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CRIMES OF THE CENTURY

The Siege at Waco

Aired August 25, 2013 - 21:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


NARRATOR: A religious zealot.

DAVID KORESH, BRANCH DAVIDIAN LEADER: God speaks to me.

NARRATOR: In Waco, Texas.

RANDY PARSONS, SPECIAL AGENT, FBI (RET.): He claimed that he was the lamb of god.

BOB LOTT, CITY EDITOR, WACO TRIBUNE HERALD: They truly believe that he was the messiah.

NARRATOR: Leading his followers to Armageddon.

KORESH: It's God's word. All I am is the voice.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Reportedly he believes he was Jesus Christ.

JIM CAVANAUGH, ATF AGENT: I had a radio mike in one ear with an agent pleading for his life, and I had this guy on the phone who thought he was god.

BILL CLINTON, U.S. PRESIDENT: David Koresh was dangerous, irrational, and probably insane.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: David, you have had your 15 minutes of fame. You are under arrest. This standoff is over.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It went horribly. It was a total disaster.

NARRATOR: "The Siege at Waco." Next.

Waco, Texas, is a quiet, modest city, surrounded by sprawling cattle ranches. Located halfway between Dallas and Austin, it's an unlikely place for a modern-day Armageddon.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is the FBI command post. We have a fire at the compound at Mount Carmel. We confirm the entire compound is going up right now.

NARRATOR: It was an epic debacle in United States law enforcement history. A deadly shootout followed by a 51-day siege that ended with more than 70 people dead in a raging inferno. All caught on live television with the whole world watching.

Two questions rise from the ashes of this American tragedy. Who shot first and who started the fires?

It began innocently enough. In 1935 a small religious group moved to Waco. An offshoot of the Seventh Day Adventist Church, they eventually called themselves the Branch Davidians.

LOTT: Had pretty stable leadership for a lot of years and they were known in town as a somewhat bizarre but benign religious group that pretty much kept to themselves.

NARRATOR: The Davidians bought property about 10 miles east of town, built a compound, and named their sanctuary Mount Carmel after the sacred biblical site in Israel. But in the early 1980s a new member appeared who would change everything. His given name, Vernon Wayne Howell. Handsome and magnetic, he convinced his followers he would one day be reborn as Jesus Christ.

Church members would come to worship him as David Koresh. Koresh being the Hebrew name for Cyrus, the legendary Persian king and conqueror of Babylon.

CLIVE DOYLE, BRANCH DAVIDIAN SURVIVOR: He began to present the ideas that he had and I'd say 99 percent of the leadership of the church that were living at Mount Carmel accepted him as having a message from God.

NARRATOR: Clive Doyle is a Branch Davidian survivor, and to this day a believer in David Koresh.

DOYLE: David was constantly talking to God. God told me to do this. God told me to do that. And we accepted that.

KORESH: God speaks to me. I have a message to present.

NARRATOR: To outsiders Koresh soon transformed the Davidian Church into a cult.

ERROLL SOUTHERS, AUTHOR, HOMEGROWN VIOLENT EXTREMISM: The most important element of the cult is the leader. And they always describe the same way as being charismatic.

KORESH: I mean, there are some things that God has concealed in his written word that are to be brought to do right before the end of time.

BRIAN LEVIN, CENTER FOR THE STUDY OF HATE AND EXTREMISM: Koresh preached end of days philosophy to his followers, a belief system that was centered around an apocalyptic battle against evil armies led by a messianic leader who was the second coming.

LOTT: And his role was to open the seven seals that are mentioned in the "Book of Revelation."

NARRATOR: In revelation the seven seals represent the apocalypse. The biblical end of days. In the bible only the Lamb of God can open the seals. Koresh preached that he had that power. But by January 1992 disturbing rumors about the self-styled prophet had surfaced. The local newspaper, the "Waco Tribune Herald" began to investigate Koresh and his hold over the Davidians.

LOTT: He had what was called his new light revelation and that was that as the messiah, he should generate a new population of people to inherent the kingdom of God and to do that all of the women in the group belonged to him.

