Burying the Branch Davidians

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.