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The Temple Birds Love Incense

To every man there come noble thoughts that pass across his heart like great, white birds.

And God made a wind to pass over the earth, and waters assuaged.
—Genesis 8.1

Angel Trumpets grow on the north end of the compound … on the far end near the entrance. They blossom in early spring and last until September. The flowers only bloom at night. During the day, the flowers that bloomed the night before hang bent like melted candles. 
      When the plant is in flower it brings luck.
      When the plant is in flower it grows fast, reaching out to everyone who passes.
      Ana, who is in charge of the garden, says it is a sad sight, the way the Angel Trumpets lean out as if begging.

My name is Wisdom Paul. I was born at Mount Carmel which we now call Ranch Apocalypse. David chose my name the way he does the names of everyone born here. The name is the anointing of the soul’s breath. The articulation of divine purpose. My father is one of David’s first disciples and he’s indispensable to David. My mother left a year ago and I haven’t seen her since, though she sends me letters.

     When I receive a letter from my mother, my father reads it first. Then he gives it to me to read. It happens like this: My father tells me I have a letter and hands it to me unopened. He asks if I would like him to read it first. I say yes. After he reads it, he gives it to me. After I read it, we discuss it. Some parts he finds objectionable. For instance, when my mother asks if I might visit. My father says next year, maybe, when I’m twelve, if I want I can visit my mother then.
WACO, Texas, Monday, March 1—A raid on the heavily armed compound of a religious cult here in Waco erupted into a bloody gun battle on Sunday, leaving at least four Federal agents and two cult members dead, and at least fifteen agents injured. The cult’s thirty-three-year-old leader, who has told followers that he is the Messiah, told a local radio station that a two-year-old inside the walled compound had been killed in the shootout and that several other people were hurt. But a standoff at the compound that continued early this morning prevented any independent confirmation of the account.

You can imagine how much there is to do here. Everything must be kept spotlessly clean. Food must be prepared to feed everyone. The garden must be tended. The animals must be cared for. There are school lessons everyday. There is physical fitness in the gymnasium. There is the work to expand the dormitories which the men are doing without outside help. A swimming pool is being built. There are Bible classes and prayers and lectures in the chapel. There are the daily drills and chants. And now we are preparing for the sports competition. The selection process has been going on for weeks. Early morning tryouts, preliminary matches, sets, volleys, the point system devised by David
      I was selected to compete in running.

My father is helping me get ready for the race—we go out behind the compound where there is a thickening of Scrub Oaks. Water runs off from a stream in the enclave. No, my father says, you’re holding the push too early, sustaining the force too soon. Give one good sprint to get you out there, then easy, let up a little, save your energy, hold back a while, then give it all you’ve got. Try it now. Try it just the way I told you.
      I pour water from the stream down my face, my neck, down the front of my tee shirt making the blue look darker. My tee shirt says Lamb of God on it. We have a lot of different ones. Lamb of God.

When the wind is up it rips through the shirts hanging on the clothesline and fills them so they look like headless bodies—like the arms and the torsos of men. The highest winds come during the day. At night it is still. Sometimes David takes us outside at night to study the sky. He calls us skymappers and gives us turns looking through the binoculars. We can see everything—all the stars and constellations. David says we’ll buy a telescope so we can see the rings of Saturn, the gasses of Jupiter, the Moon as if its right here in the compound. David says beyond the sky is Heaven. 

      When I run against the wind it’s hard to get up speed. But when my back is to it, it almost lifts me off the ground. I run so fast when my back is to the wind that it feels like I’m flying.

WACO, Texas, March 1— David Koresh [the leader of the cult] asserted on CNN that the Federal agents had fired first. Group members and law officers negotiated a peace-fire after hundreds, perhaps thousands, of rounds were fired. For the next several hours, ambulances and helicopters removed the wounded as the authorities— their numbers bolstered by hundreds of officers from half a dozen Federal, state and local agencies—remained encamped at the scene.

It looks like this here. The land is flat. You can see all the way to little Asa when you stand on the deck of the lookout tower. Scrub brush grows everywhere and there are trees, too, a ways behind the compound: small oak woodlands that alternate with strips of prairie grasses. There are places where the grasses grow six, seven, even ten feet tall, and flatter patches where there’s only short grasses and wild flowers. Except for Ranch Apocalypse, there’s not another building you can see here.

