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"I've kept my story secret for the last 25 years -- I didn't want to take this to my grave"

Secrets of Waco
Secrets of Waco 43:36

Produced by Josh Yager

In his first interview ever, a retired Texas United Parcel Service driver reveals to "48 Hours" that he unwittingly delivered large boxes of military-grade guns and ammunition to Branch Davidian cult leader David Koresh in the months and weeks before the siege in Waco, Texas, that would capture the attention of the world in 1993. Now, as the 25th anniversary of the standoff nears, Peter Van Sant and "48 Hours" investigate the cult and what led to a deadly 51-day siege.

Fire at Waco, Texas Branch Davidian cult compound
After a 51-day standoff, the Branch Davidian compound in Waco, Texas, was destroyed after government tanks rammed the building and agents fired tear gas. More than 70 followers died, nearly two dozen were children, after the buildings erupted into a fireball. CBS News

Nearly a quarter century ago, God, guns and government collided so violently in the quiet Texas town of Waco that its impact is still being felt today.  But how did it come to this?

David Koresh to 911: There are 75 men around our building and they're shooting at us. … Tell 'em there are children and women in here and to call it off!

Operator: Alright, alright uh … hello? I hear gun fire. Oh s---!

New secrets of Waco were revealed for the very first time on "48 Hours," including the remarkable story of a deliveryman who unwittingly armed the cult.

Larry Gilbreath:  My name is Larry Gilbreath … This is one part of the story from that time … that nobody's ever heard.

Larry Gilbreath: I've kept my story secret for the last 25 years. …I didn't wanna take this to my grave.

Larry Gilbreath
Larry Gilbreath CBS News

It's a story Larry Gilbreath has agonized over.

Peter Van Sant: Are you haunted that somehow you may have put this in motion? 

Larry Gilbreath: I have been blamed for what happened out there.

For 25 years, Gilbreath wondered if his actions led to one of the deadliest confrontations between Federal law enforcement agents and civilians in U.S. history -- a gun battle, a 51-day standoff and a raging fire that would claim more than 70 lives, including at least two dozen children.

David Koresh video: People are being oppressed!

Award winning investigative journalist Lee Hancock, considered one of the country's leading Waco experts, covered the rise of David Koresh and the Branch Davidians for more than two decades.

Lee Hancock: Koresh was talking about the end of the world happening in a giant conflict.

Hancock is now a consultant for CBS News.

Lee Hancock: David Koresh was the illegitimate child of a woman who gave birth to him at 14 years old. He didn't really ever know his father very well. …One of the next men that she took up with actually beat Koresh.

David Koresh to Nine Network Australia reporter: We got our tails womped. I told myself as a young man, when I grow up I'm going to do it different.

Lee Hancock: The abuse was so severe that Koresh's grandmother ultimately took him in.

In 1981, while in his early 20s, David Koresh left his family's hometown in Tyler, Texas, after a religious scandal.

Lee Hancock: He decided that the preacher's daughter had been given to him by God and wanted to have sex with her.

Koresh sought refuge with the Branch Davidians, a reclusive group of Christians living in Waco, Texas. Since the 1920s, they'd practiced a Bible-based back to basics form of Christianity.

Lee Hancock: This was the place where they were going to find eternal salvation. They were on a path
to heaven.

Koresh briefly took an exit off that path, heading to California to try his luck in the music business. But it didn't work out. Instead, he found his stardom in the pulpit, where his commanding preaching style began attracting followers.

In 1986, Marc Breault was just a young divinity student living near Los Angeles, when he was introduced to David Koresh by another Branch Davidian.

Marc Breault: Koresh and I were -- were closer than brothers. We had that common bond.

Marc Breault: When I first met him, he wasn't the Son of God … He knew his doctrine really well.

Branch Davidian cult leader David Koresh
David Koresh Waco Tribune

The two men began studying the Bible together and, before long, Breault was hooked on Koresh's radical form of Christianity.

