25 years later: In-depth look at the 51-day siege at Branch Davidian Compound

WACO, Texas (KTRK) -- This week marks a somber anniversary in American and Texas history. Twenty-five years ago, federal agents attempted to serve warrants at the Mount Carmel Center near Waco.

That raid, at what is more commonly known as the Branch Davidian Compound, turned into a deadly shootout and set in motion a 51-day siege.

EXPLORE: Tap here for an in-depth exploration of the Waco Seige

It was Sunday and the last day of February. The Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms was looking for a man who called himself David Koresh, the leader of a religious sect called the Branch Davidians.

Dozens of ATF special agents moved onto the land they'd been surveying for weeks, suspecting a cache of stockpiled weapons and sexual misconduct. But the Branch Davidians knew they were coming.

Retired ATF Special Agent Robert Elder remembers it well.

"My job that day was to control individuals that intelligence had shown us were going to be outside of the compound working in an area next to the main residence," he told Eyewitness News. He was in the lead truck during the raid. "I stepped out of the truck and before I go both legs out of the truck the gunfire had erupted."

Former Branch Davidian Clive Doyle remembers the day too. He was living at Mt. Carmel and was a disciple of Koresh.

"You could tell somebody was out there shooting at us. We didn't even know who they were," he said during an lengthy interview with Eyewitness News. "And it was like all hell broke loose. It was this huge volley of gunfire coming from in to the building from outside in the vicinity of the front door and I thought, 'Oh my God, it's going to be a blood bath.'"

Parnell McNamara, now a sheriff, was a deputy US Marshal at the time. He was there to identify and secure those sought in the warrants and was outside the compound standing by.

"Nobody ever dreamed it would end up in a brutal shootout like it did," he explained. "We went up to the car that had just driven up and listened to his radio. It was really bad. People were screaming they'd been shot. They shot me again. I'm up against a building. I'm cold."

"In addition they were throwing explosive devices at us," said Elder. "They had homemade hand grenades."

Doyle, who still lives in Waco, believes that if the government's intent was to arrest Koresh, they could have done it without the ill-fated raid.

"All the destruction, all of the shooting, was totally unnecessary," he said. "They (the government) claimed that we shot first, that we had it all set up like an ambush for them, waiting for them to come. That's a whole bunch of hokum."

Elder said he remembered the Davidians firing the first shot.

"Law enforcement, we don't just randomly shoot at people. There has to be a viable threat," he said. "I think there is no question in my mind the Davidians fired that first shot."

When the gunfire stopped, six Branch Davidians and four ATF agents were dead, more than a dozen were injured. A photojournalist named Val LeCour worked for a local television station in Waco. He was the first at the hospital. He was there when the first ambulances arrived.

"When it hits it was unbelievable," he said. "You have to understand it was so frightening. After the second load of ATF agents had come in, and I when I say come in, I mean, man, just wounded. You got flesh and things. You had agents bringing agents to the hospital."

LeCour was then detained, he said, for four days at the hospital. Federal agents wouldn't let him go home. They questioned him and how he had known to be at the hospital. His station had gotten a tip. The first KTRK reporter at the scene was Debbie Johnson Head. Now living in Austin, she vividly remembers the lack of details in those early hours after the botched raid.

"It was complete chaos," Head explained. "I had only the information that there was shootout, there was a compound, it involved federal agents, and could we get there and see what was going on."

What was going on was the start of a 51-day siege between the federal government and the Branch Davidians.
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