We have cows and geese and chickens, dogs and cats. We have birds we keep in cages in the chapel. They’re white with red streaks on their wings and a blue band around their necks. Across their bills is also a line of blue. Their eyes are black and round. We call them the temple birds—Ana gave them as a present to David.

Lechiguilla cactus grows in abundance. David says we must be like the cactus. We must store our energy—the vital force of which our life is made—the way the cactus stores water. We must be more still than in motion. David says the Lechiguilla should be taken as our model. It grows and is alive and gives glory to God, yet it remains motionless. It initiates no acts of aggression against any creature, yet it is formidable. 

We have sixteen boys and twenty-seven girls here. Our names are: Dayland, Cyrus, Star, Heather, Serenity Sea, Startle, Bobbie, Lisa, Sheila, Melissa, Joshua, Kevin, Mark, Scott, Jacob, Chrissy, Angelica, Mayanah, Rachel, Abigail, Audrey, Isaiah, Joseph, Neharah, Renea, Chanel, Paige, Daniel, James, Kimberly, Chica, Latwan, Crystal S, Crystal M, Hollywood, Natalie, Bryan, Joann, Juanessa, Landon, Patron, Tamarae, and me, Wisdom Paul. Cyrus, who is one of David’s sons, is eight. I am eleven and so is Kevin. There is only one nine-year-old. There are three eight-year-olds. Heather is one of the eight-year-olds, but it seems like she’s older. She says the day is coming when she will wear a white dress and be a bride of Christ. She will wear a wreath of flowers on her head and garlands around her neck. She will be carried high above the ground and shine like the stars in the night sky. 

      Running today I could hear the sound of thunder in the distance. A storm over in Hillsboro. I could hear it, but I knew it wouldn’t reach us. David says it is a miracle of God. The earth, the wind, the rain, the way weather works, the heavens, the fingers on our hands—they’re all miracles—miracles of God. 

      Running today in rain. It was a light rain when it started, small drops against my face, my arms, the skin of my knees and calves. But then it started coming down heavy, large drops soaking me, soaking the ground beneath my feet, making spots where my feet slipped.

      When I got back to the compound, they told me the puppies had been born. Alsatian from Hallie who has blue eyes like a malamute. Otherwise she looks all shepherd. There were seven in the litter like the seven seals to be opened for salvation. We named them: Amos, Obadiah, Jet, Caleb, Sarie, Angel, Sundial. They have their eyes still closed, but are anointed with their names. Hallie has a red, white, and blue bandanna tied around her neck. She licks the puppies’ heads and stomachs. She is proud, my father says. In her bandanna with her puppies.

WACO, Texas, March 2—The followers [of the cult] were instructed [by Mr. Koresh] to buy guns, which they did at gun stores in the Waco area and by mail order. Mr. Koresh himself bought six pistols at a gun show in Houston last year when he went to visit his grandmother, Joan Holub. “He did say, ‘Grandma, it’s a coming atime, I’m going to bring you a little gun,’” a tearful Mrs. Holub said today in an interview at her home in a middle-class Houston neighborhood. “He said, ‘It’s coming a time we won’t be in our homes, they’ll be breaking in on us and we’ve got to protect our families.’”

There’s me and Kevin and Scott, Jacob and Daniel. We have bags to collect in and bottles of water with us. I’ve got a stick I found last time we went out and kept it. We’ve got candy we’ve been hiding because we’re not supposed to have it. Jacob is wearing a bandanna around his head, the kind we tied on Hallie the day she had the puppies. We’re going for horned lizard, skink, whiptail, whatever we can find in the creosote bush. Ironclads. Blind snake. Toads. Box turtles. We’ve got to go out pretty far to get anything good, Kevin says. Watch out for blacktails. Keep looking down. Don’t stick your hand in the bushes. Kevin knows animals. One night he came into the dining room with a gecko on his head and a sand lizard sitting on his shoulder like it belonged there. About five miles out a turkey vulture drops down some fifty feet ahead of us. It descends nice and easy to a coyote carcass. In a few minutes another vulture drops. Then another and another. They don’t seem to care we’re watching. They gorge ravenous tearing at the rotting flesh of the coyote. The wind throws stench in our direction. We breathe into our hands and our tee shirts. One of the birds looks up at us. A piece of meat hanging from its beak. Its bald red head gleaming. A muted hiss from its throat. The rest of the birds keep eating. But this one keeps its eye on us. Kevin creeps a little closer. The hissing gets louder. The bird drops the meat. There’s a spasmodic burst of movement in its chest. And then from out its mouth a stinking mess. The wind catches some of it and throws it forward in a fine spray. It reaches pretty close to Kevin who runs back to where we are. Did you see that, he says. The birds are already tearing back into the coyote.