NARRATOR: As part of his new light prophecy, Koresh dissolved all existing marriages in the group.

DOYLE: The men in the group would choose to become celibate. And if they were married, they would, you know, not have any more relations with their wives.

KORESH: It's true. I do have a lot of children. And it's true I do have a lot of wives.

NARRATOR: But Koresh apparently did not stop there.

DOYLE: When David first started teaching, he began to show that God asked prophets to do what we might consider strange things a lot of times.

LOTT: We had evidence that he had sexually abused girls as young as 12.

KORESH: I mean, I just -- it is my great, wonderful looks, something that women can't resist.

LOTT: We also discovered that that had been going on for a couple of years and law enforcement had not done anything really to prevent it or stop it.

NARRATOR: But a field agent from the regional ATF office was doing something. Secretly. Though his investigation had nothing to do with the abuse allegations. His name is Davy Aguilera. This is the first time he has talked publicly about the case.

DAVY AGUILERA, ASSISTANT SAC, ATF (RET.): It's very difficult for me to do this. I have been bottling this up for the longest time. I try to put it behind me, but it never goes away.

NARRATOR: In the summer of 1992 Agent Aguilera got a tip from UPS that a box delivered to the compound had accidentally broken open revealing a stash of grenade hulls. That tip began a seven-month investigation to determine if the Branch Davidians were stockpiling illegal weapons.

PARSONS: They had acquired hundreds much weapons, rifles, pistols, shotguns, grenades, grenade launchers. Almost two million rounds of ammunition.

AGUILERA: I was discovering a lot of AR-15s. They were converting these weapons from semiautomatic to automatic weapons.

PARSONS: A fully automatic rifle is, of course, illegal to possess.

KORESH: This is not against the law to buy firearms. It's not against the law to buy anything that they sell at a gun show.

SOUTHERS: People don't even realize they have turned a commune into an armed camp and the weapons become very much a part of their life. They have engaged in now paramilitary training.

AGUILERA: I was outraged and I was able to go out and get enough probable cause to make sure that, you know, I'm going to get my warrant for this guy.

NARRATOR: In January 1993 the ATF rented a house across the road from the compound and began under cover surveillance with agents posing as college students.

AGUILERA: We had an undercover agent, Special Agent Robert Rodriguez, who actually had interaction and met with David Koresh.

NARRATOR: Koresh was not shy about his arsenal or his intentions.

AGUILERA: He says, you know, I don't care what the ATF says or does. It's my right to -- you know, to bear weapons, and nobody is ever going to take me down. That's a red flag.

LEVIN: When you couple a belief system of an apocalypse with a cult leader who is prepared to die and take everyone with him, giving him the tools to do so was a recipe for disaster.

NARRATOR: Shortly after the undercover operation began, Koresh stopped leaving the compound fearing he might be arrested.

DOYLE: We knew pretty much from day one that we were being watched.

NARRATOR: After just over a month of surveillance, Agent Aguilera secured warrants to search the Davidian compound and arrest David Koresh. The warrants would be served on Sunday, February 28th. The day before the "Waco Herald Tribune" would finally run its story. A detailed expose of Koresh titled "The Sinful Messiah." The paper also found out about the raid.

LOTT: One of our reporters had gotten a tip from a confidential informant who told him that they were going to do something, so we made plans to have people out there to cover whatever it was.

NARRATOR: The ATF plan called for a dynamic entry. Around 75 agents, many hidden in cattle trailers, would rapidly descend on the compound, serve the warrants, arrest Koresh, search the property, and seize the weapons.

AGUILERA: I thought the plan had it not been compromised would have worked.

NARRATOR: But the plan was compromised. That morning a local news cameraman got lost trying to find the Branch Davidian compound. He asked a mail carrier for directions and indicated there might be some kind of raid.

The mailman was a Branch Davidian. Undercover agent Robert Rodriguez was at the compound when Koresh received the warning.

AGUILERA: Robert immediately excused himself, look, I had to leave. David said, no, stay. Robert said, no, I got to go. And as Robert tells me, he walks out the door, and he says, I was just waiting for them to put a bullet in my back.

NARRATOR: Agent Rodriguez went straight to his commanders.

