Siege at the Branch Davidian compound: Waco's painful, but now distant scar, 25 years later

Waco's painful, but now 25 years distant scar

Twenty-five years later, the slightly rolling hills, 12 miles northeast of Waco are still home to wide open spaces and plenty of central Texas peace and quiet.

It's also where, behind a wrought iron gate with doves of peace on one side and the crucifixion on the other, you can still find the evidence of a violent and deadly past.
 
Just inside the gate of Double EE Ranch Road, a monument stands with the names of each of the 82 Branch Davidians who died, including their leader David Koresh. On the monument originally erected in their honor by a Texas Militia group, you will not find the names of the four ATF agents who died in the initial shootout.
 
It's a monument that still draws daily visitors like David Stottlemeyer from Pennsylvania.
 
"Yeah, it was definitely not a good thing," he said of the events he remembers hearing on the news 25 years ago. He was visiting the site for the first time and said the compound, where the majority of the Branch Davidians died in the raging fire at the end of the 51-day siege, is still deeply tied to Waco's image to the rest of the world.
 
“If someone in Pennsylvania said if you’ve ever heard of Waco, Texas, what’s the first thing they would think of," WFAA asked him.
 
“They would think of this, yeah," he said. "It’s pretty much back there, the only thing you’d know of.”
 
“Some of those things become burned into our memories and our brains, and that’s part of what people come for," said Carla Pendergraft with the Waco Convention and Visitors Bureau.
 
The Waco Visitors Center, where they will gladly give you a map to help you find the former Branch Davidian compound, does not actively promote tours or remembrances. These 25 years later, they're just glad that Waco is now known for something else entirely. Just ask two tourists from California – like we did.
 
“Chip and JoJo...absolutely," Paulette and Greg Horton from Diamond Bar, California said in unison when asked why they came to Waco.
 
They are among the estimated 1.6 million people who come to Waco each year, just to see Magnolia, the Silo District, and to shop at the home improvement mecca, created by reality TV stars Chip and Joanna Gaines. That’s why the Visitors Bureau has cardboard cutouts of the duo all over town.
 
“Outside of Texas, yes, they would often times think of the Davidian compound, and the issues that happened there," Pendergraft admitted. “But that’s why we’re so happy that Chip and Joanna decided to make this their home!"
 
“Our 27-year-old and our 22-year-old children don’t associate Waco with the Branch Davidians at all," Paulette Horton said.
 
"Magnolia," her husband, Greg, said.
 
“Magnolia," Paulette agreed. "That’s what we think of.”
 
Make no mistake, the scar is still very much here. The Branch Davidian monument donated by a Texas Militia group remains a rallying cry for anti-government voices everywhere. The gates, although leading to private property, often remain open, so that visitors can pay their respects.
 
“How do you get people to forget about something," Pendergraft asked. "Dallas is still known for the JFK situation there. So you can’t make people forget about something. But hopefully, over the years, Waco has added new attractions. So that’s all you can do, I think that’s all any city can really do."
 
Move on, move forward, but never forget Waco’s lost souls of 25 years ago.

© 2018 WFAA-TV


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