Burying the Branch Davidians

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Sometimes,
to understand an event, it’s necessary to look at the smallest of
things. Jamie was such a thing.

He weighed less than thirty pounds. He was blind. His eyes forever
closed. He didn’t talk, or sit, or walk, and couldn’t feed himself.
He spent much of his day in an infant carrier or a crib beneath
the windows of his room so he might feel the sunlight. He could
only feel and hear, and so his mother read him nursery rhymes, and
spent countless hours winding a collection of music boxes whose
tinkling sounds always brought a smile to his face. He was cuddled,
and rocked like any infant, except Jamie was no infant. Jamie was
eleven years old. A victim of spinal meningitis at eighteen months,
he didn’t grow much after that. He was a little boy who “all the
king’s horses, and all the kings men” could not put together again.
He was not the youngest of the Branch Davidian children who lived
at Mt. Carmel, but certainly one of the least.

He
was in his crib under those windows on the morning of February 28,
1993, when agents of the BATF began a raid on his home. Bullets
shattered the window above his crib and he was cut with flying glass.
For a very long time he screamed and thrashed in his crib as his
mother, along with the other children, huddled on the floor of the
bedroom away from a barrage of gunfire and flying glass. His father,
Wayne Martin, was downstairs pleading through 911 with the Mc Clennon
County Sheriffs Department to “call them off, there’s women and
children in here.” It was a futile plea. For a long time the McClennnon
County Sheriffs Department hadn’t a clue as to what he was talking
about.

Because of Jamie, his mother, Sheila Martin, came out of Mt. Carmel
along with him and two of his younger siblings early on in the siege,
leaving her husband, Wayne, and her other four children behind.
Jamie required special care, and the other two, Kimmie and Daniel,
were too young to leave their mother.

His
wheel chair had to be left behind, so Sheila, who weighed not more
than a hundred pounds, and now afoot, never the less, managed to
carry him around the town of Waco, Texas. She had just been released
from jail and was homeless and alone with Jamie after Child Protective
Services took away her two youngest children. Although she was never
accused of any crime, it would be a long time before she got the
other children back, the CPS requirement being: “You must provide
a proper home we approve of.”

For
a time she and Jamie would live at the Salvation Army where she
would pray and clutch the pictures of her husband and children as
she watched the final conflagration and the deaths of her husband
and four older children as Mt. Carmel burned to the ground.

After she was released as a material witness, Sheila and Jamie were
evicted from the Salvation Army inasmuch as the Salvation Army had
a contract with the Mc Clennon County Sheriffs Department for a
halfway house for released felons. Salvation, it seemed, was in
short supply. There was no room for a mere widow with a special-needs
child.

The
only one in Waco willing to take them in was a young man named Mark
Domangue. He owned the Brittany Hotel in downtown Waco, an old run-down
transient hotel he hoped to remodel and refurbish. Later, he invited
two elderly, and also homeless Branch Davidian women to join them.
The women who were there wouldn’t accept charity and they offered
to do maid service in return for their lodging. At length, they
were evicted after armed IRS agents seized the property because
Mark was unable to pay the withholding taxes the IRS estimated he
owed from the Branch Davidian women’s volunteer work. Before long,
the building was razed and the property is now a city park across
the street from the Waco Convention Center.

There
were other offers of help while some of the survivors resided at
the Brittany. The Maury Povich Show came to town professing great
sympathy for their need for publicity. The Branch Davidians didn’t
watch television and were fairly unaware of the tabloid sensibilities
that dominated not only most news outlets but talk shows in general.
They were advised to forgo the show, but being the most guileless
of people, were want to see guile in others. By November of 1993,
seven months after the fire, there was a great deal of excitement
at the Brittany in anticipation of the show. After seven months
of bad press and, out and out, slander, finally, God had answered
their prayers and was sending someone from the media who wanted
to help them by telling their story.