AGUILERA: And he said they're looking at us. They know we're coming. You need to call this off.

NARRATOR: But the impetus to act had already reached critical mass. In the next few hours events at Waco would transfix the nation and David Koresh would become a household name.

KORESH: I knew that they were coming. You know, I knew they were coming before they knew they were coming.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

NARRATOR: On Sunday morning, February 28th, the ATF launched its ill- fated raid on the Branch Davidian compound outside Waco, Texas. The ATF called it "Operation Showtime."

AGUILERA: Those that made the initial entry, their concern, where are the children? They had candy bars in their pockets to give out. Chocolate for the kids. Wow.

NARRATOR: An ATF agent named Roland Ballesteros was assigned the dangerous job of actually serving the warrants. He never even made it to the front door.

AGUILERA: A barrage of gunfire just went right through the door. He died (INAUDIBLE).

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Camera man. Hey, cameraman.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Ambulance, got it.

AGUILERA: How could these guys just start shooting at us?

BYRON SAGE, SPECIAL AGENT, FBI (RET.): The morning of February 28th, 1993, I will never forget.

NARRATOR: Crisis negotiator Byron Sage is the first FBI agent on the scene, arriving some 75 minutes after the shooting started.

SAGE: Had I got there a little after 11:00, gun battle was still raging, which was significant. The average gun battle and law enforcement lasts about two seconds. This was a gun battle that had raged now for well over an hour.

DOYLE: Suddenly there was some that shot back. We're not denying that. Because they went weren't trusting us and we weren't probably too trusting of them because they were continuing to shoot.

BOB RICKS, SPECIAL AGENT, FBI (RET.): Bullets were coming out of every window within the compound.

NARRATOR: FBI agent Bob Ricks would become the face of the government regarding the standoff. When he arrives, the FBI agents are in shock.

RICKS: They had the look of defeat, the look of despair, the look of despondency. They had gone through a horrible day and were forcibly required to retreat from that scene.

SAGE: Our top priority right from the start was to get a lid on the violence and then to bring their emotionality down.

NARRATOR: As the shootout rages, ATF agent Jim Cavanaugh is already on the phone with the Davidians trying to gain a ceasefire.

CAVANAUGH: We were taking an awful beating. So many men were hurt and wounded and lying down there. When I called the compound, it was Steven Schneider.

NARRATOR: Steven Schneider was Koresh's top lieutenant.

CAVANAUGH: And he started screaming through the phone that we had no right to be there, to get off the property immediately. I tried to stay calm. I said, Steve, we have to talk. We have to work this out. You and I have to work this out. People are dying. People are hurt. We need to stop the shooting.

NARRATOR: Soon Cavanaugh is talking directly with David Koresh.

CAVANAUGH: Everything is OK. Just you and me are talking. And that's the main thing. Because you care for people and then you're sincere and honest.

KORESH: I care about my father.

CAVANAUGH: That's right.

KORESH: My father in heaven.

CAVANAUGH: I had a radio mike in one ear with an agent pleading for his life, and I had this guy on the phone who thought he was god.

DAVID FRENCH, PRIMENEWS: Checking now our top stories on PrimeNews. In Waco, Texas, at least four federal agents are dead and 14 are injured in a shoot-out with members of a religious cult.

NARRATOR: It takes negotiators two and a half hours to gain a ceasefire, after that the top priority is to retrieve the wounded and dead ATF agents from around the compound. The whole scene has the look of a war zone.

PARSONS: When I first got there, it was a very tense, uncomfortable environment.

NARRATOR: Within hours FBI agents are pouring into Waco from around the country. Special Agent Randy Parsons is dispatched from Washington, D.C., but Parsons and his colleagues aren't there simply to assist. The FBI is taking over. It's a critical turning point.

PARSONS: It was an uncomfortable situation because the Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms felt a great sense of loss. It was their own men, their own agents, who were down and were gone.

RICKS: Shortly thereafter they were told that we were going to be taking over the handling of the response to the events on that day and that was crushing for them as well.

