Nearly three months after the end of the 51-day siege at the Branch Davidian compound, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms maintains a field office in Waco.
Five agents from around the country will continue to operate at University Tower, 700 S. University-Parks Drive, until the investigation of circumstances surrounding the siege is concluded, the office’s supervising agent said Tuesday.
“There are no projections on how long it will take,” said agent Tony DeNardi, a 21-year ATF veteran whose most recent assignment was a stint as head agent of the Kansas City field division.
Jack Killorin, an ATF spokesman in Washington, said the bureau plans to keep an office in Waco for up to two years should the investigation and wrap-up operation require that.
The office, which opened May 1, will focus primarily on tracking down information all over the country about “unlawful weapons activity” carried on by cult members, Killorin said.
“There is still the need for a fairly intensive investigation and preparation for trial,” he said. “It should be fairly clear that this is a fairly wide-ranging investigation.”
The agents are collaborating with prosecutors and Texas Rangers, who are working to determine what took place before and during the Feb. 28 ATF raid on the compound, in which four agents and several cult members were killed.
DeNardi declined to comment on the nature of his office’s role in the investigation, though.
“We’re working with the prosecution team and the Rangers,” he said. “That’s about all I can say. I just can’t get into specifics on the investigation.”
More than 100 ATF agents took part in the raid, with reinforcements coming into Waco after the failed raid turned into a stalemate. Though the FBI then assumed command of the operations, hundreds of ATF agents stayed in Waco throughout the standoff.
None of the five remaining agents were part of the operation that ended April 19 when the compound burst into flames as the FBI used tanks to punch holes in its walls and inject tear gas.
Almost 80 Branch Davidians died in the fire, including cult leader Vernon Howell, also known as David Koresh.
The agents of the Waco office, who have come from divisions based as far away as Los Angeles and Detroit, volunteered for the assignment, DeNardi said.
“Quite a few agents nationwide were interested in this assignment,” he said. “The agents here were handpicked from the applicants. I won’t say it was a long process, but it was a thorough process.”
For these agents, the stop in Waco is just another assignment in a career that often requires them to pickup roots and move, Killorin said.
“The average for employees of the government is actually to move once about every three years,” he said.
DeNardi admits that he has paid a price for his ATF career.
“It is hard when you’ve been in a place for a while and you make friends and then have to leave,” he said. “Any time you move, you’ve got to uproot your family, and that is hard. But the people in Waco have been terrific. I couldn’t have asked for more.”