AUSTIN — In the six months that Angela Barba dated Steve Willis, he won every car race he entered. Last weekend, she attached his metallic racing numbers to his casket.
Willis raced for fun. He always had wanted to be a cop. As a high school student in Houston, he would ride with law enforcement officers for the experience and the excitement.
His goal was achieved when he became an agent for the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, less than 18 months ago. Willis loved the work, downplayed the danger and was good at his job.
He quickly became a member of the elite special response team, which on Feb. 28 had a job to do.
The team, more than 100 strong, had to execute a raid on a well-armed cult compound near Waco.
Willis told Barba little about the raid. She knew it was coming, she knew it was in North Texas, and she knew Willis was determined to participate.
And, she knew that Willis had told her there was one certainty about the raid — someone was going to die.
“He knew for sure somebody was going to die,” Barba said Saturday. “He thought an agent was going to die. He said it matter-of-fact.”
Willis was buried last weekend in Houston, one of four ATF agents to die in a blistering gunfight with an apocalyptic cult.
Barba, 29, and Willis, 32, spent most of their weekends in Austin, where Barba lives, and where Willis use to live and wanted to return.
But the weekend Willis died, Barba was at her townhouse in Houston, waiting for his call. She said the raid had originally been planned for Monday, March 1, but was moved up a day for reasons that are not yet clear.
He was supposed to call Sunday night, but a friend called instead, saying, “You’d better turn on the TV, because four agents have already been killed.”
She soon learned, from the wife of another agent, that the man she had been discussing marriage with was dead.
Willis’ funeral in Houston was attended by about 3,000 people, including about 1,000 law officers.
In the two weeks since Willis was shot to death by a sniper from the cult compound, Barba has had a lot of time to think about the danger Willis faced, the life he gave for what he loved, and the man responsible for that death.
Willis would mention the danger, but “he told you in a way that you wouldn’t worry about it,” she said. “We thought he was invincible.”
Willis’ friends were asked how they wanted the two-week-old standoff in Waco to end, what they wanted to become of Vernon Howell, also known as David Koresh.
“We don’t want Koresh to walk away from there and have a long trial,” Holt said.
Barba replied, “Steve always told me it doesn’t do any good to get angry.
“The evil side of me wants David Koresh killed. The Christian side of me wants whatever God wants. I don’t think God wants David Koresh killed, but I don’t think He wants him to be in heaven, either,” she said.