How Many People Died in Waco Texas?

March 13, 2024

This spring marks the 30th anniversary of two deadly confrontations between federal law enforcement and the Branch Davidian religious sect near Waco, Texas. In the end 82 people died, including four federal agents and 23 children, and the siege has become a touchstone for antigovernment sentiment. It helped propel the growth of militias and launched the career of media pundit and conspiracy theorist Alex Jones.

On this week's FRESH AIR, we speak with author Jeff Guinn about his new book, "Waco: David Koresh, The Branch Davidians and a Legacy of Rage." In it, Guinn argues that the FBI had no choice but to raid Mount Carmel, a complex that housed about a dozen buildings, in response to a series of deadly gun battles with members of the group led by David Koresh.

Despite the efforts of a Justice Department special counsel appointed by President Bill Clinton, the FBI's handling of the situation drew criticism from some quarters. It also fueled conspiracy theories, such as that the feds set the fire to kill Koresh and his followers.

The blaze that ended the 51-day standoff killed most of the remaining Branch Davidians, mainly from smoke inhalation. A few bodies were able to be recovered, but many more were left undiscovered, and rumors have circulated that more than six people may still be missing. The discrepancy has fueled speculation, traded over cups of coffee and in grocery checkout lines, that some people may have escaped through tunnels in the compound.


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