David says our training must be the focus of our bodies and our minds. Every day he teaches breath and will. Our breath is the spirit speaking. It is the link between the body and the soul. From the moment of our first breath, we breathe our strength. Our will develops from the focus of our breath. There is one great breath that breathes for the entire universe. It is the breath of God. Everything has breath. It is the life force. The wind is the breath of the earth. Even when the wind is still, it can be felt. It is the air we breathe. Sometimes it is a gentle breeze. Sometimes a violent wind. Once a violent wind got inside the boys’ dormitory bedroom and tore it apart and we had to rebuild everything in there from scratch. When we breathe, we breathe God. When we know that we breathe God, our will becomes strong and our body also becomes strong. We can give greater glory to God when we are strong. We can win at games and defeat our enemies.

      Will you run for the glory of the Christ Jesus? Yes. Can you see God in the sky above? Yes. What do you see when you see God? The divine spirit in us all. Will you ascend one day to Heaven? Yes.

     We are building houses for the puppies … each dog will have its own house. We build them out of lumber and plywood, tar paper for the roofs. We put shavings on the floor and paint their names above the openings that we made for doors.

WACO, Texas, March 3—Federal officials said today that they are prepared to wait as long as it takes for a peaceful ending to the standoff between members of the heavily armed religious cult and hundreds of law-enforcement officers.      “The goal is to resolve the situation, ultimately in Federal court, without further bloodshed,” a Federal Bureau of Investigation agent said today at a news conference. “It does no good to set deadlines.”

Before she left my mother had raptures. They came day and night exhausting her. She went for days without eating and she drank only water. Her face became skeletal. Her eyes shadows. Her hair fell limp on her shoulders. You will be my witness, Paul. In the bedroom of the women’s wing she sat on the edge of her bed with her arms stretched out in front of her. Will you bear witness for me, Paul? My mother let her head fall to her lap. When she raised it again she was crying.

That night the ceiling opened above me when I looked up from my pillow. There were wings—the wings of butterflies. A million butterflies. The sky replaced by wings. 

I could see my mother’s image on the wall. She was wearing a nightgown. In her hands she held a knife. It was real. It was my mother. 

I thought she meant to cut me, but when I looked closer I saw she was only coring apples. 

The butterflies spelled my name with their wings.

WACO, Texas, March 4—In what the authorities described as a positive sign in the standoff between hundreds of Federal agents and the religious cult, another child was released today. But the recovery of a man’s body still clutching a semi-automatic pistol was a grim reminder of the fierce gun battle that started it all.

The chapel is white. It is styled simply to remind us that life is simple and that truth is also simple. The chapel is a large white space with an altar and a lectern and a tapestry that hangs on the wall with the Star of David on it. There are benches where we sit when we listen to David’s lectures. There is nothing else in there except for the birds in their cages; the birds were Ana’s gift and are also white. 

      My mother approached the chapel after everyone else had gathered. After David’s lecture had already begun. For days she had kept herself away from the others, carrying on with her duties as best she could. She wore a long skirt and her blouse hugged the outline of her rib cage. She stood at the door and waited before entering. When David saw her he motioned her forward. Everyone noticed how thin my mother had become. I saw it in their eyes, in the glances they exchanged. My father sat with his head lowered. My mother walked to the front where David stood. She held her arms outstretched in front of her, the cuts on her wrists visible for everyone to see. I heard someone suck his breath in. 

      David held my mother’s wrists with her palms turned up while he stared down at the wounds that appeared there. He stared down at those two gashes, one on each of her wrists, the beads of blood, a trickle of red running down along the sides of her hands and in droplets falling to the floor—and the floor, white, rising to receive them. David kept silent with his head lowered. Everyone was quiet. There was no sound in the chapel except for the occasional cooing of the birds. Sitting next to my father, I could feel how tense his body was. His hands were clenched in his lap in front of him. Will you bear witness for me, Paul? Will you be my witness? I wanted to go to my mother then. I wanted to take her out of the chapel to the clearing behind the compound and wash her hands in the stream and give her desert flowers. I wanted my father to take us to Houston. 

