Who was David Koresh: Former followers describe life inside apocalyptic religious sect involved in 1993 Waco siege

David Koresh, leader of an apocalyptic religious sect, perished with about 80 followers when the compound they shared burned to the ground.

A Congressional investigation concluded that Koresh and his followers set the fire themselves as FBI tanks sought to end a 51-day standoff with the group using tear gas at the group’s Mount Carmel Center near Waco, Texas compound on April 19, 1993. The tragedy came to be known as the Waco massacre.

Watch “Truth and Lies: Waco,” the documentary event, on Thursday, Jan. 4 at 9 p.m. ET on ABC

Long before he became the prophet and leader of the Branch Davidians, Koresh was just a boy growing up in Texas. Born Vernon Howell to a teenage mother in 1959, Koresh claimed he had memorized both the New and Old Testaments of the Bible by the time he was 18 years old.

“He claimed that when he was a child, God had spoken to him and said, ‘You’re the chosen one. You are my messiah,’” journalist Mary Garafolo, who covered the events at Waco for the news program “A Current Affair,” told ABC News.

Former Davidian David Bunds said when he first met Koresh in the summer of 1981, he thought Koresh seemed “lost.”

“He was kind of a drifter,” Bunds told ABC News. “He had a car that he was driving and he said the Lord gave it to him.”

“He was a very disheveled kind of guy,” he continued. “He was poor obviously. He didn’t have a job, or at least a regular job.”

Waco Tribune Herald/AP
Branch Davidian leader David Koresh.

By 1983, Koresh had joined a religious sect that called themselves the “Brand Davidians” (Branch Davidian) — a splinter group of the Seventh Day Adventist Church — founded by former Seventh Day Adventist Victor Houteff in 1934. Koresh fell under the tutelage of Lois Roden who took over leadership, along with her husband Benjamin Roden, from Houteff after his death in 1955.

“One of the things about being a Branch-Davidian … was you’re supposed to separate yourself from the…

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