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Waco Copes With Renewed Furor

September 11, 1999

WACO, Texas (AP) _ Penny Jacko says she no longer admits to being from Waco, the focus of world attention during a 1993 federal raid on the rural headquarters of an obscure religious sect known as Branch Davidians.

``People were always asking: `Did you know David Koresh?‴ Ms. Jacko says. ``I just hate that people know of Waco because of it.″

Local officials are aware of the plight of people like Ms. Jacko, and are trying to erase a possibly-indelible stain on the image of their history-rich city, once known as the ``Athens of Texas.″

Built at the site of an ancient Indian village near the confluence of two major rivers, Waco became a major agricultural and trade center and the home of Baylor University.

There’s more to the city of 109,000 than the bloody standoff that has resulted in embarrassment for the FBI and a massive lawsuit set for trial next month.

And city spokesman Larry Holze is trying to get the message out. Holze is meeting with city and business leaders to develop a strategy for dealing with the attention.

``The most important thing for us to recognize is that this whole thing could’ve happened anywhere,″ he says. ``It’s just like those events in Jasper, Littleton and Oklahoma City.″

Former Mayor Bob Sheehy says: ``You can’t change what happened. All you can do is offer help and information. Some of the media are going to write ugly things about you. They did us. But if you stay the course, they’ll probably say some nice things about you before they leave.″

Since 1993, residents have had to endure unending questions about the FBI assault on the Davidians’ Mount Carmel, wisecracks about the ``wackos in Waco,″ and countless tourist requests for directions to the site northeast of the city limits where Koresh and about 80 of his followers died.

The attention is now likely to intensify with the independent investigation by former Sen. John Danforth and the start next month of a multimillion-dollar wrongful-death trial blaming the government.

``Obviously it’s difficult for the citizens of Waco because this is reopening the wound,″ Holze says. ``It’s like a wound that has healed over, but opens up every time you flex a muscle.″

For a few years after towering orange flames consumed the Davidians’ home, Waco reported a downturn in business and conventions.

Tom Kelly, a Baylor University economics professor, says he believes the notoriety helped the city at least as much as it might have hurt it. He says economic development officials kind of ``used it as an ice breaker.″

``Just because people have heard of Waco, it is positive for the community,″ Kelly said.

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