So enamored with Koresh, Breault followed him back to Waco a year later, where Koresh  decided it was time for people to begin worshipping him.

Lee Hancock: David said that he was the Christ. He was not just a prophet. He was the Son of God.

But there was a problem: someone else was running the Branch Davidian Church. Koresh and his rival, both heavily armed, had a violent confrontation.

Lee Hancock: A shoot-out occurred. Then, the sheriffs department came out.

Peter Van Sant: Anybody hit?

Lee Hancock: Actually there was one guy who was wounded in a minor way.   

David Koresh video: If we wanted to kill him, he'd be dead. 

Koresh was arrested and charged with attempted murder; his case ended in a mistrial. Koresh was now the leader of the Branch Davidian Church.

Lee Hancock: The essence of Koresh's teaching was the first Christ was a good Christ … and a holy Christ … and a nice Christ. …He was the sinful Messiah.

A sinful messiah, who, apparently, had a favorite sin.  Koresh would later father as many as 20 children with his female followers -- some as young as 14.

Sheila Martin and her husband, a Harvard Law School graduate, were true believers.

Sheila Martin: He wanted us to know that we had nothing but to trust in God and to love him. …to know that the Bible was our hope and strength.

Sheila Martin: Every day, he was in contact with God.

By the late 1980s, Koresh had dozens of followers sitting spellbound for hours, listening to his end-of-the world sermons of doom.

Koresh would begin building an extensive arsenal of firearms and explosives to defend against the apocalyptic attack he had predicted was coming.

Larry Gilbreath: I thought it was a little strange that religious people would be ordering guns.

United Parcel Service driver Larry Gilbreath delivered packages to the compound, sometimes making several trips a week. For months, he had no idea what was in them. Then, he started noticing the labels.

Larry Gilbreath: They were getting shipments from an arms dealer.

But in Texas, receiving large shipments of weapons was not illegal.

Larry Gilbreath: They just kept comin', they just kept comin'.


Davidian: There's a truth… that he can reveal it … and there's no one else that can do that.

By the late 1980s, David Koresh had proven himself to a lot of people. The rock and roll drifter with a God complex had a magnetism and message that was spreading all around the world, including Australia. And before long, dozens of people were following David Koresh. There were Branch Davidians from Canada, England, and even Israel.

New Zealander Grace Adams told her story on American network television for the very first time.

Grace Adams: I was very excited about meeting this prophet.

In 1990, Grace, who was 29, and her younger sister, Rebecca, just 21, made the exhausting 7,500 mile journey, arriving at the Waco compound at about 11 p.m. Grace Adams says they walked into a hellish scene. 

Grace Adams
Grace Adams CBS News

Grace Adams: David was on stage on a hospital bed. ... and he was yelling and screaming and cussing.

Peter Van Sant: And were there children in the room?

Grace Adams Yes, there were children. …He had … a boat paddle and he was hitting that boat paddle on the … stage. …I'm thinking, "Who is this man?" …I'm thinking, "What did we come to?"

Joann Vaega: I knew I was supposed to be scared of him.

Joann Vaega was just a toddler in 1987, when her parents, Neil and Margarida, moved the family from Hawaii to Waco to be with David Koresh.

Joann Vaega: There's open fields everywhere. There's other kids to play with.

Joann Vaega and her parents
A young Joann Vaega with her parents, Neil and Margarida Dick DeGuerin

At first, Joann Vaega thought the compound was like a summer camp.

Joann Vaega: It was me and my mom on a bunk bed. I had the top, she had the bottom.

Joann Vaega: I just remember it being very peaceful.

Clive Doyle: This is where we belonged.

A true believer to this day, Clive Doyle was one of the longtimers in the Branch Davidians. Doyle joined in the 1960s, long before David Koresh. It was a Spartan life. 

Clive Doyle: There was no … plumbing. So we would … go … to the bathroom in a bucket and take it outside and bury it.

Peter Van Sant: Were you well fed there?

