Fourth-grader Tiffany Dodgen never expected a school project on the Branch Davidian standoff would lead to a guest appearance on NBC’s Today Show.
But Wednesday morning, the Viking Hills gifted and talented student’s mom and dad got the news that the television show wanted to fly the family, all expenses paid, to New York for an interview.
Dodgen was on a field trip to Austin and didn’t find out until the school buses were heading back to Waco.
When the buses arrived at the school at 5 p.m., Dodgen’s parents whisked her away to the airport for a flight to New York.
The interview is planned for 7:30 this morning.
“The whole thing started with a get-well card I sent to the agents at Hillcrest,” Dodgen said. “I got a ‘thank you’ letter back from them and realized I had a lot of questions in mind. I wanted to see how people felt about it.”
So Dodgen and her dad, Gary, set out to do a project on the 51-day standoff for a gifted and talented class at Viking Hills.
As Dodgen asked people about their feelings, her dad videotaped the interviews. Dodgen also made a collage showing the major events during the siege.
“I just wanted a further understanding about it,” Dodgen said. “It led me to interviewing these people, but I never expected to go this far.”
During a Feb. 28 raid on the Branch Davidian compound at Mount Carmel, 15 ATF agents were injured and four other agents died. Most of the injured agents were treated at Hillcrest Baptist Medical Center.
Dodgen says she learned a lot from her work.
“I learned that people have different opinions about it,” she said.
“A lot of them are mad at David Koresh, but they wanted to watch the movie about it,” she added, referring to Vernon Howell, the Davidians’ leader.
A movie is planned to air on television in mid-May about the conflict.
Dodgen was working on finishing off her project when the compound burned down and, at first, didn’t want to put the final touches on it because of the way it ended.
But Dodgen’s teacher and her mom, Vivian Dodgen, asked her to finish the project.
“When she told the teacher that she didn’t want to put this together because of the way it ended, her teacher said, ‘No, no, no, go ahead and do it. We need to talk about this,’” said Dodgen’s mom, a counselor at Carver Sixth Grade Center. “Being a counselor, I think she was right. This needs to be talked about.”
After Dodgen finished her project, a local television station interviewed her and her name appeared in USA Today in a story on how people are dealing with the cult.
“This has been a lot of firsts for me,” Dodgen said. “My first time in a newspaper. My first time on television. The first time I’ve ever been on a plane, and the first time I’ve been out of the state of Texas.”
Although Dodgen will return from New York today, she still has her mind set on seeing some of the sights and doing a little shopping.
“Shop ‘til I drop — that’s what I want to do,” Dodgen said. “I want to see the Statue of Liberty also. I really want to see that.”