Remembering the Waco Siege

ByABC News
February 27, 2007, 4:11 PM

Feb. 28, 2007— -- Fourteen years after the 51-day face-off between government agents and the Branch Davidian religious sect began near Waco, Texas, retired FBI negotiator Byron Sage remains tormented by the disastrous outcome of the siege.

At least 74 people -- including 25 children -- perished when fire consumed the complex on April 19, 1993, after weeks of fruitless talks between Sage and Branch Davidian leader David Koresh. "When the fire started," Sage remembers, "I looked at that building just hoping and praying that I'd see those kids coming out. And there were no kids."

The siege began on February 28, 1993, when agents from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) raided the Branch Davidian ranch at Mount Carmel. There had long been allegations of child abuse and illegal weaponry within the compound, but the arrival of the ATF that day precipitated a shootout that killed four agents and six Branch Davidians.

Sage quickly became part of the FBI team surrounding the ranch and was one of several negotiators who worked without rest for weeks on end, hoping to bring about a peaceful an end to the standoff.

"I will never forget the first time I talked to David Koresh," he says. "Shots were still being fired, so it had to be somewhere around midday. And I said, 'Do I call you David? Koresh? How do you pronounce that last name?' And with shots being fired in the background and people screaming and all this chaos, he said, just as calmly as could be, 'Mr. Sage, have you ever heard a person die?' I said, 'Yes, I have.' And he said, 'Then you know how to pronounce my name.' I said, 'What do you mean by that?' He said, 'It's like that last exhalation of breath. It's Koresh.' And hair went up on the back of my neck and -- I just knew we were in for one heck of a time."

Still, government negotiators did have some early success.

"In the afternoon of the first day, we started getting children out. And that was an extremely good sign. We tried to get them all out. David's response was he wasn't gonna send them (all) out. He would send them out two by two. Everything was biblical. Everything was two by two as if they were coming off of Noah's Ark," said Sage.