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Three Years After Waco: Tourists Make Pilgrimages to the Site

April 17, 1996

WACO, Texas (AP) _ Valerie Stoia doesn’t remember much about the 51-day standoff between federal agents and the Branch Davidians, but she knows something about its fiery end.

``I just know it shouldn’t have happened,″ the Chicago sixth-grader said after she and a cousin knelt to place purple wildflowers on a wooden cross beside the rubble of what was once the cult’s compound on the prairie outside Waco. ``The way it ended, nobody should have died. I thought we had rights in this country.″

``Just broke your heart,″ said Valerie’s mother, Lidia Stoia, who brought her four children to the site during a recent trip to Waco.

The siege unfolded after agents from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms tried to arrest cult leader David Koresh on weapons charges.

It started with a gun battle that left four federal agents and six cultists dead. It climaxed 51 days later on April 19, 1993, in a blaze that killed nearly 80 cult members, including Koresh and 18 children.

``I want them to remember. I take their picture,″ Mrs. Stoia said as her children ran amid broken concrete and heaps of metal, peered into a tunnel connected to a buried bus and posed for photographs.

Dave Milam of Canton, Ohio, and his family also veered off the main highway for a closer look at what’s left of Mount Carmel, the Davidians’ compound.

``We wanted to see a little bit of history,″ Milam said near more than 80 crepe myrtle trees and white wooden crosses that stand in memory of those who died. ``It’s the same reason why tomorrow we’re going to go to the LBJ Ranch and yesterday we went to Dealey Plaza in Dallas where John Kennedy was assassinated.″

Clive Doyle escaped from the compound’s chapel minutes before it burned to the ground, but his 18-year-old daughter, Shari, died in the inferno.

A small ceremony is scheduled Friday to commemorate the third anniversary of the fire. Survivors will be given a few moments to speak, Doyle said.

``I think everybody can learn a lesson from this,″ said the 55-year-old grocery stocker, whose burned hands required skin grafts. ``A lot of people are so naive about what goes on in the government, things that happen in this country.

``To see it on this magnitude and so publicly, the way it was done in Waco, it opens a whole new kettle of worms or begins to get people thinking. They begin to realize they don’t live in paradise. This is not necessarily the land of the free.″

Among those who have made pilgrimages to Waco, according to the government, is Timothy McVeigh, charged with bombing the Oklahoma City federal building on the second anniversary of the fire.

The disaster has also been the subject of congressional hearings and has led to reforms in law enforcement agencies. Still, Attorney General Janet Reno has insisted Koresh was to blame.

``The fate of the Branch Davidians was in David Koresh’s hands, and he chose death for the men and women who had entrusted their lives to him,″ Reno told Congress last summer. ``And he, David Koresh, chose death for the innocent children of Waco.″

Doyle said he is praying that nothing tragic happens on this anniversary.

``We’re not asking people to take revenge or action on our behalf,″ he said. ``The Bible says vengeance belongs to God, so we leave it in his hands. He’ll sort this all out one of these days.″

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