AGUILERA: At the time, you know, it's personal. You have some animosity. I felt a little, you know, hey, someone is coming in and taking away what I started. But you know, it was for the best because you never know because of what we just went through, what we could have done.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Get that camera out of here. Get out of here.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Get back and get out of here.

(CROSSTALK)

NARRATOR: News of the shootout immediately spreads from coast-to- coast. The national press swarms into Waco, looking for answers. And from the start one question dominates all others. Who shot first?

CAVANAUGH: When you drove up, the Davidians opened fire, and I am sickened by any other assertion.

NARRATOR: But in a CNN phone interview after the shootout, David Koresh says otherwise.

KORESH: They started firing at me and so then what happened was some of the young men started firing on them. They fired on us first.

CAVANAUGH: We didn't shoot first. We didn't. They shot first. And if I thought that an ATF agent would drive up in front of a structure and shoot, I'd throw my badge in the garbage. It didn't happen.

LOTT: Probably the only person who will ever know who actually shot first is the person who shot first.

NARRATOR: No one could know that the shootout was just a hint of what was coming. A tense 51-day standoff that would escalate into a conflagration of biblical proportions.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

NARRATOR: What started as a carefully planned ATF raid on the Branch Davidian compound in Waco, Texas, quickly turned into a horrible debacle. Four ATF agents are dead, 16 wounded. With an unknown number of casualties inside the compound, including David Koresh.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: At this hour FBI agents are negotiating with the cult leader. He reportedly believes he is Jesus Christ.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Mr. Koresh, how are you doing? KORESH: (INAUDIBLE)

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: I understand you've been wounded. Would you describe your position?

KORESH: Weakening.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Are you shot, sir?

KORESH: Yes, I am.

PARSONS: Well, communications opened up pretty quickly. He loved to talk. He loved to hear himself talk.

KORESH: How is God going to talk to me in the later days? So there will be no excuses.

PARSONS: So there was no lack of communication. There was a lack of productive communication.

KORESH: There's a lot of children here. I've had a lot of babies these past few years.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Is it true, David, that one of the children, a 2-year-old, is dead?

KORESH: Yes, it's true.

SAGE: He was so calm to a point where he began to immediately start questioning what kind of personality are we dealing with?

KORESH: Here we are at the day of the lord. When God will make inquisition for blood.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That's not today, David.

KORESH: It is.

NARRATOR: Koresh and the Davidians were well supplied for a long siege. In addition to their arsenal, they had stockpiled military MREs.

SAGE: What we ultimately had come to realize is that we had well over 100 individuals inside of the heavily fortified compound that were there voluntarily because they had backed what they felt was their messiah.

KORESH: What do you think about all this?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Don't know.

KORESH: You don't know?

NARRATOR: Getting the children out is the top priority. But Koresh uses them as pawns to get what he wants. Air time on the radio. KORESH: I gave them a message for the radio so that the public can listen to where I'm coming from. And I explained that every time they play it, I would send two of the children out.

NARRATOR: The message is played several times over the next few hours.

KORESH: And remember, the most fearful warning ever given to man in scripture is the warning found in Revelation 22.

SAGE: And sure enough we started getting children out late that afternoon.

NARRATOR: Over the next several days more than a dozen children will be released along with some adults. But the standoff continues. On the third day of the siege, Koresh makes another deal with negotiators. If they will play a one-hour sermon on national television, he will come out peacefully with all his followers.

KORESH: If they'll show me and show the world what the seven seals are and where they're at in the prophesies, then I will be satisfied and then we'll all come out to you.

NARRATOR: The FBI agrees.

SAGE: That tape was played in the afternoon about 3:00. Went for about an hour and then the clock starts ticking.

RICKS: We're all waiting. We're anticipating. We had buses lined up to receive everybody.

JEFF JAMAR, FBI SPECIAL AGENT IN CHARGE: Contacts with Koresh, he stated that he had received a message from God instructing him to wait.

NARRATOR: Any doubts about who is calling the shots is suddenly gone.

RICKS: Now we knew when we had a person who said he was speaking directly to God and God had told him to wait that this was not going to be normal.

