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Byron Sage

FBI negotiator at Waco says Davidians set the fire

May 10, 2000
Web posted at: 1:45 p.m. EST (1745 GMT)

I was the FBI negotiator who placed the call to the Mount Carmel compound in Waco, Texas, on the morning of April 19, 1993, to warn Branch Davidian leader David Koresh and his followers that the FBI would be introducing a non-lethal tear gas into the building.

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The Davidians were given advanced warning of the pending effort to introduce tear gas, which would temporarily render their building uninhabitable. The decision to introduce tear gas was, in my estimation, the correct decision. The siege had lasted for 51 days. During that time, 46 people were brought out successfully, including 21 children, but there was growing concern for the health and safety of those remaining inside.

The Davidians were given every opportunity to exit the compound safely each and every day throughout the siege. Prior to April 19, the last adult left on March 23 -- nearly a month earlier -- and the last child on March 5. There were no sanitary facilities within the entire compound. And there was evidence that at least four bodies of Davidians killed during the gun battle with Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms agents on Feb. 28, 1993, were inside the compound.

Allegations have been levied by litigating attorneys, authors and "documentary" producers that cast the FBI in the role of villain in relation to the events of April 19, 1993. It is important to realize that based on the misrepresentation of these events, the general public and certain extremist elements have become so outraged that serious events have occurred -- events as tragic as the bombing of the federal building in Oklahoma City and the resulting loss of 167 innocent lives.

Sunlight, not gunfire

The misunderstandings are significant, particularly in light of a report on a court-ordered simulation of the siege shows that flashes caught on videotape were most likely sunlight reflecting off debris, not government gunfire as attorneys for families of the Branch Davidians claim. In their wrongful death lawsuit against the government, the plaintiffs have focused much attention on "flashes" seen on infrared videotape of the final hours of the siege, using them as the basis for allegations of outrageous government conduct. These allegations are without merit.

Charges of intentionally withholding firefighting equipment have also been levied without consideration for all of the facts. From approximately 6:15 a.m. on the morning of April 19, the Davidians directed gunfire at FBI positions in response to the introduction of tear gas.

The Davidians intentionally set the building ablaze with fires starting at approximately three different points of origin, nearly simultaneously. The Davidians had been shooting at the FBI continuously for nearly six hours. It is my opinion that had the FBI ordered firefighters into that environment, with gunshots continuing from within the building, it would have exposed those firefighters to an unacceptable level of danger.

FBI never fired

There comes a time when the American public needs to stop, step back and take account of who is truly responsible for the events of April 19, 1993. The FBI never fired one shot on that day, or at anytime during the entire 51 day siege.

The FBI did not impede the exit from that building. In fact, of the nine Branch Davidians who did exit the building on April 19, seven exited through holes made in the building by the FBI during the tear gas operation. The Davidians are recorded on court-authorized microphone intercepts talking about spreading fuel throughout the building starting at approximately 6 a.m.

The Davidians set the building ablaze, not the FBI. The Davidians chose not to exit the building and chose not to bring those precious children to safety. Nine Davidians came out on April 19. Not one took the time or the opportunity to bring out a child.

Extraordinary efforts

I will forever remember the extraordinary efforts that the FBI and other law enforcement personnel put forth to try to safely resolve the most difficult situation ever faced by law enforcement in this country. I'm not saying that the FBI didn't make mistakes, but I am confident that we did the best job we could, given the circumstances we inherited on Feb. 28. I know that we would have moved heaven and earth to have gotten those people out safely.

The facts are that the Davidians elected to end the situation in an apocalyptic manner. I will never understand why they made that decision, but I will forever mourn the loss of life. There should never have been any loss of life at Waco. The tragic deaths of four ATF agents and nearly 80 Branch Davidians rest squarely at the feet of David Koresh. I look forward to the American public being fully informed in this matter. The more the facts are known, the more the public will appreciate the professionalism and dedication demonstrated by law enforcement.

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FBI tape shows field commander OK'd use of tear gas at Waco
September 2, 1999

Federal Bureau of Investigation
United States Attorney's Office, Central District of California
Branch Davidian

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