Waco mourns the deaths that occurred Sunday when federal officers stormed the heavily armed compound of a dangerous religious cult east of Waco.
While attempting to enforce the law and protect lives, federal agents put their lives on the line. It is tragic that brave individuals are dead and maimed in the line of duty. The prayers of Waco residents join those of all Americans.
The Branch Davidians religious cult, located 10 miles east of Waco, has been an authentic threat for years. In 1987 cult members had an armed shootout on the Mount Carmel property. The cult’s leader, Vernon Howell, reportedly claimed to be Christ. Howell had his name changed two years ago to David Koresh.
Following the 1987 shoot-out involving Howell’s group and a rival cult leader, a jury could not reach a verdict on Howell. Charges were dropped.
Former members of the cult had gone to law enforcement officials with reports of stockpiled weapons and allegations of physical, sexual and psychological abuse of children. Among the allegations: that Howell had sex with under-aged girls, that he whipped infants and that he declared himself the only perfect mate for women in the cult.
Howell’s former comrades were convinced that his followers were willing to die for their cause.
Neighbors had complained to authorities of gunfire at the cult’s heavily fortified compound. Also, in 1990, a private investigator hired by an Australian breakaway group of Branch Davidians met with federal, state and local law enforcement officials. The former cult members’ notarized affidavits laid out some of the same allegations that brought federal agents to the scene Sunday.
Enforcing the law when it involves religion is always a difficult matter. And that certainly was the situation at Mount Carmel. But America has seen too many instances in which cult activity has endangered the lives of participants and the general public. The activities of the heavily armed Branch Davidians couldn’t have been taken lightly.
Sunday’s carnage was worse than even the former cult members could have imagined, worse than officials could imagine. It was chaos and bloodshed that only a depraved mind could conjure. How frightening and sad that such a mind-set had come to these peaceful prairies.
Today Central Texas grieves. Families weep. And people across the country wonder what seeds and what conditions could have wrought so much tragedy.