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Citizens recall Davidian standoff

March 21, 2003

By Beth Bond

Most Americans remember the intensity of the 51-day standoff between Branch Davidians and law enforcement 10 years ago, but Waco residents recall more personal memories of the event that took place 12 miles outside of their town.

For citizens of Waco and the surrounding areas, the final raid on April 19, 1993, that resulted in the burning of the Davidians' compound and about 80 deaths, was more than a closely watched news event on CNN. Lori Mynrcik, administration assistant for the superintendent's office at La Vega I.S.D., remembers the eerie feeling of seeing the smoke of the compound fires from her office in Bellmead.

'The day it burned, we saw it on TV before we left for lunch,' she said. 'Then we saw the big black cloud in the sky. By the time we got back from lunch, they said on TV that it was over, and the cloud was gone.'

Memories of the Feb. 28, 1993, raid and the ensuing standoff hit close to home for Dale Monsey, principal of Axtell High School, which is located less than six miles from the compound. Children living at the compound attended school off and on within the Axtell school district.

'For us it was pretty shocking,' Monsey said. 'We knew the people there. For the most part, they were good people. Their kids were good kids.'

The children of Branch Davidians ranged from elementary to high school students. Every year or so, their parents would take them out of school to be home-schooled, Monsey said. As he recalled, most of them were not in school in 1993.

In a district of 300 elementary students and 335 sixth to 12th graders, nearly everyone in the community was affected by the event itself, as well as by the sudden attention given by the media.

'We had people from all over coming by the school, wanting to interview kids and teachers, but we wouldn't allow that,' he said. 'There were others coming by for directions to the compound or just out of curiosity. Our kids did well handling it all.'

Their close proximity also presented a safety issue. The district's schoolbuses, which normally drove past the compound each morning, had to be rerouted to avoid the standoff site.

Rick Bradfield, director of news at KWTX-Channel 10, came into contact with the conflict in another way. His job demanded that he and the rest of the Channel 10 staff be ready to report any breaking news from the compound.

'Everyone had about 50 hours overtime the first week,' said Bradfield, who is also a part-time lecturer in journalism at Baylor. 'There were a lot of us who worked a 90-hour week. It consumed us for 51 days.'

Many of those hours were spent ensuring that Channel 10 could be on top of the story at all times. Though the conflict was covered competitively by national media, the local news station was one of the first on the scene and also reported from one of the best vantage points, Bradfield said.

'We talked to a farm couple to allow us access to use their pasture,' he said. 'We built a 20-foot platform that gave us a clear view of the [compound's] front door, and our staff were there 24/7.

'It was very intense and time consuming. When it started, my son was in diapers, and by the time it was over he was toilet-trained.'

Events of that magnitude are rare in Waco and should not be approached the same way as the regular daily news, Bradfield said. In those situations, he said local media have a different responsibility from the national media. The news station kept residents informed of related stories like street closings and the conflict's economic impact on Waco but was careful not to neglect the rest of the city's news.

'A lot of life was going on around it that had to be covered,' Bradfield said. 'It didn't really suspend reality for the Waco area. We still had to report the regular news.'

Randy Preddy's experience with the Branch Davidian conflict was similar to Bradfield's. The former publisher of the Waco Tribune-Herald said both news organizations were later blamed for the conflict's path to a devastating end. Reporters who had investigated the compound in the nine months before the government's involvement were accused of tipping off Davidians to the ATF's raid.

'I didn't think [research for the newspaper's series, 'The Sinful Messiah'] would interfere because there was no talk of a raid,' Preddy said.

Long work hours and weighty decisions fell to Preddy as the newspaper worked to report thoroughly on the standoff. The Tribune-Herald staff rushed to put out a special edition the afternoon of the final seige.

'It's the kind of event you would never want to happen in your community, but when it does you need to take it in perspective,' he said.

Bradfield compared the event to the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.

'It left us with a lot of questions,' he said. 'Not about how it started, but how it ended.'