Knives, guns, blood and fear: Inside the Texas biker shootout

Updated 12:36 PM EDT, Sat October 31, 2015
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Story highlights

Surveillance video, photos and documents obtained by CNN paint the scene of chaos

Six months later, no one has been charged in deaths of the nine bikers

Hundreds of weapons were recovered from the scene

Waco, Texas CNN —  

After the guns fell silent on May 17 – one of the bloodiest afternoons in the history of American motorcycle clubs – nine bikers lay dead in a strip mall parking lot littered with weapons.

Many more were injured, bleeding from gunshots and knife wounds. A police officer asked what every other cop there must have wondered at that moment: How many of you are armed?

“I asked anybody who had a gun to raise their hand,” Waco Officer Ryan Holt wrote in a police report obtained by CNN.

Nearly everybody did.

As Holt and his fellow officers disarmed the injured bikers, so many guns piled up on the ground that they literally got in the way. SWAT team officers drove a pickup truck to the crime scene “so we could pile the firearms in the bed to try to keep suspects from moving over the top of them,” Holt noted in his report.

480 weapons, 177 arrests

In all, police recovered 480 weapons: 151 guns, along with assorted knives, brass knuckles, batons, hammers, and the bikers’ blunt objects of choice – padlocks wrapped in bandanas.

Some 177 bikers were arrested – so many that they were taken to the Waco Convention Center and held for processing in separate rooms: one for members of the club known as the Bandidos and the other for their rivals, the Cossacks. All were jailed on $1 million bail each and charged with engaging in organized crime activity.

More than five months later, no one has been charged in the deaths of the nine bikers. Police and prosecutors are silenced by a gag order; a grand jury is weighing charges in the case.

After the shootout, 177 people were arrested.
CNN Illustration/McLennan County
After the shootout, 177 people were arrested.

But against a backdrop of official silence, CNN has obtained thousands of pages of documents – including police intelligence reports, crime scene photos and witness interviews – as well as surveillance video. These begin to tell the story of how a midday gunfight turned the parking lot of a Waco strip mall into a battle zone.

They also show that tension had been building for months between the two motorcycle clubs.

The oldest club in Texas versus the upstarts

The Bandidos, formed in Houston in 1966, are the oldest, largest and most powerful motorcycle group in Texas with more than 2,000 members, according to the Department of Justice. They have a national presence, particularly in Southern states. The Cossacks formed a few years later but kept a low profile. Now, they’re considered an upstart, with about 800 members and, according to police, a strong desire to beef up their presence in their home state of Texas.

Although the bikers insist their clubs are social, even philanthropic organizations, police see both as criminal gangs. Law enforcement officials call them outlaw biker clubs, among the “one-percenters.”

That label is derived from a quote that may be apocryphal but is part of biker lore that dates back to the 1960s: Someone supposedly said that 99% of bikers are law-abiding citizens, leaving the mayhem to the other one percent.

Both clubs deny they are involved in criminal activities such as drug distribution. They scoff at the notion that they are gangs in disguise. The Bandidos denied any wrongdoing in a news release after the gunfight. They accused police of mishandling the confrontation and giving the public “a false narrative.”

“Members of the Bandidos were not aggressors, did not start the altercation, did not strike first, were not the first to pull weapons, and were not the first to use weapons,” the club stated in its news release. “The majority of the Bandidos took cover, and all involvement in the altercation by members of the Bandidos was in self-defense.”

What started it?

It’s difficult to know for certain who started the mayhem on May 17. A review of the voluminous police file raises some troubling questions and intriguing theories. The witness accounts vary widely, depending on who’s talking and what his or her club alliances might be.