      David wrapped my mother’s wrists in the altar cloth and delivered his Bible lecture. He recited from Luke on the daughter of Jairus who Jesus saved from dying, and the woman in the crowds who for twelve years had been hemorrhaging and had spent all her means on the physicians, but none of them could cure her, and who came up behind Him as He moved through the crowds and touched the tassel of His cloak and at once her hemorrhage stopped  … he recited from Colossians on Practicing Virtues, in all wisdom teach and admonish one another by psalms, hymns and spiritual songs, singing in your hearts to God by His grace … he recited from Philippians on The Christian Spirit, beware of the dogs, beware of the evil workers, beware of the mutilation.

WACO, Texas, March 7—Even as their parents remain barricaded inside the compound that was the scene of a deadly shootout between a heavily armed religious cult led by David Koresh and Federal agents one week ago, the twenty-one children who have come out since then in ones and twos are now firmly  in the custody of the State of Texas.
     … Many of the children, from five months to twelve years old, emerged from the compound with small bags of favorite belongings or notes from their parents about their favorite foods, books and bedtime rituals …

My mother could not remain standing. She was too exhausted from her raptures, from her loss of blood, from her lack of food, her sleeplessness, her restlessness. When David said the words:“Did not our hearts burn within us as He talked to us on the road and explained the scriptures to us?” my mother fell. It was a sliding motion which took her to the floor, her body curled in a heap at David’s feet. And David, like Christ bending over Jairus’ daughter, bent over my mother. The next morning my mother left the compound … 

…  my mother left when it was raining, when the heat was unbearable, when the sky was the color of fireweed, when the wind was up, when the air was still, when the birds were singing, when the air was still. She said good-bye to my father and to me and to David and to everyone. She said my father would take care of me—that he was a good father. She said David would teach me—that his teachings were true. She said she had to leave to stop the fire that had taken hold inside her and would consume her if she stayed. She said she had to leave to stop the burden of her suffering that had become a weight crushing her. She said she had to leave but that deep in her heart her home would always be here … 

…  my mother left when the geese were flapping their wings and honking and fighting over pieces of stale bread, when the bees were stinging for no apparent reason, when the air was so still you could leave a candle burning on the prairie, when the wind was blowing so hard it threatened to blow the roof off the main house, when the sun was burning so hot it burned the brushwood down to ash, my mother left when the first chill was felt in the air …

WACO, Texas, March 9—Federal agents, with a new-found respect for Branch Davidian firepower, brought in the Army’s main battle tank Monday to bolster the forces that have besieged the cult’s Mount Carmel compound for the last ten days. An FBI spokesman said the unarmed M-1 tanks came in after the cult’s leader, David Koresh, told negotiators that he had weapons that could send the Bradley armored personnel carriers at the scene “forty to fifty feet in the air … ”
     … Authorities would not say how many tanks have been brought in to Mount Carmel, but television cameras have shown at least four.

When I approach the temple birds they come near to the bars of the cage. They ruffle their feathers then slick them back and walk sideways on their perch, grabbing at the pieces of leather that Ana puts in there for them to chew on. When I rest my fingers on the perch and keep still, the female walks on the back of my hand. The male watches—excited in the corner. David says the temple birds are the symbol of God’s love, of the love that is meant to be in the universe and the marriage of every creature with the divine King on His throne in Heaven. David says when we burn the aromatic heartwoods, when the chapel is filled with the odor of myrrh, with the odor of aloe and cassia, then the temple birds are filled in their own way with God. David says the temple birds love the sweet smell of the incense.

I run past the prairie bush. Like a wolf runs.

I am caught by a desert dust devil, by the whirling bands of heat. Three tornillos. Whirlwinds like spinning tops. They rise higher as they get closer and form a circle around me. One of the tornillos pulls me inside its wind. There is a voice inside the wind. I cannot understand the words because the wind distorts them. The tornillo carries me high above the compound. I can see the grounds and inside every room. I can see Ana bending over in the garden. I call out to Ana but the wind keeps my voice inside the tornillo. Then it sets me down in the garden where it is as though I appear out of nowhere to Ana. Where did you come from Ana asks me. From the sky, I tell her,
      from the sky, the sky, the sky, the sky

WACO, Texas, March 16 —Their patience with the besieged Branch Davidians apparently wearing thin, the FBI has launched a series of tough, psychological warfare-type measures aimed at a quick end to the standoff. Authorities, said the FBI spokesman,  cut off power on Friday to Mount Carmel and, on Sunday night, shined powerful lights at the fortified compound. They are also trying to steer clear of the lengthy biblically based exchanges that marked most of the negotiations during the first two weeks of the siege.

