Last Updated on February 28, 2023
30 years after a deadly federal government raid on the Branch Dravidian compound in Waco, Texas, formally began, questions still remain regarding who fired first. The ATF and FBI have claimed that David Koresh and his followers opened fire on tactical teams attempting to serve a sexual assault warrant for Koresh, while surviving members have alleged that the federal government started shooting.
Crucial to the question of who fired first was the right side of a two-door entryway into the Mount Carmel compound. The left-hand door featured prominently in the resulting investigation after the compound and the majority of its occupants — including all of the children — was burned to the ground. The right-hand door, however, has never been found after it was mysteriously “lost.”
Earlier in the trial, Houston attorney Dick DeGuerin, who went inside Mount Carmel during the siege, testified that all of the bullet holes he saw in the doors were on the right side, and all were made by incoming rounds.
The Davidians had pointed to the door being a key piece of evidence before the government began their assault on April 19. Steve Schneider, one of Koresh’s closest confidantes, told FBI agents that “the evidence from the front door will clearly show how many bullets and what happened.”
Michael Caddell, who served as lead attorney for the group during the trial, pointed to the condition of the left-hand door and argued that there is no way the right side could have been destroyed in the blaze. “The fact that the left-hand door is in the condition it’s in tells you that the right-hand door was not consumed by the fire. It was lost on purpose by somebody,” Caddell told reporters in 1994.
The missing door routinely came up over the course of the trial and Congressional hearings. One notable piece of testimony came from David Keys, a trooper with the Texas Department of Public safety.
Keys guarded the entrance to Mount Carmel on April 19, 1993 and later told the court about how he directed fire trucks away from battling the blaze that was consuming the building. He then began to discuss a large U-Haul truck that drove into Mount Carmel shortly after the fire began, at which point government lawyers objected. After a short bench conference, Keys was told by judge Walter Lee Smith not to discuss the U-Haul, while Davidian lawyers were told to stop asking about it.
In Keys’ videotaped deposition, the trooper testified that he saw two men loading a large object into the back of the U-Haul truck that later left Mount Carmel a few minutes later. “At one time, there was two of them that were working together, carrying something large,” said Keys in his March 8 deposition, a copy of which was obtained by the Austin Chronicle. “They came from where the building used to be, and they put it in the back of that U-Haul.”
Keys’ deposition, which was not seen in court, the trooper testified that the U-Haul stayed at Mount Carmel for about 30 minutes before departing. This testimony is bolstered by a photo that was taken of Keys on site, in which the U-Haul truck can be seen directly behind his shoulder.
Keys also said that when the U-Haul departed Mount Carmel, it didn’t turn to the south on EE Ranch Road, the direction from which it came. If it had gone that way, it would have passed the media checkpoint were dozens of reporters and cameras were stationed. “To me it was that they didn’t want to bring attention that something had come from where the remains were,” Keys said when asked about the truck’s direction.
Critics have accused the federal government of purposely getting disposing of of the right-side door in the hours following the siege.