Child Survivors Recall Waco Fire 10 Years On

The children in David Koresh's Branch Davidian cult grew up believing they would die young — and on April 19, 1993, 25 of them did, perishing with their parents when the cult's complex outside Waco, Texas went up in flames.

"He never was very specific, but at some point we were going to have to die for him," said Kiri Jewell, whose mother Sherri was one of Koresh's 20 "wives."

"I knew we weren't going to be around for very long. I didn't expect to live past 12."

Jewell was lucky: she escaped from the cult the year before the siege, when her father, who was divorced from her mother, refused to let her go back to Waco after a visit. Her mother stayed with the Davidians and died in the fire.

To mark the 10th anniversary of the fire, which broke out after federal agents stormed the compound following a 51-day siege, Primetime's Charles Gibson spoke to seven of the children who lived with the Davidians, including 14-year-old Sky Okimoto, Koresh's own son. All of them lost one or both parents in the fire.

Harsh Discipline and Child Brides

The children remember a close-knit community in which they were not allowed to have contact with anyone outside the cult. They were taught that there were only two types of people: "good" people who were inside the cult, and "bad" people who were everyone else.

During Koresh's Bible study sessions — which could be as long as 12 hours — he preached a vision of violent confrontation with the government. He taught his followers that his mission was to lead them into the final battle that would end the world and take them onto eternal glory. The members understood that meant they would die.

The children were taught the morbid message too. They used to chant: "We are soldiers in the army. We've got to fight. Some day we have to die. We have to hold up the blood-stained banner. We have to hold it up until we die."

They were kept in line by a wooden paddle known as "the helper," and faced severe beatings for minor infractions like spilling a glass of milk. Dana Okimoto, Sky's mother, remembers being so under Koresh's control that she beat Sky until he bled.

Koresh ordered the men in the cult to be celibate and took some of their wives and daughters to be his own wives. Jewell became Koresh's youngest "bride" when she was just 10, and would later testify in Congress that Koresh molested her at a motel. She told Primetime she was not upset at the time. "I had been trained from a very early age that this was a good thing," she said.

The Initial Assault

The siege began on Feb. 28, 1993, when 70 agents from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms arrived to search the compound for illegal weapons.

A shootout broke out, and Jaunessa Wendel, then 8, remembers the window above her 5-month-old brother's crib suddenly shattering. The next thing she knew, her mother, a former police officer, herded her and her three siblings into the hallway then rushed back to the bedroom window to return the ATF's fire.

Wendel, now 18, says she understands her mother's urge to defend her children. "What is her reaction going to be other than to protect us in the best way she knows how?" she asked Primetime.

Two hours later, when Koresh gave agents permission to enter the compound and evacuate their casualties, four ATF agents and six Davidians were dead, including Jaydean Wendel. The adults covered her body with a blanket, but Jaunessa knew it was her mom.

An Open Phone Line

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