Grace Adams: The food was very basic.

While the women did the cooking, the men tended to the 77-acre property. 

Peter Van Sant: What did you do in your spare time?

Clive Doyle: Spare time really didn't exist.

Koresh could sometimes get violent even with one of his own children, including a 4-year-old son he fathered the only time he was legally married to Rachael Jones -- a 14-year-old girl.

Joann Vaega: I remember one night we were getting ready for dinner. …And you just hear him just wailing on his son …and it kept going on for a long amount of time.

Joann Vaega  says Koresh also took pleasure in verbally humiliating his followers, including her own father.

Joann Vaega: I heard him yell at my dad. …  To me, it seemed like it went on for a good, like, hour.

Peter Van Sant: Would he curse at him?

Joann Vaega:  Yeah. … To me, that was normal

She says Koresh made everyone fear the outside world.

Joann Vaega: There was a huge gate. But you were no allowed to go anywhere near that.

Peter Van Sant: What were you told was out there?

Joann Vaega: Bad people.

Marc Breault: And I remember -- one time … And he goes … you know what? You and I are in a cult!

Peter Van Sant: Koresh said that?

Marc Breault:  He did, yeah.

Marc Breault says Koresh's mind control took a sinister turn in 1989, when he announced a new revelation from God. He called it "The New Light."

Marc Breault: The "New Light" -- in a nutshell -- was that all the women of the world belonged to him.

But Breault was having none of it.

Peter Van Sant: And did he say anything to you about your wife? 

Marc Breault: Yeah … he said, you know, "What do you think, now that you know … I'm gonna be with Elizabeth?"

Elizabeth Breault: Was he going to hand me over to David Koresh? That was a question that I had, 'cause I'm not going if you are.

Peter Van Sant: And for you, that was the breaking point?

Marc Breault: Yeah … I was already … planning on … leaving. …I could see that things were getting -- out of control.

But Grace Adams says there were plenty of sexual targets at the compound. 

Grace Adams: As a woman, you needed to have sex with David in order to go to heaven.

And Adams insists it wasn't just the adult women.

Peter Van Sant What kind of ages are we talking about?

Grace Adams:  I'm talking 12 plus.

Peter Van Sant: Any get pregnant by him?

Grace Adams:  Yes.

Adams says she was terrified Koresh would choose her for sex.

Grace Adams: I was so frightened … that this thing may happen that I started to flip out, I guess.

But instead of retreating, she wanted to get it over with and decided to knock on his door at about 3'o clock in the morning.

Grace Adams: I was offering myself to him.

Branch Davidian cult leader David Koresh
Branch Davidian cult leader David Koresh Waco Tribune

He flew into a rage, claiming God made all his sexual selections. Koresh then woke everyone up and began screaming at Adams in front of the group.

Grace Adams: It was then that -- he decided that I needed to be -- isolated in a cabin.

Adams says Koresh locked her in a 10 x 8-foot room under 24-hour guard for nearly four months. She was fed from a bowl on the floor.

Grace Adams: I was treated like a prisoner…

Peter Van Sant: You were in that room in solitary confinement?

Grace Adams: Yes. …My mind did get messed up.

One time, Koresh entered her room and the abuse suddenly turned physical.

Grace Adams: He slapped me around … On my face.

Adams says she begged him to let her leave.  Koresh refused. Then, when he learned her visa had expired -- and that immigration authorities may come looking for her -- he relented.

Grace Adams:"God said you can go now. It's time for you to go."

Grace Adams did leave, but was so traumatized by her experience she spent more than two weeks at a California hospital in a psychiatric ward. Adams then flew home to New Zealand, but her sister stayed behind at the compound, where Koresh was no longer only predicting Armageddon, but preparing for it.

Peter Van Sant: Why the heck would the Branch Davidians be making hand grenades?

Larry Gilbreath: I don't know -- it wouldn't be to help people.


