Waco: American Apocalypse: Who was David Koresh and do Branch Davidians still believe?

The documentary takes a fresh look at the tragic events

David Koresh in Waco: American Apocalypse
(Image credit: Netflix/Future)

On the 30th anniversary of the Waco tragedy, Netflix takes a fresh look at the blood filled 51-day siege that ended with a huge loss of life.

On March 22, an immersive three-part documentary lands on Netflix, claiming to be the definitive account of what happened during the Waco siege of 1993. Waco: American Apocalypse looks at what happened between February 28 and April 19, 1993. Events unfolded when law enforcement suspected the Branch Davidians - led by David Koresh - of stockpiling illegal weapons. When a search was attempted at the Branch Davidians premises in Waco, a gunfight erupted. The infamous 51-day siege ensued, initiated by the FBI. A tear gas attack was launched on April 19, 1993, as an attempt to force the cult out of hiding, with a fire of unknown cause starting at the same time. The fire resulted in the deaths of 76 Branch Davidians, including 25 children and two pregnant women. Read on as we explore who Branch Davidian leader David Koresh was, and the Branch Davidian belief system.

Another Netflix documentary looks at what happened to Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 - conspiracy theories are explored in the ongoing hunt to ascertain the real circumstances behind the plane's disappearance. Elsewhere on the streamer, the Luther film is enjoying a top 10 spot, with fans needing a reminder of what did Luther go to prison for, to find himself locked up at the start of the film. A Mexican thriller has also stormed the top 10, with viewers asking what does Triptych mean? We have the title of the thriller explained for you. 

Who was David Koresh?

David Koresh was a cult leader and head of Branch Davidians, claiming to be the final prophet of the religious sect. 

An offshoot of the Davidian Seventh-day Adventists, Koresh's influence in the Branch Davidians was thought to be central to the eventual Waco siege of 1993. Koresh was born Vernon Wayne Howell on August 17, 1959, in Texas. His mother was 14-year-old Bonnie Sue Clark, and his father, Bobby Wayne Howell, abandoned his mother before he was born.

Bonnie Sue abandoned Koresh when he was 4-years-old, leaving him with maternal grandmother, Earline Clark - his mother later came back for him when he was seven. He had no contact with his father until he was 17. Suffering dyslexia and poor eyesight, Koresh had a lonely childhood and struggled academically.

His mother was a Davidian Seventh-day Adventist, and in 1981, Koresh moved to Waco to join the Branch Davidians. The sect had been formed in 1955 by Benjamin Roden, who formed the branch group spouting new teachings not connected with the original Davidians. When Koresh ascended to leader of the group, he entered into a legal marriage with fellow member Rachel Jones, and also illegal spiritual marriages with other group followers.

As well as reports of stockpiling weapons, there had been longstanding allegations Koresh was involved in the physical, mental, and sexual abuse of both women and children within the group. However, when this was investigated, no charges were actually brought against him. The FBI did remain concerned for the welfare of the children inside the Mount Carmel Center - the site of the Waco siege- using this as the basis to use tear gas in an attempt to bring it to a close after it had been underway for so long.

Koresh was 33 when he died of a gunshot wound to the head. A fire of still unknown origin set the Mount Carmel Center ablaze, and Koresh could have taken his own life, or been killed by a congregation member. The leading FBI theory is that Koresh's right-hand-man Steve Schneider, realised he had told many lies during his time as Branch Davidian leader, and shot Koresh before turning the gun on himself. Twenty others were shot, including five children, while a three-year-old suffered a stab wound to the chest.

Waco: American Apocalypse

(Image credit: Netflix)

What happened to Rachel Koresh?

Rachel Koresh died in the Waco siege along with her husband, and was 23-years-old at the time. 

Born Rachel Jones, Rachel was born into a family who already believed in the Branch Davidian movement and teachings. She'd spend summers with her family at the Mount Carmel Center, meeting David Koresh there as a teenager. The pair were married when Rachel was just fourteen-years-old. 

One of David Koresh's primary beliefs was that his destiny was to father 24 children who would rule the world following an apocalypse. As Rachel wouldn't be able to provide this volume of children, Koresh used this belief to have sex with other women - including Rachel's younger sister, Michelle. Some of the Branch Davidians died at the beginning of the Waco siege, with Rachel's father Perry being one of them. Shots fired in February 1993, resulted in Perry's death, along with a number of others. When the fire began, Rachel, Michelle, their brother David, all sadly died. 

FBI officers outside the Mount Carmel Center during the Waco siege.

(Image credit: Netflix)

Did David Koresh have any children?

David Koresh is believed to have had 16 children, 12 of whom died in the fire. His two sons with Rachel were named Cyrus and Starr.

The 4 children of Koresh who are still alive, were not part of the siege. His children who perished in the blaze, were between the ages of 1 and 4, and were born to six additional women outside of his marriage to Rachel - the children's mothers all died in the fire along with them. However, according to Distractify, Koresh’s mother disputes that he had 16 children, believing the true number to be only 3. 

Branch Davidian defector and survivor, Robyn Bunds, has asserted that 12 of the 20 children who died were biologically Koresh's - this includes her own son and fellow survivor, Shaun Bunds. When testifying in court, Bund's mother Jeanine, agreed that Koresh had fathered at least 15 children, some with girls as young as 12. Jeanine stated that she had been present at the birth of these children, having a part in delivering  7 of them.

Shaun Bunds is now 33-years-old and is active on social media, although he interestingly uses the handle "koreshowell" on Instagram. Another two of Koresh's children to survive who weren't present during the siege are Sky Borne, now 35, and sibling Jared Michael, 32. Their mother took them to Hawaii in 1992, after a telling off from Koresh about obtaining medical intervention when Sky broke her arm. The fourth alleged surviving child is a daughter born before Koresh joined the Davidians. She is believed to reside in Dallas and had nothing to do with him at the time of the siege. 

Do Branch Davidians still believe? 

Some remaining Branch Davidian members still believe in the teachings of the sect, and in Koresh's beliefs that a new world order will arise after an apocalypse.

According to NPR, in 2013 there were survivors of the siege continuing to meet for bible study. Clive Doyle, then 72-years-old, remained living in Waco and met with fellow survivor Sheila Martin every Saturday for bible study - they believe Koresh will be resurrected. Doyle said "We survivors of 1993 are looking for David and all those that died either in the shootout or in the fire. We believe that God will resurrect this special group."

Fellow survivor Paul Fatta spent 13 years in prison after the siege, on weapons charges. He has also spoken out to say "I would like to see some divine intervention, for God to vindicate his people, all those that have suffered over the years for truth, who've been misunderstood, have been mocked, ridiculed [and] thrown in prison." At the site of the siege, a new Branch Davidian community has risen, named Branch, The Lord Our Righteousness - the group remain waiting for the end of days.

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Lucy Wigley
Parenting writer - contributing

Lucy is a mum-of-two, multi-award nominated writer and blogger with six years’ of experience writing about parenting, family life, and TV. Lucy has contributed content to PopSugar and moms.com. In the last three years, she has transformed her passion for streaming countless hours of television into specialising in entertainment writing. There is now nothing she loves more than watching the best shows on television and sharing why you - and your kids - should watch them.