Chris Whitcomb can vividly remember the moment he got a candid shot of doomsday cult leader David Koresh.
It was 1993 and Whitcomb was a sniper with the FBI’s Hostage Rescue Team. A gunfight broke out when Branch Davidian members clashed with agents from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) at Mount Carmel Center Complex outside of Waco, Texas. It was a siege that lasted 51 days and ended in a deadly fire.
But before all hell broke loose on the property, Whitcombe said there was one moment when he could have knocked Koresh down. Whitcomb described him as having “the perfect conditions” to shoot Koresh and rescue those inside – including the children.
“It’s a moral dilemma — there’s no question about that,” Whitcomb told Fox News Digital. “When you’re working trying to save people in potentially life-threatening situations, you have a very restrictive set of rules. There are things you can do and things you can’t do. The strange thing about it is that someone who has no training and no involvement whatsoever.. He makes the decision. And I was very familiar with the people inside this compound.”
“I already had a long mental process about the ethics of shooting David Koresh and the personal consequences of that,” he said. “It was a very private, intimate moment. There were two people, it’s 3 o’clock in the morning. I had to make a decision: Do I shoot one person to save 80? It was a very difficult conversation with myself.”
“It wasn’t difficult in terms of doing it because I was an FBI agent,” Whitcomb continued. “I did not intend to shoot David Koresh in the head. But I had to live up to the moral imperatives involved in shooting him or not shooting him with the very real possibility that 80 people could die as a result. It was a moment in my life that I will never forget.”
It’s been nearly 30 years since one of the deadliest brawls in US history involving law enforcement took place. Coinciding with the anniversary of the national tragedy, Netflix has released a new documentary series Directed by acclaimed director Tyler Russell titled “Waco: American Apocalypse”. It features discovered videotapes filmed inside the FBI’s Crisis Negotiation Unit, FBI recordings, as well as raw news footage that has not been released to the public.
Several people spoke in the film, including one of Koresh’s psychic wives, the last surviving child released from the compound, members of the ATF tactical team who watched their colleagues die in the crossfire, as well as others who worked closely on the case.
Whitcomb admitted he was still struggling to deal with the aftermath of the horrific events that took place – and the many lives lost.
“I was there, working closely with the Branch Davidians, for 51 days and nights,” he said. “I knew their faces. I knew the kids. I watched them eat breakfast. I knew pretty much everything that was going on. And we had a very specific plan for how the last day was going to end. I felt like they were going out.” [of the compound]. I thought he might be violent because they were shooting thousands of shots at us. It was a very violent morning before the fire itself. But I don’t know anyone who would claim that we believe a fire is going to start. It never happened that we would witness mass suicide. I didn’t expect a fire. I was shocked when it started.”
On April 19, 1993, the FBI punched holes in the compound and injected tear gas. The property suddenly caught fire. More than 70 people died, including about twenty teenagers and children. A 2000 report by a former senior official appointed by the Attorney General noted that the exact number could not be determined due to “extreme burning” and “a mixture of bodies”. At least 20 people, including Koresh, died from gunshot wounds.
For years, there have been disputes about whether the authorities or the Branch Davidians started the fire. While the FBI maintains that its henchmen started the fires, some of the survivors blamed it on federal agents. Investigators concluded that the Davidians shot themselves or each other when the fire broke out.
Whitcombe said he was not prepared for the carnage he witnessed. He described seeing “skulls everywhere” as the pages of the Bible were burning. The flames, fanned by the fierce winds, swept through the building within 30 minutes. Only nine followers are known to have survived.
“The team motto is saving lives,” he said. “Our whole goal in everything we did, from training and application, was to save people’s lives. It put us in a situation where we were trying to save kids and people who wanted out, and people that we as a federal government were holding hostage. And when that failed, it had a huge impact on me.” …it took a while to process. It’s been a huge part of my life for a long time. It was a tough time for me.”
Russell told Fox News Digital that meeting the survivors of the film was a “very emotional” experience.
“I suspect [the siege] He was a very decisive influence on almost everyone I had the chance to spend time with and get to know,” he said. Some people are caught up in the shock and what happened at that time. Some people have been able to move forward more easily in the rest of their lives. But for everyone out there, it was an American tragedy that happened in real time on national television with the world watching.”
“It’s easy to sit outside and judge others,” he said. “Everyone is screaming and no one is listening. When you sit down with these people, treat them like human beings and ask, ‘What was the path that led you here?'” It’s very hard for me to imagine myself there. But then when you listen to what led these people to someone like David Koresh and this religious cult, you know that these people were hungry for God in their lives. Meaning. They were hungry for a leader. These are countable things. “It’s so shocking that we can recognize it once we step outside the lens of judgment. That’s what I found in each case. And it gave me an incredible amount of empathy for every person involved.”
“What I felt after spending time with them was that everyone was doing the best they could in this impossible situation,” he added.
Whitcomb still wonders if the events that unfolded could have been prevented.
“I’ve been back four times over the years,” he said. “I’ve talked to survivors. I’ve looked at it introspectively and I firmly believe – and people who survived the fire have told me this – that David Koresh needed to fulfill the destiny he thought was his. Some kind of battle with the federal government. It was a wildfire. It was a kind of From death by fire so he could resurrect… He was destined by the only person who could have changed things, David Koresh himself. I don’t think it would have ended any other way if we had waited another two months or if we had waited any longer.”
There are still many lessons to be learned from the blockade today, Whitcombe said. He described how frustrating it was to learn of the “horrible, terrible representations” or Previous documentaries that I tried to explore what happened.
“I’m grateful for what Teller did,” he said. “People can make their decisions based on the primary sources, based on the people who have been there, seen it, experienced it, experienced it, and dealt with it all these years. In my opinion, that removes 30 years of wrong information about the now widely discussed event.”
“It’s easy to pass judgment and say, ‘These are naive people who fell in love with a sophisticated, manipulative liar’ or ‘The federal government has been screwed up by getting into this rambunctious overkill and then outnumbered and outgunned’ or ‘This FBI negotiated is too long — it can be directed All sorts of fingers,” said Russell. “You could argue what could have been done differently so that you’re blue in the face, but how do we approach this as a culture?”
Russell continued, “These issues—the role of guns, the role of the federal government, distrust of the federal government, God in people’s lives—all of these things are ringing in our ears as a society.” “Many of these things have their roots in Waco. I think it’s necessary to look back so we can make smarter and better decisions in the future.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.