What happened at the Branch Davidian compound in 1993 had its genesis years earlier after David Koresh had made a series of trips to Israel.  Koresh had told his followers the apocalypse -- the end of days -- would occur there.

Marc Breault: And he believed that we were gonna go over there and there was gonna be a war.

But the Breaults, who had left the cult, were secretly working to sabotage Koresh from back home in Australia.

Elizabeth Breault: Marc and I … approached the Israeli consulate here in Melbourne and told them.  And all of a sudden, they shut that down.

Marc Breault says Israeli authorities kicked Koresh out of the country.  It was then, the couple says, that Koresh decided to bring the apocalypse to Waco.

Elizabeth Breault: "Oh no -- by the way -- I've had a new revelation.  It's all going to happen here."

Robert Cervenka, a local rancher, has kept this secret from the public for almost a quarter century. One day, he saw 20 Davidians in combat fatigues open fire in a field.

Robert Cervenka: They weren't firing at bull's-eye targets.  They were firing at men silhouette targets.

Peter Van Sant: Practicing to shoot human beings?

Robert Cervenka: That's what it looked like.

Even more disturbing, Cervenka -- who is an Army veteran -- heard the distinct sound of a .50 caliber machine gun. He quietly told police.

Robert Cervenka: They're like, tat-tat-tat-tat -- tat, tat, tat, tat.

Robert Cervenka: It looked like they're preparing for a war.

Larry Gilbreath: A lot of the men started wearing Army fatigues. …And they started looking more like a militia than a religious group.

Larry Gilbreath remembers it was around 1991 when he began noticing that those packages he was regularly delivering to the Davidians were getting bigger and heavier. He realized the Davidians were using a small, off-site house as a checkpoint where the boxes could be inspected.

Larry Gilbreath: And they would come out, unlock the gate and let me in. And I would take the packages right there.

Larry Gilbreath
Larry Gilbreath Larry Gilbreath

Gilbreath then drove the packages to the compound, where Koresh sometimes greeted him.

Larry Gilbreath:  And I'd say probably 75 percent of the time, when I would get there, David -- always came out. He signed for a lot of 'em.

An arsenal of weapons  CBS News

It would only be later, that Gilbreath would learn the exact contents of his cargo.

Larry Gilbreath: I delivered ammunition for 223s, AK-47s.

Peter Van Sant: AR-15s?

Larry Gilbreath:  And AR-15's and big magazines to go on 'em. …Even a grenade launcher.

Peter Van Sant: Hello?  What did you just say?

Larry Gilbreath: A grenade launcher!

The Davidian arms race turned even more ominous in February 1992, when Gilbreath was checking a box in his truck and his life flashed before his eyes.

Larry Gilbreath:  About six to eight grenades fell out of it.

Peter Van Sant:  Hand grenades?

Larry Gilbreath:  Hand grenades!

Peter Van Sant: Did you jump back?

Larry Gilbreath: I did!

He says the grenade casings scared him so much, he told his wife Debra about what he'd seen.

Like Larry, Debra Gilbreath had never told her story publicly, until she decided to join "48 Hours"' interview while the cameras were rolling.

Debra Gilbreath: It was scary. … I mean you talkin' bout family!  When mama bear's family gets threatened, mama bear reacts!

Debra Gilbreath told the sheriff's department about the grenade casings and the extraordinary amount of arms going into the compound. 

Debra Gilbreath: Somebody had to do something!

The sheriff called the Federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms -- the ATF.  Larry Gilbreath showed them receipts of the arms shipments and that's when the ATF starting investigating.  Special Agent Bill Buford was one of the ATF agents in charge.

Bill Buford: We started the surveillance about the first part of January of 1993.

From a house across the street from the compound, a rotating team of ATF agents watched the Davidians every move.

Clive Doyle:  We knew they were spyin' on us.

In fact, Larry Gilbreath began working closely with the ATF, even participating in an undercover operation.

Larry Gilbreath: They told me, "We're gonna send an ATF agent riding with you on this delivery today."