Tomorrow starts the competition … the race will be the first event at nine o’clock in the morning. We have a starting gun that Kevin’s father bought at a flea market in Austin, and a stop watch. There are prizes only David has seen. Our tee shirts have numbers on them which we got by drawing slips of paper … I drew number seven. Joshua’s father will call the times at finish and record them on a card. All the runners will get a card with their place of finish on it.

WACO, Texas, March 24—Throughout the night, beneath a star-studded sky and across a patch of Central Texas prairie, the FBI blasts ear-splitting tape recordings into the Branch Davidians compound. Chanting by Tibetan monks. Sing-along with Mitch Miller Christmas carols. An Andy Williams album. Nancy Sinatra’s “Those Boots are Made for Walking.” At dawn, a trumpet blares reveille over and over and over again.

     I believe my mother will come to watch the race in secret—she’ll go unnoticed in the excitement. She’ll applaud in silence with the palms of her hands and creep just a little closer to the compound. I believe she has come that way before to watch me. I have felt her eyes on me during Bible study in the chapel, in the school room, in the gymnasium. I have felt her eyes following me from along the edges of the fence, her gaze along the nape of my neck, up and down my spine, my mother catching a glimpse of me,

catching a glimpse of me

catching a glimpse

a glimpse

a glimpse of me

WACO, Texas, April 10—David Koresh presented the Federal authorities with a four-page “letter from God” on Friday, citing biblical passages and threatening the forces that have surrounded his religious sect’s compound near here for forty-three days.
     Federal Bureau of Investigation officials said the letter, written in the first person as if from God and bearing no
salutation, was addressed to “Friends” and was signed “Yahweh Koresh …” 
     … “We have not had confirmation from those inside that this is a message from God,’ a bureau spokesman said today. “We’re trying to get confirmation of that fact. But if it is a message from God, then we have to know what the heck the message is.”

The night before the race I can’t sleep. But I can hear the sound of the others sleeping. The sound of breathing in the dark. The room is as dark with my eyes open as it is with them closed. I try to imagine in my mind where the beds are, the windows, the door. The hook that has my clothes on it. My sneakers underneath the bed. I get out of bed and go to the window. I can feel the outline of the frame, the smooth surface of the glass. I make my way in the dark to the door, to the hallway, to the stairs that lead to the front room on the first floor. I can see the outlines of things, shadows leading to the door of the main house.

…  once outside there are a million stars. The compound shines in the starlight. Hallie runs up to me, nuzzles me with her nose, stays by my side while I walk out behind the main house, past the chapel, the storage shed, the water tower, outside the compound in the chill night air, I can see the Angel Trumpets shimmering in the light from the stars, their flowers opening, new blooms lifting, turning up skyward, the brush and the grasses, too, are shimmering, and all the buildings in the compound are glittering. If I had a telescope I could see Andromeda, and Cassiopeia, and all the other constellations David teaches, and I’m the only one awake, with Hallie, and the stars. I start to run around the edges of the compound, I run the way I’ll run in the race in the morning, Hallie keeps pace with me on the flat, cool, moist earth, no wind kicking up, not even a breeze, choir of insects, mormon crickets, cicadas, singing, screaming, raising their voices to the highest Heaven, to where God is, my pace gets faster, faster and faster until the bottoms of my feet stop landing on the ground, until I’m running in air, my legs more gliding than pumping, more flying than running, and I can go faster just by thinking it, and Hallie’s right there with me, keeping pace.

WACO, Texas, April 12 —Forty-four days into their standoff with an apocalyptic cult, the Federal authorities are laying coils of concertina wire around the perimeter of the armed compound, indicating a new approach toward David Koresh and his nearly one hundred followers barricaded inside: in essence to treat the compound like a prison. Frustrated that weeks of psychological warfare and the constant vigil kept by hundreds of armed Federal agents have failed to induce a surrender, the Federal Bureau of Investigation is now surrounding their home with the razor-sharp coils to guarantee that cult members stay in, at least until they run out of food or decide for some other reason to give up.

In the morning everyone, everyone in the entire compound is out to watch the race. They are standing all along the fence—excited. Even the dogs are excited.