The
show was held in the Waco Convention Center across from the hotel.
No one was sure of the capacity of the place, but the few Branch
Davidian survivors (most were still in jail) did complain that they
were given only a hundred tickets for any friends or supporters.
Finally they were given an extra twenty-seven tickets. In the mean
time, 600 tickets had been taken to Baylor University, the local
Baptist College, and given away. The reason for the disparity became
apparent during the show as one woman in the audience stood up and
said, “we don’t even know why these people are here. Waco is a Baptist
town and we also have a very NICE Baptist University.” The impression
left was that the Branch Davidians were either less than “nice,”
or less than Baptist for a town such as Waco. A perusal of the credits
running at the end of the show left little doubt as to the identity
of the co-promoters of the show.

Onstage,
the Branch Davidians were outnumbered by other critics as well.
A young woman named Vicki Fallabel said she left the sect eighteen
years before as a teen and claimed she had been sexually abused
there. She wouldn’t name names, but left the impression that it
had been David Koresh who was to blame. No one got a chance to point
out that she left nine years before he arrived on the scene.

Marsha
and Mark Spoon who lived for twelve years across the street from
Mt. Carmel complained that the Branch Davidians disturbed them with
a lot of talk of death and implied they were not the best of neighbors.
Finally a surviving Branch Davidian managed to ask them, that if
that was the case, why did they accept so many invitations to ice
cream suppers over the years, and the gift of a new roof the Branch
Davidians put on their house? They didn’t answer. The Spoons’ observations
were aired on that November 8th and 9th, 1993
show, but the Branch Davidians’ question was cut from the final
tape.

The
audience was laced with handpicked critics as well. A very attractive
redhead that Maury Povich kept returning to over and over again
in the audience claimed the autopsies of the children showed “bullet
holes in them” and that they had all been murdered by their parents.
She fairly screamed the accusations. She turned out to be an airline
flight attendant and Povich Show groupie who had flown in with them
from New York.

Onstage,
Stan Silva, a survivor, was reduced to tears by a woman in the audience
who demanded he explain why he was in California when his wife,
Loraine and daughters, Rachel and Haley, died. “If you were so concerned
about them, why weren’t you with them, instead of off in California?”
She demanded. (The rumor being spread was that Loraine was an extra
wife of David Koresh) It’s not known whether his answer satisfied
her. “My wife, Loraine, she needed things. I went to California
with my youngest child, Joshua, because I couldn’t find work here
and I was promised a job. We were takers there, we weren’t contributors.
They were taking care of us. I just had to find work. Loraine had
cancer and she needed things.”

At the time, the results of the autopsies had not been released.
When they were, they revealed no children murdered. The final tally
released by Dr. Rodney Crow of the Tarrant County Medical Examiners
office in Fort Worth, Texas, revealed: 39 died from inhaling gas,
9 suffocated, 21 died from gunshot wounds (none children), 3 burned
to death, and 3 died from blunt force trauma (from the roof caving
in on the bunker). There were 2 fetal deaths recorded, as well.

By
this time, facts were popping up all over, but no one wished to
be confused by them. The Fort Worth Star-Telegram seized
on the “blunt-force trauma” finding as indicative that the children
were killed by their own parents. “Cultist Children Executed” their
headline screamed.

There
are those who believe the most recent ruling by five jurors in a
Waco courtroom that absolved the government of any wrong-doing in
the deaths of the Branch Davidians was finally successful in burying
them. Perhaps they are right. We were commanded to bury one another.
For some, the courtroom may be as good a way as any.

The
effort to do it is nothing recent, however. The effort has been
going on since the beginning, and not in a few quarters. As much
as some would like to blame only the government, it’s not possible.
They had a great deal of help.

For
all the questions not allowed to be asked in that trial, Jamie might
have answered the most important one of all. Would people laying
an ambush for the BATF leave the children they loved exposed in
front of open windows? He can’t answer, of course. Two years after
he came from Mt. Carmel to the streets of Waco, Jamie died.

Even
in death, there would be no room for him. The mass grave in Potters’
field that held his father and four brothers and sisters along with
the other Branch Davidians was filled to capacity, the authorities
said. He would have to be buried apart from the rest and far across
the cemetery. Jamie is there now, alone. It’s a nice place, this
time, though. A better place. One where the sun is always shining,
and the music boxes will never wind down.

July
20, 2000

Judith
Vinson is a Texas rancher.

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