SAGE: That was one of the first and more significant glimpses of the disingenuous nature of how David was dealing with us as far as promises and truthfulness.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Are you a patient person?

KORESH: Yes, I'm fairly patient.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You're going to see patience because the only thing that we're going to do is sit and wait.

CAVANAUGH: I believe that was our last best chance to get him to ever come out. He was fatigued. He was wounded. He was hurt. We had been working on him for three days. But at the very last moment he couldn't do it. KORESH: If I say I'm Christ, the proof is if I can open up the seals or not.

CAVANAUGH: He couldn't leave this place where he was god with unlimited sexual favors and walk out to a cold jail cell. He tricked us. He fooled us. He played with us.

NARRATOR: On day six of the standoff another child comes out of the compound with a note pinned to her jacket. It says, "Once the children are out, the adults will die."

SAGE: We never got another child out. We've got a total of 21, and I will be eternally grateful for the fact that we were able to accomplish that.

NARRATOR: Twenty-seven children remained inside the compound.

SAGE: We continued to press David on that. David finally became very upset with the negotiator, and he stopped and yelled at them. He said, hey, you don't understand. The rest of these children are my children. They're not coming out. The battle of Armageddon was on.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

JOHN KING, FORMER CNN ANCHOR: Tension is high in Waco, Texas. Four federal agents and at least 10 cult members are dead.

NARRATOR: From the outset of the standoff at the Branch Davidian compound, law enforcement's primary concern was the welfare of the children.

RICKS: We really wanted to talk to as many of the children as we could. To see their faces and maybe talk to the mothers if possible, see if they were being held against their will.

NARRATOR: To accomplish this the FBI concealed microphones in milk cartons sent into the compound. They also gave David Koresh a video camera to record pictures of the children and any statements anyone wanted to make.

KORESH: This is Mynah. Say hello. Real loud. Hello.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Hello.

KORESH: OK. Are you thankful for the milk? Say thanks for the milk.

RICKS: We were trying to determine what was the nature of the people inside the compound? Were they healthy? Were they suffering?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I feel quite safe here. I mean there is no reason for me to leave.

RICKS: We learned very rapidly that these people came from all walks of life. Some of them very bright people.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm not being held here against my will. UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This is the truth. I know this is the truth, and for anybody that knows me, you know that I wouldn't be into something I didn't think was right.

SAGE: We as negotiators had to step back and realize, good lord, how much control has this guy actually exercised over everybody inside there?

NARRATOR: On the tape Koresh even shows his wounds.

KORESH: Want to see one of the holes here? Here's one of them. That look nice? It's kind of painful. It ain't nothing for a tough guy like me.

NARRATOR: Almost two weeks into the siege, Janet Reno was sworn in as attorney general of the United States. Briefed on the situation in Waco, she endorsed the FBI's plan to be patient and wait out the crisis.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: As the siege entered its third week, the FBI turned up the heat.

NARRATOR: But waiting did not mean doing nothing. Authorities bombarded the compound with noise and light. And sometimes cut the electricity and phones for hours at a time. Then another major turning point. The FBI tactical team deployed tanks as a physical show of force.

AGUILERA: Now, I'm like, wow, this is -- looks like a war zone.

DOYLE: It seems like during the siege if we did what they asked the next thing guys on the ground, the tactical team, smashing up our vehicles and smashing up, you know, bulldozing the trees down. It's like every time we didn't comply with them, they were punishing us in one way or another.

NARRATOR: As the tension mountain and the press coverage grew, the siege drew both curious onlookers and protesters, many of them gun rights supporters. One was a young disenfranchise army vet named Timothy McVeigh. Two years later he would bomb the federal building in Oklahoma City. McVeigh said he did it in part because of the government action at Waco.

Sixteen days into the standoff, David Koresh agrees to let two of his followers meet with government negotiators face to face.

SAGE: He had selected Steve Schneider, his number one lieutenant, and Wayne Martin, their Harvard-educated attorney, to come out and talk to our representative. The tension was extremely high. You can quite literally feel the crosshairs on him from the Branch Davidian compound. As I'm sure Steve Schneider and Wayne Martin could feel from our tactical teams and had everybody covered.