     David takes the runners into the chapel and tells us we are the athletes of God. He talks to us about the holiness of the body which houses our soul the way the chapel houses the Spirit of the Lord. He points to the temple birds in their cages and tells us they are the lovebirds of the Lord and of Creation, and that one of them must not be taken from the other. He says that just as the chapel is the house of God and must be cherished and kept pure and free from ignominy, so must our bodies be kept from the desires of our humanity. He recites to us from Psalms: If the foundation be destroyed what can the righteous do? The LORD is in His holy temple, the LORD’s throne is in Heaven, His eyes behold, His eyelids try, the children of men. And then he gives us a special blessing that we may run infused by the Spirit of the Lord. He places his hand on each of our heads in turn and tells us that from first to last we shall all win, win the race to the house of the Lord.

      Ana is standing down front from the rest, smiling, unfolding her arms from just below her chest and waving to us as we come out.

      Kevin is next to me in the startup. He pretends he’s warming up, but really he’s just fidgeting. We are all fidgeting, it is like electricity shooting through us.

      The sound of the starting pistol breaks like a tight thin rope across my chest.

WACO, Texas, April 19—The last tumultuous day at the compound started around 6 AM when armored vehicles knocked holes in the building’s walls, then began shooting the gas inside. Federal officials insisted today that the doses would cause eye, nose, and skin irritations but would do no long-term damage to anyone inside, including the children. Throughout the morning, the vehicles returned to attack the compound and each time were met with a hail of gunfire, the FBI said.

When you run you feel your heart pounding in your chest. You feel the long slow breath you take each time your feet hit the ground.
When you run there is a slowing down in your head even though your body is going fast. You can feel a long slow drawing of your breath.
When you run there is no world around you except going forward. You don’t look anywhere except straight ahead of you. Or you might look to the side for one second to see who’s coming up on you.
When you run you don’t really feel it when your feet hit the ground. It’s like they’re just above the surface.
There is a pushing forward when you run. There is a kind of lifting and pushing forward. It’s not only how fast you’re moving your legs. It’s something else that’s moving you. Something that takes you steps ahead of where your own steps take you.

WACO, Texas, April 19—Hours after Federal agents began battering holes in the walls of the Branch Davidian compound and spraying tear gas inside, David Koresh and more than eighty followers—including at least seventeen children—apparently perished today when flames engulfed the sprawling wooded complex on the Texas prairie.

Eyes on me. All the eyes in the compound. I run and the eyes follow. I run with my chest bursting. I look straight ahead to the space I will fill. I run the way my father told me to run. Secret eyes are watching me … secret eyes, secret eyes, secret eyes …

WACO, Texas, April 20—It was a solid half-hour before the first fire trucks arrived at the smoldering remains of the Branch Davidian compound on Monday.
     But thirty-mile-an-hour gusts, flimsy wooden construction and the use of
incendiary fuel would have made saving the structure difficult from the moment the first flames rose along the sides of the building, firefighters at the scene and a fire expert said today.

I run with my legs high, so high that my knees hit my chest, so high that my feet rise as high as my shoulders, I run like animals, headlong strides that take me forward, out, far ahead.

WACO, Texas, April 20—It was a grisly scene of charred bodies and skeletal remains that the chief of the volunteer fire department found when he arrived, the most haunting devastation he and several among the twenty-odd firefighters had ever seen. He saw the remains of at least three people. “There was nothing left but bone,” he said.

I run until my lungs hurt until they feel as though they are on fire and will consume me with their fire until my legs become wooden until the bottoms of my feet are blistered and sore until my face is bleeding and raw with the cutting of the wind until I cannot feel my arms gone numb from all their flailing until my eyes are filled with water until my ears are filled with the sound of screeching birds until the pounding of my feet is one with the pounding of my heartbeat.

FORT WORTH, April 23—Cloaked in darkness, a refrigerated trailer truck bearing the remains of forty Branch Davidians in body bags pulled up to the Tarrant County Medical Examiner’s Office Thursday night.
     … “When a corpse is exposed to such intensive heat, the head will often
explode,” the county’s chief medical examiner said shortly after he arrived for work at 6 AM today in fatigues, the uniform of choice for most professionals coping with this disaster.
     … “Many of the bodies we have collected so far have no facial parts left, no skull left, all totally incinerated.”