But there was a problem.

Larry Gilbreath: …he had hair down to his shoulders. And he looked nothing like a UPS person. They knew what we looked like.

Larry Gilbreath:  I said, "They're gonna make you in two minutes after you step off the truck."

Larry Gilbreath: And outta nowhere, David just looks at me and says, "Larry, I know they're watching us." I went numb.

After two months of reconnaissance, ATF headquarters authorized them to take action. The mission: arrest David Koresh, confiscate any illegal weapons, and keep the children safe.

ATF Special Agent Bill Buford audio: We go right in front and-- and start drawing fire.

ATF Special Agent Bill Buford is seen briefing his troops in video shot before the raid Lee Hancock

In video shot before the raid, and broadcast for the first tiem on "48 Hours," Bill Buford is seen briefing his troops.

ATF Special Agent Bill Buford audio: We got nothing to do but go ahead and do … run the plan just like we're gonna run it.

Bill Buford:  If we came rollin' up in a SWAT van, it would be very obvious what was goin' on and we needed the surprise.

Buford and his team came up with an unusual idea: A Texas Trojan horse.

ATF Special Agent Bill Buford audio: Truck one- truck two- we're about one mile off.

FBI cattle trailer at Waco compound
The ATF drive onto the property in two pickup trucks pulling cattle trailers with about 35 armed agents in each hiding under canvas tarps. Byron Sage/FBI archive

They would drive onto the property in two pickup trucks pulling cattle trailers, with about 35 armed agents in each, hiding under canvas tarps.

Bill Buford to Van Sant: We drove in down this driveway and pulled up right here.

ATF audio: Everything is clear. …Windows are cleared, truck one and two.  …Full speed ahead! Full speed ahead! Bring those choppers in, come on!

Within seconds, the ATF's mission went terribly wrong.

ATF audio: It's showtime… Showtime! Showtime! …Heavy fire. Heavy fire we're taking.

The Davidians were lying in wait, having been inadvertently tipped off by a TV cameraman. It was about 9:45 a.m. on Feb. 28, 1993.The Davidians and the ATF each swear the other fired first.

Joann Vaega rushed to look out her bedroom window on the second floor.

Joann Vaega: I just see black dots running toward us. …I had no idea what it was. …My mom … grabbed me off the bed. She put me on the floor.

Sheila Martin was right down the hall from Joann.

Sheila Martin: I ran to put my two older children down. …By the time I … reached … for my 10-year-old son, all this glass started breakin' around him. And he started screaming. Shots were just coming into the building.

Her husband Wayne called 911:

Wayne Martin 911 call: There's 75 men around our building and they're shootin' at us. Tell 'em there are children and women in here and to call it off!

Joann Vaega: At that point-- everyone had a gun. …there was bullet holes everywhere. There were people lying on the floor that were dead. Like, you, it was, it was war.

Bill Buford: Our job was to go on the roof and take over the arms room and Koresh's bedroom.

ATF agents seen on the roof of the Branch Davidian compound during the raid CBS News

Both objectives were on the second floor. You can see Buford in the video from that day, crouched on the roof and taking heavy fire.

ATF audio: Heavy fire we're taking, flashbangs going in.

Bill Buford: I took a -- flashbang and threw … in the window.

Bill Buford:  When I get through the window, there's a man standing in the room with an AK-47 … and I shot him several times.

Seconds later, Buford -- like another agent -- was shot.  

ATF audio: Got one man down, got a man down on the roof.

Bill Buford: One creased across the nose, once in the hip, once in the thigh, and once right square in the butt.

Bill Buford: The thing I remember is the slow motion as the rounds would come through the wall….And the splinters were stickin' in my face as they came off. …And I thought, "I'm not gonna let 'em kill me in here."

Buford -- on the hood of a vehicle -- was rescued by fellow agents. Larry Gilbreath was at his sister's house when the ATF raid went down.

