WACO (February 27, 2013)—A memorial service was held Thursday morning on the banks of the Brazos River for the four federal agents who were killed 20 years ago in the botched raid on the Branch Davidian compound outside of Waco.
About 200 friends, relatives and law enforcement colleagues of the slain agents gathered to remember the agents Thursday morning in Indian Spring Park.
ATF acting director B. Todd Jones spoke at the private ceremony, ATF spokeswoman Franceska Perot said.
Relatives of two of the four fallen agents attended as well.
ATF agents and employees across the nation observed a moment of silence Thursday morning.
“Twenty years ago when this happened, we promised the family members and the agents who were injured that day that we would never forget their sacrifice and this is part of our continuing effort not to forget them,” Perot said.
After the service some of the agents who were part of the raid team 20 years ago returned to the site of the Branch Davidian compound.
The four agents and six Branch Davidians were killed in a shootout 20 years ago Thursday that started as about 100 Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms agents arrived to serve warrants and to arrest Branch Davidian leader David Koresh on charges he was stockpiling guns and explosives at the group’s rural compound outside of Waco.
The gun battle continued for about 45 minutes until a ceasefire could be negotiated to allow agents to remove their dead and about 20 others who were injured.
The shootout stunned the ATF and the FBI moved quickly to take over operations.
What followed was a standoff that attracted worldwide media attention.
At one point, about a thousand journalists were gathered in Central Texas, many of them along a rural road in an area that became known as Satellite City because of the large number of satellite television transmission trucks.
Journalists from Great Britain, Japan and Australia were among those covering the standoff, which often topped network newscasts in the U.S. and dominated local coverage, as well.
Early on, Koresh allowed older Davidians and some children to leave the compound, which gave agents reason to hope the standoff would come to a peaceful end.
But within weeks, it became increasingly obvious that Koresh and his followers were in no hurry to leave.
Attorney General Janet Reno initially rejected a plan to use teargas to force the Davidians out, but in April she reconsidered, and on the morning of April 19, 1993, agents in armored vehicles began pumping teargas into the group’s large wood-frame compound.
Just after noon, fingers of flame began to shoot from one end of the compound.
A strong wind fanned the flames, which quickly engulfed the poorly constructed wood frame building.
Almost 80 including Koresh died in the fire.
Firefighters throughout the area could see the smoke from the fire, but only a few fire engines were sent toward the compound, where the intense blaze was cooking off thousands of rounds of ammunition, which made it too dangerous to try to control the flames.
Twenty-five of the dead were children, some of whom were killed by their mothers as the fire closed in.
Officials initially insisted that only non-incendiary powder was pumped into the compound, but later admitted that pyrotechnic teargas devices were also used in the assault.
The government maintained, however, that the Davidians set the fire themselves.
Surviving Davidians and their supporters rejected the claim and argued that the fire was either started by accident or intentionally during the teargas assault.
An independent investigation concluded Koresh was solely to blame.
But skeptics including the producers of the Academy Award nominated documentary “Waco: The Rules of Engagement,” continued to question the official version and argued that it was likely that the incendiary teargas rounds ignited the fire.
Analysts later said the intense media scrutiny of the government's handling of the standoff may have contributed to the FBI’s decision to use teargas in an attempt to break the impasse.
Eleven surviving Branch Davidians were tried in federal court in the deaths of the four ATF agents who were killed in the raid.
All were acquitted of murder, but four were convicted of the lesser offense of voluntary manslaughter.
Survivors and relatives of Davidians who died later filed suit against the government, but in 2004 the U.S. Supreme Court rejected appeals challenging lower court rulings that threw the suit out.