I run until I cannot hear the shouts, the roar from the sidelines … until I can only hear the pounding of feet from the others behind me … until I’m not thinking about the race or if I’m out in front or if I should be holding back or giving it all that I’ve got. I run until I’m not thinking anymore about my running … until I’m just running and running … and all the while with my eyes fixed staring, staring like a creature as if with eyes covering my face, eyes covering my body like the eyes of the four beasts in Revelation, staring in the moist cool early morning with a slice of moon still in the sky along with the morning sun, staring with all my many eyes to see it, to see it and to sense its special meaning, staring straight out to where the sky bends low to touch the earth, to meet the scrubs and the distant dwarf woodlands, and the long flat stretch of prairie, and hearing a voice urging me to run to it, run to it, Wisdom Paul, run to that spot.

I run until I’m thinking about Ana reading to the younger kids, reading a story about three wishes, and when she finishes reading asking the younger kids to think about their own wishes, to think about what would be their own wishes, each of them to think about it. Heaven and ponies are the biggest number of wishes. Spotted ponies and white ponies—going around and around in a circle with the younger kids on their backs like at the pony farm in Hillsboro. What good is it though to wish for a pony? What do you have when you have that? A pony is not the White Horse. And it’s not Heaven. What is there worth the breath of wishing except for Heaven? And for all the evils vanquished. To be pleasing to God. To ride on the back of the White Horse. Shining and bright in silver garments like stars flickering, blinding and bright woven from the cloth of Heaven. What is there worth ambition except for Heaven? God won’t ask did you win a race—do you have a pony. God will ask do you love what’s righteous? Are you worthy? Have you set sail on the sea of glass?

WACO, Texas, April 25—As the walls of the Branch Davidian compound shook last Monday, Ruth R_ sat in her second-floor bedroom, reading the Bible.
     In the cafeteria downstairs, Ramos A_ was eating cereal when he heard the first thrusts of a tank slam against the building.
     Jaimie C_ was awakened in his bed by a fellow cult member. The room was filling with tear gas.
He grabbed a gas mask.
     A portrait of the final day inside the Branch Davidian cult, a day that would end with raging fire, horrified screams and the deaths of eighty-five people, has begun to emerge in bits of sketchy, often contradictory reports from dozens of interviews with survivors’ lawyers and Government officials.

I run until I’m thinking how my mother says when I visit her I can ride a horse, I can pick my own horse. I’m thinking of being on the back of that horse and it will be the White Horse, and just the thoughts in my head will take him forward, make him go faster until his feet are off the ground.

WACO, Texas, April 25—A staircase leading from the main level to the second floor collapsed, they said, trapping people upstairs, and when the first licks of flame appeared the chaos turned to unspeakable horror. No children survived the fire, and none of those who had children at the compound escaped. At least one small child appeared to die in the arms of the mother, a medical examiner at the scene said.

I run until I’m thinking of my mother’s eyes …

WACO, Texas, April 25 —At 5:59 AM, the FBI negotiator had placed a telephone call to the L-shaped compound. He recalled in an interview that, as his voice was simultaneously being carried over the loudspeakers, he told one of the cult leaders: “We’re in the process of delivering a nonlethal tear gas into the compound. This is not an assault. Do not fire your weapons.”

… until I’m thinking of the blood coming from my mother’s wrists like the blood that came from Jesus’ hands on the cross. And David holding her wrists and raising them up for everyone to see … until I’m thinking that I want to be like David, a ravenous bird from the east, a keeper of the house trembling. I want to ride the White Horse with my eyes like a flame of fire, like my mother’s eyes, and I’ll be faithful and true like David, with all the faithful gathered.

WACO, Texas, April 25 —At 6:04 AM, the first hole was punched in the compound, near the front door. The holes, some eight feet high and ten feet wide, gave the FBI an opening to pump in tear gas. It also offered a passageway for escape.
     The sun had not yet risen over the Texas scrub grass. But the winds, which had been relatively gentle through most of the night, had begun to howl.

…  until I’m thinking about God. I’m thinking about running towards God, running straight towards God, and towards the Christ Jesus. Christ Jesus is a white light. Bright. So bright like the sun you have to close your eyes half way to look at Him. But the light from God is whiter than the sun. It’s white like the stars, but a million times brighter so it lights everything. It’s so bright you can hardly look at it without your eyes being blinded.

WACO, Texas, April 25—Over the compound, the Star of David flag snapped in the wind. Inside, cult members tried to avoid panic. “It was just mass confusion,” said a lawyer for one of the cult survivors. “They were running from room to room. As holes were punched in the walls, they ran from place to place to get away from them, like rats in a ship …”
     … Earlier in the day, cult members had
tried to go about their usual routines, lawyers said. Some women did laundry. Others reportedly typed parts of Mr. Koresh’s manuscript. The cult leader had told negotiators he could not surrender until he had decoded the Seven Seals of the Book of Revelation. “We were going to be coming out when David finished the manuscript,” a cult survivor said.

