Evaluation of the Handling of the Branch Davidian Stand-off in Waco, Texas/Contingency Planning
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The risk of a mass suicide was considered as a possibility during the planning and approval of the final assault. For example, cyanide poisoning was thought to be a major risk and therefore cyanide antidote kits were available on the scene along with an emergency medical facility. The Attorney General asked about the possibility of a mass suicide.
The evidence of a possible intention to commit mass suicide was contradictory. In a memo dated March 8 FBI behavioral scientists reported:
- KORESH always talks about the "end", suggesting to his followers that "it is closer than you think". If KORESH dies before his followers, the women are to kill themselves and the children. If the women are unable, the men are to help them. KORESH teaches his followers that they must follow him to the "end", even if that means killing themselves.... KORESH realizes that in an environment outside of the compound, without his controlover the followers, he would lose his status as the Messiah, thus a mass suicide ordered by KORESH cannot be discounted. His order for a mass suicide would be his effort tomaintain the ultimate control over his group, in the event of his death.
(emphasis added). Expert Park Dietz reported that he informed SAC Ricks that Koresh was suicidal and may have made a suicide pact with other members.
Former members and released members also warned of the possibility of suicide. On March 3, 1993 the FBI interviewed Kiri Jewell, a young teenager who lived in the compound with her mother until shortly before the stand-off. Kiri reported that the Davidians had discussed mass suicide by cyanide and shooting themselves. She reported that she believed the mass suicide would occur on a Friday at 1:00 because that is when Koresh believes Jesus died.
A Davidian who left the compound in mid-March was interviewed in the hospital by Texas Rangers four times from March 24 to March 27 and reported that the Davidians had planned mass suicide on March 2, 1993, when Koresh had promised to come out of the compound with all his followers. Koresh planned to exit the compound with Greg Summers, who would have an explosive device strapped around his waist so that they would blow themselves up in front of the FBI. In addition, the people, inside the compound planned to blow themselves up so that "We would all go to heaven that day".
The Davidian also reported telling Margarida Vaega that he preferred to go to sleep and Vaega responding that she had an injection that would put him to sleep before the explosion. The Davidian reported that the plan was not implemented because God, told Koresh to wait since God had more work for Koresh to do. Vaega pinned a note to her daughter's coat in which she said that the adults would die after the children were released. The note was intended for Vaega's sister.
The psychiatrists who interviewed the released children reported that the children may have heard discussions of suicide and that some children believed they would never see their parents again in this life.
However, in interviews with the ATF before March 15, 1993 former Davidians Mark Breault, Dana Okimoto, Jeanine Bunds and Robyn Bunds, reported that Koresh's teaching was that law enforcement officers have to be the vehicle for his death in order for his prophesy to come true and that he cannot kill himself to fulfill his prophesy. Mark Breault, a former Davidian, told that Koresh taught that the United States government is out to crucify him and that his group would be killed but they would rise again. Karen Doyle, a follower of Koresh who lived outside the compound, reported in an interview during the stand-off that Koresh prophesied his own martyrdom and that of the group. She stated that to be "exalted" one had to die with Koresh and stated that she wished she were there at the compound.
Because suicide was seen as a possibility all along, the negotiators frequently asked Koresh and his followers whether they were going to commit suicide and they were always reassured that this was against Koresh's teachings.< An agent who interviewed some of the individuals who left the compound reported that none of them indicated that suicide was a potential possibility and in fact indicated that such an act would be against their religion.
- On March 8, 1993 Koresh stated "I'm not going to commit suicide." On March 1, 1993 the negotiator asked Koresh if he was going to commit suicide and he replied "I'm not going to commit suicide." On March 1, 1993 the negotiator informed Koresh that "Our concern is that you're not going to come out and that you might commit suicide." Koresh replied, "Oh, look, if I wanted to commit suicide, I would have done it already." On March 2, 1993 Koresh, stated "I don't think anyone's going to commit suicide." On March 1, 1993 the negotiator asked Koresh "Are you going to let any of your other people kill themselves or die in there?"Koresh replied "I'm not going to do that." On Tape #128 in a conversation with Sheriff Harwell Koresh stated "if we have to die for what we stand for, we're going to. We're not going to commit suicide." On March 19, 1993 in discussing when he will be "going home," meaningdeath, Koresh said "not suicide." On March 27, 1993 the negotiator asked Schneider if he,was going to commit suicide and he says "Oh, of course not. If I did I'd be lost eternally." On March 28, 1993 Koresh told the negotiator that "if we was going to commit suicide, we'd have been dead a long time ago."