• 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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