WACO, Texas (KWTX) April 11, 1993 was Easter Sunday, and day 43 of the Branch Davidian Siege - a 51-day standoff between federal agents and a group of armed religious zealots living at a rural compound about 15 miles outside of Waco.
(Photo by Brodie Putz)
Compared to the initial bloodshed and weeks of tension that followed, it was a relatively quiet day.
Inside the Mount Carmel compound, the group’s leader David Koresh continued to work on his ‘seven seals.’
Outside, there was no press briefing, some agents got to attend various church services.
However, it wouldn’t stay calm for much longer.
Eight days later, April 19, 1993, would become one of the most tragic days in modern American history; 76 people, mostly women and children, died in a raging fire, the origin of which remains controversial to this day.
"’Clive Doyle lit the fire and then like a coward he ran off and left everybody to die,’” Clive Doyle said sarcastically. “When you get accused of things, ‘you saved a dog instead of your daughter and you did this,’ it kind of rattles you a bit."
“People say, ‘why didn't you save somebody when you came out of the fire?' I says ‘because people in fires don't act normal.’"
Doyle escaped a fiery death through a hole in the wall after the FBI launched a final assault on the compound, using tanks and tear gas.
“When the smoke came in and made everything pitch black, almost immediately the heat pushed me down to the ground,” said Doyle. “I never saw anything, I never heard anything as far as anybody saying ‘hey come on let’s go, let’s get out of the hold, follow me’ or any of that.”
“I look back over my shoulder – the hole I came out of was just a mass of flames, my jacket was melting, my skin was rolling off my hands, and the thought’s going through my head ‘nobody’s coming out of there now, I’m the only one that’s made it out,’” he said.
With his hands badly burned, fire officials at the time accused Doyle of igniting the blaze.
However, he denies that he, or his group, caused the fire, and to this day contends the government is responsible.
Originally from Australia, Doyle, a member of the Branch Davidians, came to the United States in 1964, flying into Dallas with three or four others to be picked up at the airport by members of the main arm of the religious group at their compound outside of Waco.
Despite the tragedy which came three decades after his arrival, Doyle has stayed another 25 years in Waco.
Now age 77, he said he’s comfortable in the city; he still does regular Bible studies with Sheila Martin, another well-known surviving follower of Koresh, and a few others he calls ‘newbies.’
"People ask me, ‘well how come you still believe in David after all these years?’ said Doyle. “Well, I didn't buy into David as a person, I bought into an idea he presented, I still believe in that idea, the foundation of which is the Bible.”
Not only does Doyle still believe in Koresh’s teaching, he believes Koresh, along with his daughter and the other followers who perished, will be resurrected.
“Most of the people that are going to be saved are dead,” said Doyle. “I have to admit, I thought David would’ve been back by now, but I don’t set dates for anything.”
"One of the reasons i still hang on is I'm expecting to meet her (Shari) again when the resurrection takes place, I figured she'd be looking around for me,” he said.
Shari was 18 when she died in the fire.
She and her older sister Karen, who was working for the Branch Davidians in California during the siege, were known to be part of the group of Koresh's teenage brides.
Shari was rumored to have given birth to one of Koresh’s many children.
"Shari didn't have any kids by David Koresh or me or anyone else,” said Doyle.
Doyle said rumors of child abuse and molestation within the compound were untrue, and when Koresh was first coming into power, he’d even taken his daughters to get checked out by doctors one time per a recommendation by Child Protective Services who came to investigate after complaints were made.
Their mother, Deborah Brown (formerly Debbie Slawson), who left the cult and divorced Doyle years before the siege, was married off to Doyle, her school tutor at the compound, at age 16.
He said he only signed the divorce papers to get custody of the girls who ended up living with him at the compound as their mother remarried a man in southern California.
Doyle denies knowing his daughters were married to Koresh, but said he would have supported them if they were.
"If my daughters bought into that, made the decision that they wanted to participate, I would honor that,” said Doyle. “I would stand by them, but there was no request made, there was discussion about it with me either from David or from them."
Doyle also said he’s not advocating that kind of lifestyle, but they were not ‘under a spell’ or brainwashed by any means.
"Every religion in the world starts out as a cult,” said Doyle. “The people that came from England, you might say they came and they were ‘brainwashed’ or they were ‘influenced,’ but most of them would go back to England and work for 6-12 months to get enough money to come back as soon as they could, and when you go back you’re with family, you’re with other friends.”
Doyle would sometimes travel around the world with Koresh to recruit new followers.
"David was the first person that I've ever met that could harmonize the whole Bible,” said Doyle. "He made it come alive.”
He was one of the first to follow Koresh after he started claiming the gift of prophecy in 1983.
“I accepted David probably the second study he gave,” he said.
The Branch Davidians are a 'splinter sect' of the Davidians, an offshoot of the Seventh-day Adventist Church founded by Victor Houteff in the 1930s, and were led previously by Lois Roden.
“She turned the pulpit over to him,” said Doyle. “With David, pretty much everybody accepted him.”
