Remembering the Waco Siege

"There were times throughout the siege when the negotiators would be promising one thing and the tactical team as they called the guys in the tanks would be doing something totally opposite and going against all the promises of the deals that were made. When we saw our vehicles being smashed up, you get an attitude," Doyle said.

For the entire 51-day length of the siege, Sage kept up his efforts to convince Koresh to emerge from the compound, or at the very least release more of the children. But those efforts seemed to achieve less and less.

By the middle of April, conditions within the compound were deteriorating and the government concluded the Branch Davidian leader had no intention of coming out voluntarily. "We had not had a single person out since the middle of March," Sage remembers. "No one had come out for nearly a month. Nearly a month."

Frustrated by the ongoing saga at Waco, US Attorney General Janet Reno approved a plan to fire CS gas -- a form of tear gas -- into the compound to force the Branch Davidians out. The FBI knew that Koresh had gas masks -- masks that probably wouldn't fit children.

"Abusive as it sounds, and I admit it does," says Sage, "we were banking on that discomfort to convince the parents to bring those kids out. The biggest mistake we made was that we did not accurately estimate the extent of control that David Koresh had over those parents. So we were depending on the parental instinct."

Were Mistakes Made?

But the plan ended in disaster. Even under assault by CS gas, the Branch Davidians refused to emerge. There were reports that some feared being shot if they ventured outside.

Then, around noon on April 19, several fires started almost simultaneously around the large compound, and an inferno quickly engulfed almost everyone inside, including Koresh and the remaining children.

Dick Reavis, author of "Ashes of Waco" and a critic of the government's actions, says: "The FBI said that the reason it went in on April the 19th and the reason it used CS gas in a building, knowing that there are no gas masks for children, was that it wanted to protect those children. In its misguided effort and its arrogance, it killed the children it wanted to save."

Sage insists the FBI made every effort to negotiate a peaceful end to the siege, placing the blame for the tragedy squarely on David Koresh.

The FBI learned some lessons in Waco, he admits, lessons that have resulted in changes in strategy in the years since. But that doesn't ease the pain of knowing that 74 people -- 25 of them children -- died after he spent nearly two months trying to save them.

"Every one of those precious kids -- to this day, when you think back about that -- that fact, it tears your heart out," he said. "How in the world could something with so much effort have ended so tragically? And the lost of any life is -- is incredibly shocking and difficult to process. But, the life of a child is beyond measure. It's a difficult thing to cope with."

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