I’ll ride towards the light on the White Horse like prophecy. And I’ll be a final messenger like David. And be faithful and true like the righteous of God

WACO, Texas, April 25—As the first doses of gas seeped through the compound, some survivors recalled, mothers held wet cloths over their children’s mouths. The survivors say they do not remember seeing the children later in the morning, but assumed they had been taken to their rooms upstairs.

The righteous of God are constantly challenged. They must be ready. The righteous of God are frequently tested. They must remain steadfast. There are many who would bring their acts of aggression against the righteous of God. They are the evil ones. The evil ones may come in the form of rams battering against our walls. Or as strong winds. But the ram with its horns must not cause the righteous to be shaken. Nor the strong winds move them. The righteous will be like the mountains. Immovable in the face of the power of the spirit. Unwavering in the face of adversity. Inviolate in the face of transgression. 

WACO, Texas, April 25—Bales of hay were stacked against the windows, the lawyers said, to serve as a weatherbreak and a shield against bullets. A piano, which was pushed against the front door, was crushed by the battering ram attached to an old M-50 tank chassis.

I hear shouts, shouts and applause from the sidelines. It’s like the roar of the wind when storms are raging. I don’t look. I can’t see. My legs are gliding, my feet above the ground. I’m going faster just by thinking it.

WACO, Texas, April 25—As Ruth R_ stood in her bedroom, the heat became too much, and she jumped through a window on the roof. But a moment later, she wanted to get back inside to where her friends were dying. At first, she waved off the rescuers, but as the tin roof burned her feet, she fell to the ground outside.

If the foundations are destroyed what can the righteous do? The LORD is in His holy temple, the LORD’s throne is in Heaven: His eyes behold, His eyelids try, the children of men.

WACO, Texas, April 25—Outside the compound, the negotiator spoke into the microphone. “Walk toward the voice,” he pleaded. “Walk toward the voice. If you can’t see, or if you’re disoriented, come out now.” Then he called into the microphone: “David, this is not the way to end this. Be a savior. Lead your people out of there.”

It feels like hours, but it’s only minutes. It feels like I’m hardly moving, but I know I’m flying.

WACO, Texas, April 25—As the fire raged across the compound, an agent watching saw a person in the window. “Come on out, baby,” he said. “Come on out.”

There’s a roar in my ears—a roar like thunder—like a lion—like surging waters crashing— and everyone—everyone watching—and a thin rope breaking across my chest.

WACO, Texas, April 25—One of the FBI agents who was there when the fire broke out said not far from the compound, he saw a flock of vultures circle in the sky.

David says we will wake like sleeping flowers waking.

WACO, Texas, April, 25—One of the FBI agents who was there when the fire broke out said to the right of the compound, behind the living quarters, a little ways off from the lookout tower, he saw two white birds fly up just before the chapel burst into flames.

David says that we will rise and fall and rise and fall again. That in the new Kingdom there will be an end to every sorrow. We will sit face to face with God, our Father, we will be draped in the Glory of the Lord, there will be the peace of the ages there, across the miles of the road of suffering from which we have come, come all the way to this Kingdom where the God, our Father, will open His arms to take us, to enfold us in His almighty and everlasting power.



Children who exited the compound during the siege before the fire

Neharah Fagan
Renea Fagan
Heather Jones
Kevin Jones
Christyn Mabb
Jacob Mabb
Scott Mabb
Daniel Martin
James Martin
Kimberly Martin
Natalie Nobrega
Bryan Schroeder
Angelica Sonobe
Crystal Sonobe
Joshua Sylvia
Joann Vaega
Juanessa Wendel
Landon Wendel
Patron Wendel
Tamarae Wendel

Children who died in the April 19, 1993, fire in the compound at Ranch Apocalypse

Chanel Andrade
Dayland Gent
Paige Gent
Cyrus Howell (Koresh)
Star Howell (Koresh)
Chica Jones
Latwan Jones
Serenity Sea Jones
Bobbie Lane Koresh
Lisa Martin
Sheila Martin
Abigail Martinez
Audry Martinez
Crystal Martinez
Isaiah Martinez
Joseph Martinez
Melissa Morrison
Mayanah Schneider
Startle Summers
Hollywood Sylvia
Rachel Sylvia