According to a representative with the North American Division of Seventh-day Adventists, Koresh briefly joined the Adventist church in 1979, but was disfellowshipped in 1981 due to a contentious relationship with his local church, and never had a connection to Adventism after that.
Koresh joined the Branch Davidians in 1982 and after having a sexual relationship the elderly Roden, he won control of the group over several years during a strange and violent takeover involving her son, George Roden.
“God picks his messengers, it’s not a hereditary thing, that’s not how it works,” said Doyle.
Doyle said Koresh, who was born Vernon Howell, had changed the group’s mentality about weapons before the raid.
With religious roots in churches which didn't believe in joining the military under combat roles, most Branch Davidians were pacifists.
However, Doyle said the last year or two before the raid, Koresh used scriptures to point out it was lawful to defend your own property or your family.
“It didn’t’ do him any good doing it because he gets shot day one, which pretty much made him effectual when it came to the battle that went on, he was out of it from the word ‘go,’” said Doyle, who added they were not prepared for what was to come.
“It’s hard to wrap your head around actually shooting back at somebody even if they are shooting at you or your family, so there was no big ambush like the FBI and the ATF try to make out.”
Who shot first during the initial ATF raid, will likely forever remain a mystery.
However, Doyle claims it wasn’t them.
"You don't have 130 people ambushing 75 ATF agents, it just wasn't done,” said Doyle.
He said they knew “someone” was coming for them, they didn’t know exactly who.
"You know we're being watched, he (David) never said it was the ATF, he never said it was the FBI, I think what he thought in his mind was that since we had so many students from overseas that it might be immigration,” said Doyle.
On the morning of Feb. 28, 1993, Doyle said David said he was going to go to the door to see what they wanted, and told them to stay calm and go back to their rooms.
His was on the front side of the building.
“I can hear him yelling ‘hey wait a minute, there's women and children in here!’” said Doyle. “Almost instantly there's this huge barrage of gunfire coming from outside."
By the end of the botched raid to search for illegal weapons, four ATF agents and six Branch Davidians were killed in the gunfight.
“Nobody’s getting blamed on their side,” said Doyle. “David gets blamed, we get blamed because we're stupid enough to listen to him or buy into him, they think we're naive and stupid and crazy.”
To this day, many believe the Branch Davidians were brainwashed into committing a mass-suicide orchestrated by Koresh to fulfill an apocalyptic prophecy.
“There’s no time that I can remember being taught that we needed to commit suicide or that we’d make a statement by committing suicide,” said Doy.e
“He (David) didn’t come and say ‘well, God just said none of us are going out, we’ve got to burn ourselves to death,’ or whatever the government says we did, ‘this is the way it’s gotta be,” said Doyle. David never asked anybody to do things without giving them scripts that showed God’s command.”
Although Doyle said he didn’t’ know of any scripture that talks about committing suicide, he did cite stories of sacrifice and commitment to God.
“God is setting the world up, he’s giving them a chance to learn so that they’re not caught on the wrong side when it (the End of Days).”
“If the world doesn’t get the lesson, then God may have to do something else,” said Doyle. “Sometimes he allows violent things to happen to people in the world to wake them up.”
While believes the government did a lot wrong, he said in the end there’s really only one being to blame.
“People say to me ‘are you mad at David?’ I says no. ‘Well who do you blame?’ I says ‘God,’” said Doyle. “God allowed it to happen, doesn't mean I hate him for it, but God could have stopped it but he didn't.”
When asked if he thought Koresh could have stopped it, Doyle said ‘not if you think you’re doing God’s will.’
"Most of the people that stayed in there, stayed in there because they believed that God wanted them to stay,” said Doyle. “Each time we were told we were coming out, they were rejoicing, they were happy about it.”
“I don't think anybody wanted to die."
In total 86 people perished in the siege, most in the fire where only nine from inside survived.
“I never wanted to die, but I never wanted to abandon anybody else either,” said Doyle. “So when I came out, my big concern was ‘I’m the only one,’ you know, I felt bad about it, I felt bad about it the day the trial ended and I walked out of the courtroom and eight or nine of them went to prison.”
“So, ya know, you wish a lot of things were different."
He said Shari had spent most it with him in the chapel until a few days before the final assault.
“They told them (the women) to go back up to their rooms upstairs, and so once she left I never saw her again,” said Doyle. “Sure I miss her, you always wonder in your mind what would she be doing now, what would she be like, what would she have accomplished.”
Had she survived, Shari would be now 43-years-old.
“You beat up on yourself at different times reliving certain things, and I guess you feel responsible for people being with you or in another place at certain times in their life, but it’s all history now, it’s done, my feeling bad about it or saying ‘I wish I would have done so and so,’ that’s not going to fix it, all I can do is remember my little girl growing up to 18 and that was it, she’s always 18, she’s not 43.”
25 years later, Doyle said he continues to tell his version of events because, like Shari, there are ‘souls to be saved.’
“I don't talk to the media to be famous, I talk because there's a truth to be told, there's a truth of what happened, and there's a truth of what I believe,” said Doyle.
“And If I can share it in a way that all of the sudden a light goes on in somebody's head...so be it."
KWTX has reached out to the FBI and ATF and is awaiting comment.