NARRATOR: The meeting is positive. The FBI negotiators arranged to meet again in two days and deliver written assurances requested by Koresh, but Schneider abruptly cancels the second meeting. SAGE: He indicated that David didn't think it was necessary, so I said, wait a minute, you don't want to come out or David doesn't want you to come out? He says, well, David doesn't think it's necessary.

NARRATOR: For Agent Sage, a heated phone conversation that follows provokes a crucial realization about Koresh.

SAGE: At one point he's talking about my salvation. And I said, David, I am absolutely confident in my salvation as a Christian, and you, partner, are not in a position to judge me. Now that was a very calculated move because stop and think about it. If this individual was delusional and thought that he was Jesus Christ, who is in more of a position to judge me as a Christian than Jesus Christ?

But in my mind it had resolved a very critical question, and that is, I did not feel that he was delusional or felt that he was the second coming of Christ. I think that he was a conman and his chosen area of con was religion.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

NARRATOR: Forty-six days into the Branch Davidian standoff FBI negotiators are stymied. There's still no progress. In a concession to Davidian leader David Koresh the FBI lets him speak with his attorney from inside the compound.

DICK DEGUERIN, KORESH ATTORNEY: I'm hopeful that this is some real progress and that we can bring this thing to an end real quickly.

SAGE: After the attorneys went in, there was -- David said that he was going to write his manuscript of the meanings of the seven seals.

NARRATOR: Supposedly the manuscript will be Koresh's proof that he is the Lamb of God. At first Koresh says it will take him two days to write about each seal. Then it becomes two weeks, and then he says it will take a year.

JAMAR: Had there been serious preparation of the manuscripts, we would have waited. There was none.

NARRATOR: On the 49th day of the siege, Attorney General Janet Reno approves the bureau's plan for a tactical solution. The insertion of tear gas into the compound.

JANET RENO, ATTORNEY GENERAL: I approve the plan and I'm responsible for it. I advised the president, but I did not advise him as to the details.

NARRATOR: It's one more major turning point, though Reno leaves it to the FBI to decide when to take action.

RICKS: We went 27 days with nobody being released. David Koresh became more violent in his rhetoric.

He has made such statements as we are ready for war, let's get it on. SAGE: Finally, on about the 18th of April, the decision was made that we've had enough delays, we've had enough disingenuous lies coming from these individuals. It was time to exercise a tactical resolution.

NARRATOR: On day 51 of the siege at Waco, the FBI initiates its tactical plan to end the standoff.

SAGE: David, individuals inside the Branch Davidian compound, we are in the process of placing tear gas into the building.

AGUILERA: I learned of the gas that day. I didn't know that they were going to do that. And I thought, wow, well, they're going to gas them out.

SAGE: Exit the compound now. Submit to the proper authority, David. You are under arrest. This standoff is over.

I don't think we, the FBI, ATF, anybody else ever had any control over how this was going end. I think the only control we truly have was when it was going to end.

LEVIN: Koresh had his playbook already decided in advance. That he would destroy his followers rather than to give up to the evil armies of the federal government.

SAGE: Believe me, it will not get any better. It will only get worse.

David, you have had your 15 minutes of fame. It's time to leave the building.

We banked on the fact that a parent, if they found their children exposed to that kind of discomfort, would move heaven and earth to get them to a position of safety. And we were wrong.

NARRATOR: The beginning of the end comes just after 12:00 noon. A wisp of smoke floats from a compound window.

SAGE: My instructions over the loudspeakers went from instructions to, please, David, don't do this.

David, don't do this to your people.

AGUILERA: Then all of a sudden you see bursts of flames. I'm, like, my god, I hope they allowed the children to leave.

SAGE: This is not the way to end this. Leave your people out, David. Be a messiah, not a destroyer.

PARSONS: I will never forget the exact thought that went through my head when I saw the flames. Thank God those mothers will bring their children out now, and we waited and waited and waited, and they didn't bring their children out.

NARRATOR: The entire scene unfolds before a live TV audience. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Look at that. This is gorgeous.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There is tear gas that started on fire or something.

