Ex-ATF agent recounts 1993 Waco event
by CHRISTY ARMSTRONG Banner Staff Writer
Sep 29, 2013 | 3145 views | 0 0 comments | 23 23 recommendations | email to a friend | print
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Banner photo, CHRISTY ARMSTRONG WENDEL FROST, a former ATF agent who was on hand on for the incident that occurred at the Branch Davidian cult’s compound in Waco, Texas, in 1993, shows off his old work vest as he speaks to members of the Bradley Sunrise Rotary Club on Thursday. Now retired and living in Cleveland, he was able to share his thoughts on what really happened and how news reports of the time did not tell the whole story.
Wendel Frost still remembers what has remained a highly-debated event 20 years later.

During that time, Frost was a special agent for and one of the first snipers employed by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. He was on the scene of an incident that claimed the lives of more than 50 people.

As he spoke to members of the Bradley Sunrise Rotary Club, Frost described 1993 as “a time when cults were big in the United States,” and the Branch Davidian group of Waco, Texas, was just one of 360 cults in the country.

Retired and living in Cleveland, Frost now has the freedom to share the story of what happened in the days leading up to the destruction of the cult’s Waco compound and the lives of people on both sides of the fight.

Throughout his speech, Frost criticized news organizations for their coverage of the events during and after the destruction of the Waco compound.

He said news reports painted the picture that law enforcement personnel had killed cult members because of what they believed.

Agents had reason to believe the children inside had been subject to abuse by Koresh and other cult leaders, which provoked them to action. It was alleged the cult’s leader had taken multiple women and girls as wives, including some as young as 12, who then had his children.

Most of these allegations came from former cult members. Frost said agents had enough evidence to investigate further.

In addition, the cult had armed themselves and were believed to be in violation of several gun laws, which got Frost’s agency involved.

Four agents rented a house near the compound and did surveillance while pretending to be just a group of college students.

However, what happened after that was what people most remember.

“After nine months, we formulated a plan,” Frost said.

Frost said officials had gotten search warrants to go inside because of suspected gun violations and to check on the welfare of the children; but they would not be let inside peacefully.

ATF agents were joined by SWAT teams from two different cities. They decided to do a “high-risk entry,” which meant sending in armed team members to gain entry.

Frost said agents knew the risks of trying to enter the compound that way, but they did so for one main reason.

“The thing that actually made us do the high-risk entry was the children,” he said, adding they were afraid that cult members might be coerced by their leaders into killing their children.

Frost said 66 special agents were “on the ground” that day. Many of the agents were women, who had volunteered to be there because they thought they could better earn the trust of the children they were trying to rescue.

What started out as a chance to rescue children believed to be abused by cult members escalated.

“Everything just went to pot,” Frost said.

Four agents were killed, and 21 were injured, he said.

Frost explained SWAT missions with heavily armed agents are meant to be “all bluff.” The intention is to scare people into complying rather than kill.

“The bluff didn’t work,” he said. “After that, you’ll never see an assault on a large compound.”

What was meant to be a rescue mission for the children turned into a hostage situation, and an FBI hostage rescue team was called to help.

Agents were in a standoff with the Davidians until April 19, 1993, when gunfire ensued from both sides and the compound went up in flames.

In response to agents’ efforts to gain entry by means of using things like tear gas, Frost said Koresh’s followers set fire to multiple entrances, which ultimately engulfed the entire compound and led to many of the deaths.

According to a 1993 report from the U.S. Department of Justice, 84 people were believed to have been in the building when it burned.

While some women and children were rescued in hostage negotiations, the majority were not, Frost said.

In the aftermath of the raid gone wrong, Frost said news reports seemed to place most of the blame on the agents rather than the Davidians or fellow members of the media.

Frost said the initial raid attempt had been affected by journalists.

The agents tried to keep the initial raid a secret, but word got to news organizations. In preparation for the day, the agents had contracted with an ambulance company to make sure some were on hand in the event people got hurt.

One of the ambulance company’s staff members just so happened to be dating a journalist, and she told him what she knew of the confidential plans.

On the day the raid was supposed to take place, there were representatives from 27 different news organizations on site, he said.

On the final day when the compound burned down, Frost said journalists had ignored orders to cut contact with cult members and just let FBI negotiators speak to them.

When a cult member asked one journalist why they were there that day, Frost said the journalist responded that he was there “for the FBI raid,” ruining any element of surprise agents might have had.

That, he said, was why he thought the ATF and the FBI were given so much blame in news reports.

“They [the journalists] knew their involvement in tipping off this raid,” Frost said.

During a question and answer session after Frost spoke, a Rotarian asked if they would done things differently.

“We would have done the same thing,” Frost said in answer.

He said a common misconception was that agents could have just gone in and killed the group’s leaders rather than take their time like they did. Frost reminded Rotarians that all Americans — including people like Koresh — were said to be innocent until proven guilty.

While the outcome was a tragic one, he said the agents were not able to anticipate such a hostile response to them trying to enter and investigate the childrens’ situation.

That is what he said motivated him that day — trying to save rather than kill.

Frost said he will always remember Waco.

Frost has shared his memories of being an ATF sniper in a book called “ATF Sierra One Waco,” which can be purchased online. He said the title of the book bears the name he used to identify himself when communicating with other law enforcement personnel.

Prior to Frost speaking, members of the Bradley Sunrise Rotary Club made plans for volunteering with the local chapters of Keep America Beautiful and Habitat for Humanity.

Rotarian Bob Anderson also took the opportunity to remind the business owners in the group of an impending deadline for them. Under the rules of the Affordable Care Act, business owners must notify their employees of the new health insurance exchanges by Oct. 1 or face a fine from the federal government.