For Marcia Spoon and her family, life is slowing down to an agreeable pace.

Her neighbors are gone, and a locked gate bars the road to her home, but today she can let her 6-year-old daughter, Amanda, play in the family’s front yard.

Across the road from her house, there is no gunfire — practice or real — coming from the compound that housed Vernon Howell’s Branch Davidians for years before a 51-day standoff with federal law enforcement officials ended on April 19 when the building burned to the ground, taking at least 80 cult members with it.

The end came unexpectedly for many, but Spoon remembers signs foretelling just such an apocalypse from infrequent visits with Davidian neighbors such as Judy Schneider, a “wife” of Howell, who was also known as David Koresh.

“Judy came over a few times. She would bring her little girl over and try to talk,” Spoon said. “But all she would ever talk about was dying, about how she was ready to die with David.”

Spoon has lived at this house on Double EE Ranch Road since 1987, when former cult leader George Roden still controlled the compound called Mount Carmel.

During those years, she said, cult members would drop by on occasion, but she and her husband, Mark, stopped welcoming them into their house when religion began becoming a topic of conversation.

“Their religion was different from ours. We believe in God,” said Spoon, who grew up in the Baptist faith. “I guess they maybe believed in God, too, but then they believed in a false prophet — David Koresh.”

Howell himself spoke with the Spoons from time to time, leaving them with a lasting impression. Once, after she had driven a fleeing cult member and her children to Waco to catch a plane flight to their home in England, Spoon said she returned to her house to find her telephone ringing.

It was Howell, calling to find out where she had taken the former members.

“He was kind of different,” Spoon said of Howell. “I can see how he brainwashed all those people into dying with him. We saw how charming he could be, but we didn’t see the really bad side about him.”

The Spoons saw a different side of Howell on Feb. 28, when a raid on Mount Carmel by agents of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms turned into a confrontation that left four federal agents and at least five cult members dead from gunshot wounds.

“You go through a point when you wonder if you’re going to live or die,” Spoon said of the firefight, which she witnessed from her house. “It sounded like a mini war going on.

“It’s kind of hard to talk about now.”

The family moved from their house for most of the siege, which federal agents conducted from the road between their home and the compound, and stayed with friends and relatives.

When they moved back, they realized their home had become a carnival, a landmark that drew the curious and the meddlesome from far and wide.

“It was hard to sleep at night because you’ve got people prowling around the compound,” Spoon said. “That’s the only thing that really bothers me — all those people all the time. On the weekend it’s like a flea market.”

McLennan County officials may have stopped much of the traffic around the compound and the Spoons’ home when they installed a locked gate at each end of Double EE Ranch Road.

Last week the county passed ordinances banning loitering near the ruined compound.

For the Spoons, the worst is finally over.

“I wouldn’t say this has changed our lives,” Spoon said. “It just complicated it for a while. I’m glad to be back to home — we were gone for about 72 days, and I’m finally getting used to being home again.”

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.