February 28, 1993 through March 7, 1993
- March 8, 1993 through March 18, 1993
- March 19, 1993 through March 31, 1993
- April 1, 1993 through April 15, 1993
- April 16, 1993 through April 19, 1993
- SUNDAY, FEBRUARY 28, 1993:
At about 9:30 a.m. agents of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms attempt to execute arrest and search warrants against David KORESH and the Branch Davidian compound. Gunfire erupts. Four ATF agents are killed and 16 are wounded. An undetermined number of Davidians are killed and injured. Within a few hours, the FBI becomes the lead agency for resolving the standoff. Jeff JAMAR is named the on-site commander. By the afternoon, advance units of the FBI's Hostage Rescue Team (HRT) arrive, and telephone conversations are under way between KORESH, Steve SCHNEIDER, and Wayne MARTIN on one side and the ATF's Jim CAVANAUGH and Waco Police Lt. Larry LYNCH on the other. KORESH discloses that he has been wounded in the hip and left wrist. KORESH is allowed to broadcast his religious teachings on Dallas radio KRLD and does a CNN telephone interview. Michael SCHROEDER, a Branch Davidian, is killed while he tries to return to the main building. Texas Rangers begin an investigation but are barred by the FBI from continuing. At about 5:30 p.m., JAMAR arrives at Waco and chooses Byron SAGE of the FBI as chief negotiator. President CLINTON follows events closely throughout the day.[ Scruggs 1, 9, 21, 22, 24, 229, 236, 241]
- MONDAY, MARCH 1:
In the early morning, Acting Attorney General Stuart GERSON gives an update to CLINTON, who implicitly endorses a negotiated solution and asks to be advised if there is any change in strategy. Larry POTTS at FBI headquarters in Washington and JAMAR in Waco are in command. Negotiations continue, and over the course of the day, 10 children are sent out of the compound. By 5 p.m., the FBI takes control with a fully functioning command post. FBI agents in armored vehicles deploy to the compound's perimeter. KORESH becomes extremely agitated when the armored vehicles move closer and when his phone line is cut except for outgoing calls to the negotiators. At least twice, KORESH says suicide is not being contemplated. CLINTON and FBI Director William SESSIONS talk about how to handle crisis. SESSIONS favors "waiting strategy," and CLINTON approves this tactic.
[ Scruggs 9, 27, 28, 29, 30, 126, 237]
- TUESDAY, MARCH 2:
Into the wee hours the negotiations continue. In the early morning, KORESH makes a one-hour audio tape of his religious teachings, adding a preamble promising to surrender upon the national broadcast of tape. At 1:30 p.m., the tape is broadcast over the Christian Broadcasting Network. At 5:58 p.m, the word is relayed to negotiations from KORESH that God had spoken to him and had told him to wait. GERSON states that the strategy is "to talk them out, no matter how long it took." CLINTON calls GERSON and agrees to deploy military vehicles for safety purposes. [ Scruggs 32-35, 238, 239]
- WEDNESDAY, MARCH 3:
In a conciliatory gesture, the FBI intervenes to have murder charges dropped against two elderly women, Davidians who had left the compound on March 2. Speaking with negotiators, KORESH accounts for his failure to surrender, as agreed, by saying he's "dealing now with his Father" and not with "your bureaucratic system of government." And he delivers various rambling sermons, focusing on such Biblical matters as "unlocking" the Seven Seals and interpreting God's intentions about the end of the world. In a late-evening conversation, he bristles at the movement of armored vehicles around the compound and says the FBI would have to "look at some of the pictures of the little ones that ended up perishing." [Scruggs 38-41]
- THURSDAY, MARCH 4:
Negotiators jawbone for 11 hours with various Davidians, including 7 hours and 38 minutes with KORESH. The negotiators remain "calm and conciliatory." A memo written by Pete SMERICK and Mark YOUNG, two FBI psychological profilers, says a strategy of negotiations, coupled with ever increasing tactical presence, could be counter-productive and result in the loss of life. [ Scruggs 41-49, 180]
- FRIDAY, MARCH 5:
Nine-year-old Heather JONES leaves compound wearing a note pinned to her jacket on which her mother says that, once the children are out, the adults will die. KORESH and his top aide, Steve SCHNEIDER, deny they are contemplating suicide. The FBI seeks the advice of experts and Davidians on likelihood of mass suicide by the Davidians and receives "inconsistent information." The FBI concludes that the Davidians have a one-year supply of food, including abundant military rations or MREs (meals ready to eat). KORESH continues preaching and threatening violence. [ Scruggs 49-52]
- SATURDAY, MARCH 6:
In an early morning conversation SCHNEIDER suggests federal agents might burn the compound down to destroy evidence. KORESH and SCHNEIDER are both "highly agitated and upset" for most of the day. The FBI becomes concerned that the negotiations are at an impasse and acknowledges "frustration in attempting to negotiate with KORESH." [ Scruggs 52-55]
- SUNDAY, MARCH 7:
Talks with KORESH and others inside the compound go round in circles. The FBI refuses to deliver milk for the children unless more of them are released. KORESH says all the children left in the compound are his biological descendants. A memo by SMERICK and YOUNG advises against tactical options in favor of establishing trust with KORESH. They predict the assault on the compound and say mass suicide is a possibility. GERSON talks SESSIONS out of going to Waco to negotiate directly with KORESH. [ Scruggs 57, 58, 181, 240]