Larry Gilbreath:  I said … "Holy crap … These guys are gettin' massacred out there!"

ATF audio: The ATF will cease fire if they will cease fire and we'll pull back.

The ATF asked the Davidians for a cease-fire. Four agents were killed in the raid, 28 wounded. The Branch Davidians lost six people that day. Four others were wounded, among them, David Koresh, who was shot in the wrist and side. And for now, the shooting stopped.

Lee Hancock: As awful as the firefight was, it was just the beginning.

ATF agent audio: Get out of here! 

ATF agent audio: Get that s--- out of here!

ATF agent audio: Get the f--- out of here!


 In the aftermath of the bloodiest gun battle in ATF history, Bill Buford now wishes he would've stood up and refused to lead that assault. It turns out the ATF knew the Davidians were expecting them.

Peter Van Sant: Should your bosses have called off that raid?

Bill Buford: The raid should not have gotten … gone forward, absolutely not…

Within hours, the FBI took over. Two teams would deploy: one group to negotiate, the other, a tactical team. Special Agent Byron Sage was one of the main negotiators.

Byron Sage: It was by far the most devastating -- demanding experience that I've ever gone through in 46 years in law enforcement.

Sage got on the phone to the compound:

FBI Special Agent Byron Sage: Your primary point of contact is a negotiation team of which I am in charge during the day.

FBI Special Agent Byron Sage and other negotiators communicated with Koresh and his deputies at the compound, working to reach a peaceful resolution.  Byron Sage/FBI archive

The FBI sent in a video camera, hoping Koresh would record scenes from inside.

David Koresh and Branch Davidian home movies 02:35

Back inside the compound, David Koresh was defiant in this telephone call with the FBI:

David Koresh: Four ATF agents were killed here!  No one has ever been confronted with a show of force like they saw that day.

Sage knew every minute of this siege was a matter of life and death.

Byron Sage: Our primary goal was to get the kids out of harm's way.

On March 2, 1993, after four days of tense negotiations, David Koresh agrees to surrender -- but there is one condition.

Byron Sage: If we will facilitate airing a 58-minute tape … he and all of his people will come out.

Dallas radio station KRLD played the tape:

David Koresh tape: I David Koresh, agree upon the broadcast of this tape to come out peacefully.

Byron Sage: They never came out. He said, "My God told me to wait."

Lee Hancock: The hostage rescue team began bringing in tanks, closer to the building.

After hours of talks, Koresh begins releasing some children in pairs. They were taken to a nearby church.  Seven-year-old Joann Vaega was one of the lucky ones.  But her parents, loyal followers of David Koresh, willingly stayed behind.

Joann Vaega: You have no clue what's happening. And your mom just kind of gives you a kiss. And she was very calm. She was very confident about her decision … And I didn't have a choice.

In a rarely seen video, Vaega is being counseled by Dr. Bruce Perry, a child psychiatrist brought in by child protective services. Joann has never seen the video.

Joann Vaega: Even looking at it now, I'm like, "why don't I remember of these things?"

Dr. Bruce Perry: How'd you end up in the compound?

Joann Vaega:  I went there.

Dr. Bruce Perry: Who'd you go there with?

Joann Vaega: My mom.

Dr. Bruce Perry:  She wasn't that verbal. …She disconnected from … the intensity of what was happening.

David Koresh "knew how to manipulate people" says child psychiatrist 02:33

Dr. Perry is trying to get a sense of what was happening inside the compound:

Dr. Bruce Perry: What did he say?

Joann Vaega: He just told me to leave.

"48 Hours" was there when Joann Vaega left Waco, almost 25 years ago.

Branch Davidian child reunited with her family 02:51

David Koresh made another unexpected move.  He ordered Sheila Martin to leave with three of her children, leaving behind her four other children and her husband, Wayne.

Sheila Martin: I just knew trusting God was the most important thing.

By the end of the fifth day of the siege, 21 children had been released from the compound, but more than two dozen remained behind. 

