David Koresh Biography - Children, Wives, & Waco Siege

Cult leader David Koresh led the Branch Davidians in a fatal 51-day standoff with the FBI and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms. A look at his journey.

David Koresh: Who Was He?

David Koresh was the head of the Branch Davidians, a religious group that gained global notoriety during a violent confrontation with federal authorities near Waco, Texas. Koresh saw himself as a prophet, and he and his followers stocked up on weapons in preparation for the apocalypse. The Federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms invaded the Davidians’ complex on February 28, 1993, leading to a 51-day siege that concluded when the property burst into flames. Koresh was among the scores of people that died in the fire.

David Koresh Early Childhood

On August 17, 1959, in Houston, David Koresh was born Vernon Wayne Howell to an unwed teenage mother called Bonnie Clark. He did not meet his father until he was in his twenties, and Clark abandoned him to be raised by his grandparents throughout his childhood. Koresh suffered in school owing to severe dyslexia and poor vision. He was put in special education courses and was teased by his classmates under the moniker “Vernie,” which he detested.


Koresh spent most of his lonely youth playing musical instruments and studying the Bible, which became an obsession for him. He had memorized and comprehended the whole New Testament by the age of 12. Koresh became a Christian after being born again in a Southern Baptist Church, but he disagreed with their views and afterward joined the Seventh-Day Adventist Church. Other congregations saw him as domineering since he was continually striving to convert them to his religious ideas.

Koresh was finally kicked out of the church after informing the pastor that God intended him to marry the pastor’s 12-year-old daughter. Koresh left Garland High School in his final year to work as a carpenter. He spent a brief time in Los Angeles in his early twenties hoping to make it as a rock star.

David Koresh Becoming a Branch Davidian

Koresh, then known as Vernon Howell, traveled to Waco, Texas, in the early 1980s, and joined the Branch Davidians, a breakaway sect of the Seventh-Day Adventist Church. During the Mount Carmel Center’s regular bible study sessions, Lois Roden, the widow of Branch Davidians founder Benjamin Roden, urged Koresh to play guitar and sing. Colin Wilson alleged in his book The Devil’s Party that Koresh had an affair with Lois and that Koresh said God intended him to have a child with her who would become the “Chosen One.”

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Koresh married Rachel Jones, a 14-year-old Branch Davidian, in 1984, and they had two children: Cyrus and Starr. He had begun presenting his own biblical interpretations in lectures titled “The Serpent’s Root,” causing discord within the group. Koresh and George Roden, Benjamin’s son, who was anticipated to take over the group and battle with Koresh, launched a leadership struggle. Roden accused Koresh of starting a fire that damaged an administrative building and press, and Koresh said the fire was a “judgment of God” on the cult.

David Koresh Using Force to Become a Leader

Roden seemed to have won the leadership battle when he and his allies forcibly removed Koresh from the Mount Carmel Centre. Koresh and his supporters lived in eastern Texas for a while, amid tough circumstances. He started gathering new disciples and traveled to Israel, where he claimed to have had a vision indicating that he was the modern-day embodiment of the prophet Cyrus, who rescued the Jews from Babylon. Koresh and a small group of his followers returned to Waco in 1987, fully armed.

Roden was shot but survived the wounds as a shootout erupted. Koresh and his followers were prosecuted for attempted murder, but Koresh was acquitted and his supporters were acquitted. Roden was eventually arrested for the 1989 murder of Wayman Dale Adair, whom Roden said was instructed to assassinate him by Koresh. Koresh was able to regain the Mount Carmel Centre and become the Branch Davidians’ leader when Roden was removed.

He officially changed his name from Vernon Howell to David Koresh in 1990; his new first name was an homage to King David, and his new surname name was Cyrus’ Hebrew name. Koresh’s doctrines featured “spiritual weddings,” which allowed him to bed God-chosen female followers of all ages. Koresh was claimed to have had up to 20 “wives,” some of whom were under the legal consent age of 17 in Texas, and to have fathered at least a dozen children with people other than his official wife.

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David Koresh Negotiations and the Siege of Waco

Koresh, as the head of the Branch Davidians, claimed to have deciphered the code of the Seven Seals of the Book of Revelation, which foreshadowed the events leading up to the Apocalypse. He persuaded his followers that the Lord had commanded the Davidians to construct an “Army of God.” As a consequence, they began amassing weaponry. Other Branch Davidians said the firearms were not intended for self-defense but were instead sold at gun exhibitions to generate cash for the group.

The Federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms became aware of the weapon stockpile and acquired a search warrant for the Mount Carmel property. The ATF tried to raid the Mount Carmel Centre and serve warrants on February 28, 1993. Six of Koresh’s supporters and four ATF agents were killed in a four-hour battle. During the skirmish, Koresh was shot and wounded. Both parties accused the other of firing the opening bullets.

Following the shoot-out, the FBI assumed leadership and launched a 51-day siege of the Mount Carmel Centre. Agents used the phone to connect with Koresh and other cult members inside. Koresh freed some of the children from the compound in return for the FBI airing recorded messages from Koresh on the radio during the initial days of the siege. Koresh promised to surrender and let the rest of his followers leave the complex quietly at one time, but he then changed his mind, according to one of his followers, “God had told Koresh to wait.”

Koresh claimed to be Christ throughout the discussions, according to the FBI, and he often went on rambling lectures during their phone conversations. He is also said to have used the youngsters inside the Mount Carmel Centre as a barrier against FBI efforts to end the standoff. During the first part of the siege, 35 individuals were freed from the facility, including 21 children. Within the FBI, disagreements quickly developed, with some urging for ongoing dialogue and others arguing for more forceful action. During the second portion of the siege, no additional Branch Davidians fled the center.

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David Koresh’s Death and Compound Fire

The Federal Bureau of Investigation conducted a tank and tear gas attack on Mount Carmel on April 19, 1993. Hours later, flames raged across the facility, killing over a dozen people. Koresh was among those discovered dead, allegedly from a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head. Some suspected that the FBI started the flames on purpose, but a special commission subsequently analyzed FBI microphone recordings that caught Koresh and other Branch Davidians discussing plans to purposefully set the fires themselves.

David Koresh’s Portrayals and Legacies

The Waco siege, which culminated with Koresh’s murder, has captivated the American public for decades and has inspired anti-government sentiment among militia formations and far-right organizations. The Waco event, according to Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols, was a motivating factor in their 1995 bombing of a federal government facility in Oklahoma City, which killed 168 people and wounded hundreds more.

Several novels, documentaries, and dramatizations have been written on the Waco siege throughout the years. In the made-for-television film In the Line of Duty: Ambush in Waco (1993), Tim Daly played Koresh. Taylor Kitsch starred as David Koresh in the 2018 television miniseries Waco, with Michael Shannon, Andrea Riseborough, Rory Colkin, and Julia Garner. Waco: The Aftermath, a Showtime sequel series, will air on April 14, 2023. Waco: American Apocalypse, a three-part Netflix documentary series, premiered on March 22, 2023, the 30th anniversary of the tragic siege.

David Koresh Quotes

  • So here we are on the day of the Lord. All the prophets talk about the great and dreadful day of the Lord when God will make an inquisition for blood.
  • There [are] some things that God has concealed in his written word that are to be brought to do right before the end of time.
  • There [are] some things that God has concealed in his written word that are to be brought to do right before the end of time.
  • If the Bible is true, then I’m Christ. What’s so great about being Christ? A man nailed to the cross. … You know, being Christ ain’t nothing.