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|Stairway to Heaven - Page 2|
But perhaps the most pervasive fear that Koresh instilled was the fear of the "Babylonians": outsiders, government agents, nonbelievers. Koresh preached about and constantly prepared his community for the "final battle." The Branch Davidians, including children, were being readied for the imminent end of the world (hence Koresh's nickname for the compound, Ranch Apocalypse). This preparation involved military drills, interrupted sleep and one-on-one fighting. If the children did not want to participate or were not vicious enough in battle training, they were humiliated and sometimes beaten. Even the youngest members were taught how to handle guns. They were instructed in the most lethal suicide techniques with firearms, being told to aim for the "soft spot" in the back of the mouth if they faced capture by the "Babylonians." The rationale was that "unbelievers" would ultimately come to kill everyone. After this apocalyptic battle, however, members were promised that they would be reunited with their families in heaven and Koresh—God—would return to earth to smite his enemies.
I came to Texas in 1992 to become the vice chairman for research in the department of psychiatry at Baylor College of Medicine (BCM) in Houston. I also served as chief of psychiatry at Texas Children's Hospital (TCH) and director of the Trauma Recovery Program at the Houston Veterans Administration Medical Center (VAMC). My past experiences at a residential center had convinced me that we did not know enough about trauma and its effects on children's mental health. We did not know how trauma during development produced particular problems in particular children. The only way to figure this out, it seemed, was to closely study groups of children immediately after a traumatic event. Unfortunately, children were usually brought to us for help only years after they had suffered trauma, not right away.
It was to attempt to solve this problem that I, in coordination with BCM, TCH and VAMC, put together a "rapid response" Trauma Assessment Team. It was our hope that while helping children cope with acute traumas like shootings, car accidents, natural disasters and other life-threatening situations, we could learn what to expect from children in the immediate aftermath of a traumatic experience and how this related to any symptoms they might ultimately suffer. The children of Waco would provide one unfortunately apt sample to study.
On February 28, 1993, the "Babylonians" in the form of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (BATF) came to the Branch Davidian compound to arrest David Koresh for firearms violations. He would not allow himself to be taken alive. Four BATF agents and at least six Branch Davidians were killed in the ensuing raid. The FBI and its hostage-negotiation team managed to secure the release of twenty-one children over the following three days. It was at this point that my team was brought in to help with what we thought would be the first wave of children from the compound.