Day nine: Koresh tells negotiators no other children are coming out.  

Dr. Bruce Perry: They're willing to die for David Koresh.

Fearing a mass suicide, Byron Sage implores Koresh to let his people go:

FBI Special Agent Byron Sage: We need to get this resolved now … People are hurting in there … We need to get this done…

The FBI tactical unit begins to turn up the heat by turning off all electrical power into the compound.

Lee Hancock: They started shining lights into the compound. They started playing crazy noises of uh -- weird songs.

Fourteen days in, with pressure mounting, David Koresh's mother hires famous defense attorney Dick DeGuerin to negotiate a peaceful surrender.

Dick DeGuerin: I was doing what a lawyer's supposed to do, and that is investigate the case.

Face-to-face with David Koresh 02:51

DeGuerin says he didn't condone the Davidians using deadly force, but once they were under fire, he could understand it.  

Dick DeGuerin: You have the right to defend yourself. You don't have to wait to be killed -- and let it be sorted out in court. …he wanted it to end peacefully … But he also had his own agenda.

Peter Van Sant: Which was?  

Dick DeGuerin: His agenda was being able to write his explanation of The Seven Seals.

The Seven Seals is a mystifying passage found deep within the Book of Revelation.

Dick DeGuerin: He was saying to me that he would come out as soon as he wrote these seven seals.

It's now day 49. Koresh is writing his biblical manifesto and has no idea that Attorney General Janet Reno has just approved a plan to tear gas the compound.

Peter Van Sant: Is that appropriate to introduce into an environment where there are all these children?

Byron Sage: We did it because we believed that those parents remaining in there would grab those kids and get 'em out.

Day 51: On April 19, 1993, just before 6 a.m., government tanks began ramming the main building to deliver that tear gas in hopes of ending the siege:

FBI Special Agent Byron Sage on loud speaker: This is not an assault. The gas you smell, and will continue to detect, is a non-lethal tear gas.

Byron Sage: All I was focused on was trying to get them out….

FBI Special Agent Byron Sage on loud speaker: You are under arrest. This standoff is over.

But the horror that followed, Sage says, was unimaginable.

Byron Sage: I think at the time I was probably in shock. I was stunned.


Lee Hancock: The compound … became a hell on earth.

NEWS REPORT: We can see the flames from two miles away. Now the flames – Oh, my goodness.  

NEWS REPORT: The question is, what about the people inside? What about the children?

Larry Gilbreath: When that fire started I'm screaming at the TV. "Why aren't they coming out?"

NEWS REPORT: And there goes the building, more of it.

Grace Adams was watching on TV as her sister perished inside. 

On April 19, 1993, after a 51-day standoff, the Branch Davidian compound in Waco, Texas, was destroyed after government tanks rammed the building and agents fired tear gas. More than 70 followers died, nearly two dozen were children, after the buildings erupted into a fireball. Byron Sage/FBI archive

Grace Adams: It was awful. It's awful seeing those people burned alive.

Grace Adams: I had been following the whole thing, you know? And then I -- [breaks down].

Sheila Martin was watching on TV too, knowing her husband and four of her children were burning.

Sheila Martin: I realized all those young children died.

Somehow, nine adults escaped the inferno. 

Byron Sage: I'm looking at these Davidians that have come out. Not one of them brought a child. I'm just -- I'm heartsick.

Nearly two dozen children died, along with more than 40 adults -- including David Koresh.  Autopsies revealed shocking details of how some of the Davidians died.

Lee Hancock: As that fire raged, there were people who killed one another … who killed themselves … who killed their children. … David Koresh actually had a bullet wound into the center of his head.

Gun found in Waco aftermath
In the ashes at the Branch Davidian compound, investigators uncovered an arsenal of more than 300 guns, including 48 fully automatic assault rifles and several live grenades. Byron Sage/FBI archive

In the ashes, investigators uncovered an arsenal of more than 300 guns, including 48 fully automatic assault rifles and several live grenades.

