A Waco woman, asked on TV for her reaction to the fiery tragedy at Mount Carmel, summed up the sorrow of the whole country with one broken phrase — all she could say before turning away in tears: “The children . . .”

I had watched the last episode of the real-life drama with my mother in Dallas, from the dawn’s early light to the noontime’s blazing conclusion. We had seen the first tank of knock at the door, at the walls, at the windows of that dreary compound.

We had watched on live TV, in all-too-living color, as the red flames, the orange fireball of explosion and the billowing black smoke consumed the ugly gray structure in a cleansing fire.

We had watched as the house of David crumbled, its tower toppled, its flag burned free and fluttered over the ruins.

We watched till the prairie pastureland was left again to the familiar black cows, grazing unconcerned in the strangely bucolic foreground between the media camp and the compound. A buzzard flew by.

When I saw the first wisp of smoke, the first tongue of flame from an upstairs window, my heart cried out, like that other Waco woman’s, in a fragment of prayer: “O Lord! the children . . ."

There was no time for further supplications. No time to organize a community prayer service or a telephone prayer service or a telephone prayer chain, no time for even two or three to agree on earth about what to ask for from heaven.

Within a minute or two anyone could see that this was over. Never mind the fire trucks, the ambulances, the helicopters. This was immediately a job for the ministering angels of little ones, who always behold the face of their Father in Heaven.

In merciful misunderstanding, my mother thought the children had earlier been taken to a safe place. “I keep waiting to see those babies,” she said. “Where are those little ones?” She was not yet ready to hear what I couldn’t say out loud: that they were already safe in the arms of Jesus.

Curiously, after the first helpless, sinking thought that there was no hope, I felt a sudden, unexpected and uncanny sense of calm, a melting away of tension, a blessed assurance at a time when, as one who dreads the anguish of children above all things, I would have expected, insupportable horror.

It was a peace I’ve felt before, a light I’ve seen. I know it unquestionably to be a gift of God — not shock, denial, wishful thinking nor self-protective emotional distancing. The first time it happened it taught me in a most profound manner that God hates death and is in the process of fixing it through his true Son, who brings life to his children instead of death.

I do not, cannot, minimize whatever suffering there was or had been for the children, but my firm conviction, based on the evidence of faith and the experience of that light and peace, is that their suffering was cut short. I share this experience with you for whatever comfort it may be worth.

The children are OK. There may yet be millstones for the necks of those who hurt the innocent little ones of any age, but that is not my job to judge.

For the children there are no further consequences of a fallen, sinful world: no more exploitation or abuse, no police vans, no trials, no homelessness. They are free of “false prophets who teach lies,” of those who “mislead the people and those who are led astray.” (Isaiah 9)

Through whatever valleys they had to walk, the children walked in the company of a loving Shepherd and were quickly borne up by those ministering angels, into the arms of a better Father.

Jeanie Mercer is a member of the Board of Contributors, 32 Central Texans who write columns regularly for the Tribune-Herald. She is a Waco homemaker and author.

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.