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Who was David Koresh? Are the Branch Davidians still around today? What has happened to his followers since he was killed in the 1993 siege at Mount Carmel Center in Texas?
The details of David Koresh’s life and the life he and his followers led on the compound at Mount Carmel Center remain unclear today. Over the years, however, Koresh’s followers have opened up with their own accounts of what life was like under his leadership.
Tonight, a new ABC documentary titled Truth & Lies: Waco will examine the 1993 siege in Waco that has come to be regarded by many as the “worst debacle in federal law enforcement history.”
Read on to learn more about religious cult leader David Koresh.
1. He Came from a Troubled Family
David Koresh was born in Houston, Texas, in 1959, to a single mother who was 15 and had been married three times. Growing up, Koresh struggled in school; he was dyslexic, and dropped out as a freshman in high school. By the time he was 14, Koresh had memorized the New Testament. When he was 18, he claimed he’d memorized the Old Testament.
According to PBS,he joined the Church of Seventh Day Adventists when he was 20, but was eventually expelled because he was a bad influence on young people. David Bunds, a former Branch Davidian member, says David looked very disheveled and seemed lost. “He was kind of a drifter,” Bunds tells ABC. “He had a car that he was driving and he said the Lord gave it to him.”
In 1981, after a failed attempt at becoming a “rock star” in Hollywood, he moved to Waco, Texas, and joined the Branch Davidians.
2. He Was Accused of Statutory Rape of a 12-Year-Old Girl
Over the years, Koresh had many children by many different women within the cult.
He was reportedly had a sexual relationship with Lois Roden, the prophetess and leader of the group. His next lover, according to News Week, was Rachel Jones. Jones was 14 at the time, and was the son of two followers. Koresh married Jones in 1984. Together, they had one son and one daughter.
Koresh’s followers say that after being monogamous for two years, God instructed him to create a new House of David and to have many wives. One of those women was Rachel’s little sister, Michelle Jones, who was just 12 at the time. Having a sexual relationship with a 12-year-old meant Koresh was in violation of state law.
In 1992, Texas Child Protection Services examined the case, but were unable to find any convincing evidence of a sexual relationship.
Another woman, Kiri Jewell, says that Koresh forced her to perform sexual act when she was just 10. Jewell said, in an interview with ABC, “He never was very specific, but at some point we were gonna have to die for him… I didn’t expect to live past 12.”
3. He Was Killed in the Historic Raid
Life on the compound was simple. Koresh’s followers attended Bible study three times a day, and there was no running water, electricity, or heat.
The 1993 raid, often referred to as the Waco siege, is one of the most infamous raids in history, and resulted in the deaths of 75 people.
An initial raid of Mount Carmel Center on February 28, 1993, resulted in the deaths of four agents and six Branch Davidian members. It also resulted in things being handed over to the FBI.
The siege lasted 51 days, though many of the details of what happened over those 51 days are highly disputed. According to PBS, Frontline obtained access to the Waco files in 1995, and shed light on what actually went down during siege. No one knows who shot the first bullet after agents arrived with search warrants.
4. He Told His Followers He Was the Messiah
Koresh told his followers he was God’s prophet. Speaking to ABC, Mary Garafolo, a journalist who covered the siege at Wago, said, “He claimed that when he was a child, God had spoken to him and said, ‘You’re the chosen one. You are my messiah.’”
Whether or not he believed he was really the messiah is up for debate. In conversations with an FBI negotiator, Koresh was asked about his identity. PBS reports the FBI agent as saying, “And so you are now claiming clearly and simply that you are the Christ,” and Koresh skirting around the question, saying “I am saying that no man can know me nor my father unless they open their book and give a fair chance in honesty and equity to see the seals.”
In 1990, Koresh changed his name under the law. Koresh was born Vernon Wayne Howell, but after gaining leadership of the Davidians, he legally changed his name to David Koresh “for publicity and business purposes,” according to court documents obtained by PBS. The outlet reports him as telling the FBI that the new name meant death, and then that it was a surname from God.
5. His Mother Was Stabbed to Death in 2009 and Her Sister Was Charged with the Murder
In 2009, David Koresh’s mother, Bonnie Clark Haldeman, was stabbed to death in a rural area of Houston. Her sister, Beverly Clark, was charged with her mother.
Haldeman was the author of a 2007 autobiography titled “Memories of the Branch Davidians: The Autobiography of David Koresh’s Mother.”
Today, Koresh is described by many of his followers as a monster.