True believer Clive Doyle
True believer Clive Doyle CBS News

One person who emerged alive was Clive Doyle. Doyle took the time to rescue a dog, leaving his 18-year-old daughter behind.

Clive Doyle:  I didn't know exactly where she was.

Peter Van Sant: So you go running through the compound looking for her?

Clive Doyle: When you're in those kinda conditions, you don't always make the smartest choices. I kick myself that I didn't rescue somebody or -- help somebody, my daughter, or somebody else. But you're so traumatized, you're so in pain, that you don't think straight.

Waco siege survivor describes escape from fiery compound 01:36

Byron Sage: These people … they have to live with the decisions and actions that they took.  

Survivors insist that Federal tanks started the blaze by knocking over lanterns.  Sage, however, says that secretly recorded FBI audio tapes prove that Branch Davidians ignited the fatal fires… pouring flammable liquids:

Davidian 1: David said pour it, right?

Davidian 2: Did he? He wanted it poured?

Davidian 3:  We want some fuel!

Davidian 4: I've got some here.

Byron Sage is convinced Clive Doyle had a hand in that.

Byron Sage: His hands were burned … and the only reason for that, according to the doctors, is that they were permeated with diesel fuel.

Peter Van Sant: Is the reason why you -- you weren't able to go get your daughter is because … you were spreading fuel and igniting the place?  

Clive Doyle: That's what the FBI would like is to blame me.

Peter Van Sant: Did you participate in any way?

Clive Doyle: No.

Lee Hancock:  Whose feet do you lay the majority of the blame on? I say absolutely David Koresh.

Bill Buford: I've never failed at much in my life, but I failed. …Every day it crosses my mind, for 25 years.

Larry Gilbreath: None of this was my choice to ... we had no-- we had no animosity toward anybody.

Peter Van Sant: After all these years, this still gets to you?

Larry Gilbreath: Yeah. …when people see the names … they're just names. I see faces.

Peter Van Sant: If given time, if the FBI had shown more patience, he may have finished the writing of these Seven Seals and walked out of that building?

Dick DeGuerin: I think so. 

Peter Van Sant: So why wouldn't they wait? 

Dick DeGuerin: You know, that's -- it bothered me for a long time.

Despite the massive loss of life and despite knowing today that David Koresh had sex with children, Clive Doyle, Sheila Martin and others believe their messiah will make one last dramatic entry.

Clive Doyle: We believe that it's a special resurrection that will take place and David and all those that died … will come back and we'll be reunited with 'em.

Joann Vaega's parents perished in the flames.

Joann Vaega
Joann Vaega lost her parents in the siege at Waco. CBS News

Joann Vaega: I was robbed.

Her mother has sometimes come to her in a dream. 

Joann Vaega: You wake up from and … your body and your mind are so sure that they're real. But they're not [in tears].

Peter Van Sant: In some way have you thought about this? She saved your life.

Joann Vaega: I think about that all the time.

Peter Van Sant: Your mother saved you.

Joann Vaega: Mm-hmm.

Today, Vaega is a wife and mother of two. She and her husband help run a restaurant in California.  Her life is a rejection of the man who once terrified her.

Peter Van Sant: You're not gonna be defined by David Koresh.

Joann Vaega: Absolutely not. …To me … he's -- he's the bogeyman. He's the person that you want your children to never come across. … In my life right now, he's no one. He's nothing to me.

There were five major investigations. The Justice Department blamed Koresh. The Treasury Department was critical of its own ATF officers. Congress, as well as a $17 million independent review, were critical of both the ATF and the FBI.

The Waco tragedy changed the way law enforcement reacts and responds to similar standoff situations.

Eleven Branch Davidians, including Clive Doyle, were tried for conspiracy to murder ATF officials. Nine were convicted on lesser charges and served prison time.  Doyle was acquitted of all charges. No Branch Davidian was ever charged with arson.

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