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Waco’s Lost Children: Young Victims Had No Voices, or Choices in Death

April 20, 1993

WACO, Texas (AP) _ They were the innocents. Trapped inside the prairie compound’s pink walls, they had no voices, no recourse, no protector.

Seventeen young children, some of them just babies, had the hour of their deaths dictated by David Koresh, the religious zealot who was father to many of them and who controlled every aspect of their brief existence.

These children, none older than 10, ″were absolutely under his control,″ FBI special agent Jeff Jamar told reporters Tuesday in Waco. ″Once he decided that this is what he was going to do, he was not going to let them go.″

Neither were the children’s mothers able or willing to disobey their leader’s plan. Jamar said the FBI had evidence that some cult members may have been killed inside the Branch Davidian compound before the flames reached them. More than 60 adult cult members, including Koresh, were believed dead in Monday’s inferno, and seven older youths are almost certainly among the victims. Eight adults and a 17-year-old girl survived.

In the aftermath, FBI agents said they wanted to ratchet up the pressure on Koresh, or break the resolve of his followers. Maybe, finally, they would capitulate. Maybe, at least, they would set the children free.

From the start, the children were at the center of the standoff. They were the reason the FBI waited almost eight weeks before moving on Koresh, a 33- year-old high school drop-out who fathered several infants with women he claimed as his ″wives.″

″We thought that their instincts, the motherly instincts would take place and that they would want their children out of that environment,″ FBI special agent Bob Ricks said Monday.

″That did not occur,″ he said. ″Unfortunately they bunkered down the children the best we can tell, and they allowed those children to go up in flames with them.″

Also victims were the 21 children who left the compound in the course of the standoff, ranging in age from 5 months to 12 years. Many lost their parents in the flames.

″Anytime that you have to talk to children about the death of their parents, it’s difficult,″ said Bob Boyd of Child Protective Services in Waco, which handled the custody of the freed children. ″Children shouldn’t have to go through that.″

Boyd said all the kids brought up by Koresh were ″innocent victims.″

″They didn’t choose to be there like many of the adults did. It’s a horrible tragedy,″ he said.

Unlike the adult members, youngsters and teen-agers had in most cases never known any other home than the isolated Branch Davidian compound.

Cult members have said children played in the compound pool, watched TV and raced around outside, like ″normal″ kids. Attorney Dick DeGuerin, hired by Koresh’s mother to represent the cult leader, backed up that portrait.

″I saw no physical abuse of the children,″ said DeGuerin, who visited the compound periodically during the siege. ″I didn’t see any scared kids. I saw happy kids - kids that were at peace.″

But former partisans have described a stark world: one in which Koresh had sex with minors, including a 14-year-old girl who bore his child; one in which Koresh whipped the children in an underground bunker area known as ″the spanking room.″

″There was in fact evidence of the mistreatment of children,″ FBI Director William Sessions said Tuesday. ″We know, for instance, from the beginning that some of those children were in fact wives to Mr. Koresh, that there were children who were born to children. ... The pattern of abuse was there and it was systematic.″

President Clinton, U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno and agents in charge have all said the children’s safety was largely what prompted the decision to move armored vehicles into the compound Monday.

″Mr. Koresh’s response to the demands for his surrender by federal agents was to destroy himself and murder the children who were his captives,″ the president said Tuesday. ″He killed those he controlled, and he bears ultimate responsibility for the carnage.″

Ms. Reno said reports that Koresh had abused children were among the primary reasons the FBI ended its waiting game.

″We had information, and I’m not sure of the timing of the information, that the babies were being beaten. I specifically asked, ’Do you really mean babies?‴ said Ms. Reno, who said the reply was, ″Yes, that he’s slapping the babies around.″

After seven weeks of siege, she said, sanitation was deteriorating and she came to believe the children were at risk no matter what option she chose. ″If I delayed it ... I could go in there in two months and find children dead of any number of things,″ Ms. Reno said.

The attorney general was visibly moved as she spoke of the children Monday night. In one interview, her voice caught as she tried to explain the discrepancies in the number of children said to be inside the complex. Some were minors whom Koresh considered his wives, she said.

Later, asked if she could fathom how anyone could let a child die, she said solemnly, ″No. It’s absolutely beyond me.″

Boyd would not comment specifically on the physical or emotional state of the children who left the compound, saying only: ″A lot of families believe in corporal punishment, but I would not characterize their lives as a violent existence.″

Boyd said he was devastated by events at the Waco compound.

″Their beliefs may have been different,″ Boyd said. ″Their religious beliefs were certainly non-traditional. But they are kids. They cry, laugh and play. They have the same fears as other children have.

″These kids should have never been put in this situation.″

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