The Lookout

20 years since Waco raid, explosion at nearby fertilizer plant invokes memories

Holly Bailey, Yahoo News
The Lookout

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The Branch Davidian compound outside Waco explodes in a burst of flames April 19, 1993 (Shelly Katz/Getty Imag …

WEST, Texas—Wednesday’s deadly blast at a fertilizer plant here that left at least 14 dead and injured more than 160 came just days before the anniversary of another fiery explosion in Central Texas that captivated the world.

Twenty years ago this week, on April 19, 1993, a federal raid on a cult compound in nearby Waco ended when the building exploded into a massive fireball that left nearly 80 people dead, including more than a dozen children.

Federal agents had raided the site known as Mount Carmel after a 51-day standoff with a religious group called the Branch Davidians. The group was headed by a charismatic leader, David Koresh, whom federal officials believed was illegally stockpiling guns and other weapons.

For some, Wednesday’s plant explosion just 20 miles north of Waco immediately brought back memories of the raid deadly fire, which still traumatizes the community two decades later.

“Of course, people thought about it,” a man named Mike, who declined to give his last name, said Friday as he wandered past a boarded-up storefront in downtown West, where the fertilizer blast was so intense it shattered windows. “You don’t see crazy things like fire and explosions happen around here very often. Of course, that would come to mind.”

But many in the Waco vicinity have tried to put the Branch Davidian raid well out of their memory—in part because the date of the fatal fire—April 19—has become something of an unofficial holiday for people with anti-government sentiments.

Two years after the Waco raid, on April 19, 1995, Timothy McVeigh detonated a truck bomb outside the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, killing 168 people, including 19 children.

McVeigh, who was executed for the attack in 2001, has said he was seeking to avenge what happened in Waco. He had been among the people who had gathered outside Mount Carmel in support of the Davidians during the standoff in 1993.

Investigators have explored links between other deadly attacks and the Waco raid, including the April 20, 1999, shooting at Columbine High School outside Denver, Colo., which killed 13 people and injured more than 20 more. That attack seemed to inspire the April 16, 2007, shooting at Virginia Tech University, in which a student shot and killed 32 people and wounded 17 others.

And now added to that week of deadly anniversaries will be Monday’s bombings at the Boston Marathon, which killed 3 people and injured more than 180 others.

Not every attack can be traced back to what happened in Waco in 1993. But that doesn’t matter to people in this community, who don’t like talking about what happened at Mount Carmel.

No public official in the region would even discuss the Waco attacks or the anniversary when contacted by Yahoo News. Their refusal to talk came as survivors of the attack reportedly gathered Friday to hold a memorial service for those who died two decades ago.

Still, the site of the raid is something of an underground tourist attraction in Waco. While the city makes no mention of the incident in any of its tourist materials, clerks at hotels around town have been known to hand out maps of how to get to the remote spot, located the rural farmland a few miles out of town.

“Just be careful,” a hotel employee said Friday.

There, visitors find a new chapel and a cluster of mobile homes, occupied by members of the sect—who still live and farm on the Davidian site. The only reminder of the raid is a broken down school bus that was once used by Koresh to transport his members, and a memorial gravestone that lists the names of the Davidian's killed during the 51-day standoff.

On Friday afternoon, the actual day of the 20th anniversary, a member of the sect waved off this reporter. But the group reportedly operates under a new name, The Branch, as they continue to await the end times.

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