NARRATOR: The exuberance of a control room producer is tempered by the reality of the situation.

AGUILERA: It was quick. Didn't last very long. The structure of the building was very shadfly made of plywood and it's like a wooden match.

SAGE: We never stopped our negotiation efforts. We continued right up until I turned off the speakers on that last day at 12:35 in the afternoon.

RICKS: Everyone was in tears. We could all see the faces of the children. We all knew who they were. We had seen them. And that's what we were dedicated to doing, was trying to rescue those kids out of there. And that had all gone up in smoke and we knew that they were all dying and there was nothing that we could do about it.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Recap for those viewers who maybe just tuning in to CNN, it is day 51 of the siege near Waco, Texas, and the standoff between the FBI and the Branch Davidian religion cult that now seems to be coming to an explosive and fiery end.

AGUILERA: I did not think that he would fulfill his prophecy. That's what he did.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

NARRATOR: April 19th, 1993, the siege at Waco has come to a fiery end.

SHARYL ATTKISSON, CNN: This hour we have no word still specifically on the fate of David Koresh and specific followers.

SAGE: But how in the world could they have done that to their kids? Nine people came out, not one of them brought a child.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Clive Doyle is one of the nine who did get out but he left his 18-year-old daughter inside. She had been one of Koresh's child brides.

DOYLE: You beat yourself up, and why didn't I go looking for one, why didn't I rescue, why didn't I save anybody? I've kicked myself ever since. People do strange things (INAUDIBLE).

AGUILERA: I was not just shocked but just horrified. I mean, to think that these children had perished in the fire, and women, and I started asking questions, I'm like, why did this happen? Who started the fire?

RICKS: It almost became common belief that the FBI had shot the people in there or that the FBI had perhaps started the fire. SAGE: I'm not saying the FBI did everything right or that ATF did everything right. But we did not set the fires, we did not murder anybody.

NARRATOR: Infrared photography taken by helicopters above the building shows the fire igniting in three different places inside the compound.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN SR. WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: All of the indications are that the fire was set from within, presumably by some of David Koresh's followers.

SAGE: Nine Branch Davidians exited that compound that last day.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There's a person jumping, hanging from that window.

SAGE: Seven of the nine had accelerants on their clothing.

DOYLE: Whether anybody actually deliberately lit a fire in there, I don't know. But my question would be, even if they did, whose fault is it? Is it our fault because we were bent on dying or is it FBI's fault for taunting David?

NARRATOR: In the smoldering wreckage of the compound, investigators recover at least 78 bodies, including David Koresh.

PARSONS: It appears as though his second in the command, Steve Schneider, shot David Koresh in the head with a pistol and then Schneider turned the pistol on himself.

RICKS: The children themselves were mostly executed. They were either beat to death, stabbed to death, or shot.

David Koresh was never going to walk out of that place on our terms. It was doomed from day one that that place, which went by the name of Rancho Apocalypse, was destined to end up in flames.

NARRATOR: In the aftermath of the tragedy, "Not Another Waco" became a rallying cry for the ATF. The agency improved intelligence gathering and reporting methods and changed policies regarding who makes on-the-ground incident decisions.

The FBI made changes as well, forming a crisis response group to assure complete coordination between its negotiators and tactical teams.

RENO: I made the decision. I'm accountable. The buck stops with me and nobody ever accused me of running from a decision that I made based on the best information that I had.

NARRATOR: Waco was an early test for Attorney General Janet Reno, though she came under intense criticism for her decisions, she remained in office until 2001.

As for the "Waco Tribune-Herald," it was named a finalist for the 1994 Pulitzer Prize in investigative reporting.

Today, three memorials stand at the Branch Davidian compound. One is in memory of those who perished in 1994 at Oklahoma City. A second memorial is dedicated to all the Branch Davidian members who died that horrible day in April. The third, the smallest stone of all, remembers the four ATF agents who perished on February 28th, 1993.

AGUILERA: Robert John Williams, Todd McKeehan, Steve Willis, and Conway LeBleu. They were heroes. When I hear TAPS or when I hear the bagpipes, I just breakdown. I'll take this to my grave.