Bulgarian immigrant Victor Houteff founded the Davidian Seventh-day Adventist reform movement, an offshoot of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, in the 1930s. Its adherents believe in an imminent apocalypse involving the Second Coming of Jesus Christ. The growing organization moved its church to just outside of Waco, Texas, in 1934, naming its new headquarters the Mount Carmel Center.
Houteff's death in 1955 caused a schism within the organization. That same year, Benjamin Roden formed a splinter group: the Branch Davidian Seventh-day Adventist Association, also known as the Branch Davidians or simply The Branch. While Original Davidians continued to occupy the Waco location for a time, Branch Davidians took control of the site in 1959 after a failed apocalyptic prophecy by Houteff's widow, Florence.
Following Roden's death in 1978, control of the Branch Davidians fell to his wife, Lois. Believing their son, George, unfit to assume the role of prophet, she groomed Vernon Howell (later known as David Koresh) as her successor. In 1984, the group split into factions once more, with Howell leading one and George Roden the other. The two continued to fight over control of the group (as well as ownership of the Mount Carmel Center) until 1989, when Roden was committed to a mental hospital after murdering his roommate. Later that year, Howell released the "New Light" audio tape, stating that God instructed him to procreate with the women of the group and to build an "Army of God" to prepare for the end of days.
On June 9, 1992, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (ATF) began a formal investigation into the group following allegations that Howell (now known as Koresh) and his followers were abusing children and stockpiling illegal weapons. On the morning of February 28, 1993, the ATF attempted to execute search and arrest warrants for Koresh and others. Branch Davidians were tipped off about the raid, however, and armed themselves in defense. While reports differ as to which side shot first, a gun battle began, with shooting lasting for two hours. Four ATF agents and five Branch Davidians were killed in the initial altercation.
Shortly thereafter, the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) took command of the siege, attempting to negotiate with Koresh and his followers to peacefully leave the compound. A 51-day standoff ensued. Negotiators managed to secure the release of 19 children; later, Koresh ordered 11 other members to leave. As the siege wore on, costing $1 million a week, however, factions within the FBI began to disagree as to how to resolve the situation. Despite objections from federal negotiators, tactical teams began using increasingly more aggressive methods to force the Branch Dividians out, from sleep deprivation techniques to cutting the compound's power and water supply.
At six in the morning on April 19, 1993, the FBI began a final assault on the Mount Carmel Center, using armored combat vehicles to punch holes in the building and fire tear gas rounds inside. At around noon, three fires broke out in different parts of the compound, spreading quickly. The FBI maintains that the Branch Davidians set the fires, while remaining Branch Davidians claim that they were either accidentally or deliberately started by the assault. Only nine people escaped during the fire. The other 76, including Koresh and several children, either were buried alive in the rubble, suffocated in the fire, or were shot.
While federal reports rebuked accusations of government misconduct, the new ATF Director John Magaw criticized several aspects of the raid. In October 1995, the organization decided that dynamic entry would only be used after all other options had been considered. Twelve of the surviving Branch Davidians faced criminal charges, and nine were convicted. Nothing remains of the Mount Carmel Center. The entire site was bulldozed two weeks after the siege ended.