Federal agents sought a search warrant for the Branch Davidian compound near Waco because of 165 military-style assault rifles, weapons capable of knocking out lightly armored vehicles and a wall of wooden crates full of ammunition, according to two affidavits unsealed Tuesday by federal authorities.

The Feb. 25 affidavit, signed by Special Agent Davy Aguilera of the Bureau of the Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, recited a litany of transgressions to justify an arrest warrant for Howell and a search warrant for the Branch Davidian compound outside Waco. The warrants were granted; four ATF agents were slain and 16 wounded trying to serve them at the Mount Carmel compound.

An accompanying affidavit from ATF Agent Earl Dunagin described how Howell and his followers prepared to meet ATF agents that Sunday, an account put together from members who left.

Dunagin’s account quotes Howell as saying, “Neither ATF or the National Guard will ever get me. They got me once and they will never get me again. They are coming; the time has come.” The “got me before” apparently refers to Howell’s 1987 arrest and trial for attempted murder.

They also depict the cult leader dressed in black, carrying an AR-15 rifle and being visible inside the door when federal agents knocked.

Also mentioned in that account is Wayne Martin, the Harvard-educated lawyer whom the account says was a leader in repulsing the ATF raid.

Included in Aguilera’s 15-page document were allegations of false imprisonment, sexual abuse of children, and allegations that as many as 40 of the compound’s residents were probably in violation of U.S. immigration law.

Those allegations don’t fall under ATF’s jurisdiction. The affidavit cites another long list of probable violations of federal gun laws.

The document cited two witnesses who saw Howell shooting an automatic weapon, as well as a neighbor with a military background who said he heard automatic weapons fire coming from the property on several occasions. The neighbor also said some of that automatic fire sounded like it was coming from a .50-caliber machine gun.

“Howell was very excited about having a machine gun,” the statement quoted ex-cult member Deborah Bunds, who saw Howell fire an automatic weapon, as saying. “He voiced a desire to acquire additional machine guns, specifically AK-47 type machine guns.”

Also included was a McLennan County sheriff’s deputy’s account of seeing the cloud from an explosion on the property Nov. 6.

Aguilera’s investigation, which apparently began in earnest in June, details how Howell stitched together a network of gun and gun parts dealers to supply his fascination with weaponry.

Dunagin’s affidavit put the arsenal inside Mount Carmel at 123 AR-15 assault rifles, 44 AK-47 assault rifles, 26 M-1 rifles, and two Barrett .50-caliber rifles, along with other rifles and handguns.

“As to ammunition, one former resident of the Mount Carmel compound described seeing wood crates full of ammunition that were stacked two deep and as high as the ceiling along a ten-foot wall within the compound,” Dunagin wrote.

The affidavit also said Mount Carmel contained machine tools and skilled machinists capable of creating machine guns out of semi-automatic weapons and the parts ordered by Howell.

Dunagin’s statement, dated April 18, estimated the cult spent at least $199,715 on weapons and ammunition.

What wasn’t included in the documentation, supplied by the U.S. Attorney’s office in Waco, was the original list of contraband to be seized when the raid was carried out. An amended list of property sought by agents filed April 13 includes gunsmithing materials, firearms, computers, documents, and vehicles and vehicle parts, as well as blood, shell casings, human bodies and body parts and animal carcasses.

The statement also quoted a Texas Department of Human Services employee who visited the compound Feb. 27, 1992, to check on the welfare of the children at the compound.

The woman, Joyce Sparks, told agents how she talked to one 7 or 8-year-old who told her he couldn’t wait to grow up, so that he could carry a “long gun” like all the other adults at the compound. The boy told Sparks that all the adults had guns and always practiced with them. Howell, on the other hand, told her there were a few firearms out there and most of the adults did not know of them.

“She said that during her conversation with Mr. Koresh, he told her that he was the ‘Messenger’ from God, that the world was coming to an end, and that when he ‘reveals’ himself the riots in Los Angeles would pale in comparison to what was going to happen in Waco, Texas,” the affidavit stated. “Koresh stated that it would be a ‘military type operation’ and that all the ‘non-believers’ would have to suffer.”

’92 arms purchases

Here is a list of guns and gun parts that the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms says Vernon Howell and the Branch Davidians bought in 1992 through the Mag Bag and from former Hewitt gun dealer Henry McMahon.

The list does not include items they bought at gun shows or from other sources and does not include items bought in 1993.

  • 104 upper receivers and barrels for AR-15 or M-16 rifles.
  • 8,100 rounds of 9mm and .223-cal ammunition.
  • 20 100-round drum magazines for AK-47 rifles.
  • 260 magazines for AR-15 and M-16 rifles.
  • 30 magazines for M-14 rifles.
  • An M-76 grenade launcher.
  • 200 practice rifle grenades.
  • Four parts kits for M-16 rifles.
  • Two flare launchers.
  • About 50 inert practice hand grenades.
  • 40 to 50 pounds of black gun powder.
  • 30 pounds of potassium nitrate.
  • Five pounds of magnesium metal powder.
  • One pound of igniter cord.
  • 91 lower receivers for AR-15 rifles.
  • 26 handguns and long guns of various calibers.
  • 90 pounds of aluminum metal powder.
  • 30 to 40 cardboard tubes.

Read the Tribune-Herald's 7-part investigative series on the inner workings of the Branch Davidians. Hours after Part 2 appeared in print, the ATF raided the group's compound.

Read the Tribune-Herald’s account of the ATF raid on the Branch Davidian compound on Feb. 28, 1993. Four ATF agents and six in the compound were killed in the gunfight.

Read the daily news accounts of the 51-day siege at the Branch Davidian compound near Elk, which began Feb. 28 and lasted until April.

April 19 and beyond: FBI agents began inserting canisters of tear gas into the Branch Davidian compound in the early morning hours. By noon, it was on fire.

Federal officials left the compound site in late May 1993. As identifications of bodies continued, questions about the survivors, the compound and the cult itself began to emerge.

As the world began to take a critical look back at the events and legal proceedings continue, the ATF's bombshell report forces a shakeup at the top after the raid gone "tragically wrong."

In 1994, the surviving Davidians went on trial in San Antonio. Over six weeks, more than 140 witnesses testified, with the verdict coming just two days prior to the anniversary of the ATF raid.

The Rodenville shootout and the 1988 trial, the end of the world in 1959 and more stories from deep in the Trib archives.