David Koresh is at the center of the ‘Waco’ miniseries, premiering Jan. 24 on Paramount Network. Here’s what you need to know about the cult leader, played by Taylor Kitsch, before watching.
1. David Koresh wasn’t his real name. He was born Vernon Wayne Howell on August 17, 1959. One of his followers, Paul Fatta, explained to David Thibodeau, one of the few survivors of the Waco tragedy, that David Koresh’s name was inspired by King Cyrus, the ancient Persian king who conquered Babylon in 539 B.C. David Thibodeau writes in his book, Waco: A Survivor’s Story, that Paul told him, “According to Isaiah, Cyrus was a ‘messiah,’ a word that means ‘anointed one’ in Hebrew. And in Hebrew, ‘Cyrus’ is ‘Koresh’…” David Koresh believed that God spoke to him and claimed that he had a “knowledge of the Scriptures other people don’t have.” He also thought he was the reincarnation of the sacrificed Lamb in the Book of Revelation and would lead his followers, eventually dubbed the Branch Davidians, through war and the end of the world.
2. He married Rachel Jones when she was 14, but he had multiple sexual relationships with other women, including Rachel’s younger sister. Rachel’s parents, who were his followers, gave David their blessing to marry their daughter. According to Texas law, it was perfectly legal for David and Rachel to marry since her parents gave their consent. David allegedly had a vision on Mount Zion in Jerusalem to have a child with Rachel’s 11-year-old sister, Michele. David and Michele had three children together. He later took Karen Doyle, 14, Robyn Bunds, 17, Dana Okimoto, 20, Nicole Gent, 19, and Aisha Gyarfas, 13, as wives. The women and children conceived by David were in a group called the “House of David.” According to Waco: A Survivor’s Story, David had had sexual relationships with 15 women by April 1993 and had fathered 17 children with 11 of them. David’s relationships with the women under 17 were total violations of the statutory rape laws of Texas. In addition, the men at the Waco were not allowed to have sex. David was allowed to have sex with the women, single and married, so he could procreate children who would rule after the world ended.
3. Many people have accused David of physically and sexually abusing them. Poia Vaega told agents that her sister had been physically and sexually abused by Koresh and another cult member, according to The New York Times. There were also shocking claims of child abuse. In Feb. 1992, Child Protective Services visited Mount Carmel to investigate. The investigation was closed after 9 weeks due to lack of evidence and the children denied being abused. In a later report to the Deputy Attorney General, there was “historical evidence suggested that Koresh had engaged in child physical and sexual abuse over a long period of time prior to the ATF shootout on February 28,” but the “evidence was insufficient to establish probable cause to indict or proof beyond a reasonable doubt to convict…”
4. His childhood was brutal. His mom, Bonnie, had Koresh when she was 14 or 15 years old. His real father was never a part of his life. According to David Thibodeau, Koresh told him that his stepfather brutally beat him. Koresh was also dyslexic and failed both the first grade and second grade. In Jan. 2009, Koresh’s mother was stabbed to death. Her sister, Beverly Clark, was charged with her murder.
5. He was seriously injured in the initial raid at Waco and died on April 19 after the 51-day siege ended. When the ATF (The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives) initially attacked, because of suspected weapons violations, on February 28, 1993, David was shot. The shootout ended with the deaths of four agents and six Branch Davidians. David survived all 51 days leading up to the final raid by the FBI. Using armored vehicles and tanks, tear gas was released to try and force the people out of Mount Carmel to surrender. In the midst of the chaos, a fire started and engulfed Mount Carmel. The day ended with 76 deaths, including Koresh. However, Koresh didn’t die of smoke inhalation, like most of the people of Mount Carmel. He died of a gunshot wound to the head before the fire.
Waco, a 6-part TV event, premieres January 24 on Paramount Network.
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