Branch Davidian Massacre Site
Exactly who did the massacring here is still a matter of debate. The only thing that everyone seems to agree on is the death toll: four ATF agents and 80 followers of Vernon Howell, a.k.a. David Koresh, and his splinter group of Branch Davidian Seventh Day Adventists. It happened in early 1993 when the ATF raided, then besieged, then attacked the fortified compound that the Koreshians called Mount Carmel. All that was left was a smoking ruin.
There are no signs of the compound any more; the only remnant is a hole, formerly a swimming pool that was used as a bunker during the siege. A little chapel has been built out by the road by the Koreshians and their supporters, incorporating an infrequently-open museum of Davidian history that censures everyone for the bloodshed.
Up a dirt road is a grove of young trees planted in rows, one for each Branch Davidian killed. For several years each had a little granite marker at its base with a victim's name and age and the same date of death: April 20, 1993 (The stones were later mortared into a single memorial). When we visited, a rusting motorcycle stood off to one side, choked with weeds -- David Koresh's? We couldn't say, because our only company was a friendly dog and a lot of grasshoppers.
The surviving Koreshians have erected monuments to everyone who died, to eliminate any lingering animosity. Across the dirt road from the trees is a memorial to the ATF officers who were killed in the February 28, 1993 raid, which kicked off the 51 day siege and the eventual storming of the compound. And there's another monument to the people who died in the Oklahoma City bombing, two years to the day after the massacre at Mount Carmel.
According to John Anderson, who we encountered at his House Of Horrors attraction north of town, "Some folks believe Oklahoma City happened because of Waco." He also told us that the current Branch Davidian leader, Charles Pace, runs the local health food store, and that the Branch Davidians are "very peaceful people." This may be true, but we were getting this information from a guy who runs an attraction with a giant, laughing skull on the side of its building.
Pace has organized about a dozen surviving Davidians into a new church: The Branch, The Lord Our Righteousness. For years he has been trying -- thus far without success -- to turn the massacre site into a visitor destination, with an amphitheater, a biblical petting zoo, a museum and gift shop, a wellness center, a deli, an organic farm, and a model of the tabernacle that housed the Ten Commandments. The intent has always been to de-emphasize the massacre. All parties seem to want very hard to forget about the whole thing.