David Koresh

David Koresh Biography.com

(c. 1959–c. 1993)
Cult leader David Koresh led the Branch Davidians in a deadly 51-day stand-off against the FBI and the Federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms.


David Koresh was born on August 17, 1959, in Houston, Texas. In 1990, he became the leader of the Branch Davidians. He and his followers built an "Army of God" by stockpiling weapons in preparation for the apocalypse. On February 28, 1993, the Federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms raided the compound in Waco, resulting in a 51-day stand-off ending on April 19, when Koresh shot himself.

Early Years

Cult leader David Koresh was born Vernon Wayne Howell to an unwed teenage mother named Bonnie Clark, on August 17, 1959, in Houston, Texas. Initially raised by his grandparents in the Dallas suburb of Garland, the young Koresh attended the Church of Seventh Day Adventists.

In his senior year, Koresh dropped out of Garland High School to take a carpentry job. While in his early 20s, he spent a short time in Los Angeles trying to make it as a rock star. When he returned to Houston, the Seventh Day Adventists kicked him out of the church.

Branch Davidians

In the early 1980s, Koresh moved to Waco, Texas, and joined the Branch Davidians on their Mount Carmel compound. Koresh then had an affair with the sect's much older prophetess, Lois Roden. In 1984, he married a teenaged Branch Davidian named Rachel Jones, with whom he would have a son and two daughters. When Roden passed away, Koresh's and Roden's son, George, argued about who would take over the Branch Davidians. Koresh left the sect with his followers and lived in eastern Texas for a while. In 1987, he and a handful of his devotees returned to Mount Carmel heavily armed, and shot Roden. Roden survived. Koresh and his crew were tried for attempted murder, but were acquitted.

In 1990, he legally changed his name from Howell to Koresh (after the Persian king) and became the Branch Davidians' leader. Koresh's teachings included the practice of "spiritual weddings" which enabled him to bed God-chosen female followers of all ages. Koresh had a dozen children with members other than his legal wife.

David Koresh Photo

Branch Davidian founder David Koresh (L.) during his first visit to Australia to recruit members. He was accompanied by Clive Doyle (R.) on the trip. (Photo by Elizabeth Baranyai/Sygma via Getty Images)

Deadly Stand-Off

As leader of the Branch Davidians, Koresh claimed he had cracked the code of the Seven Seals in the Book of Revelation, which predicted events leading to the apocalypse. He told his followers that the lord willed the Davidians to build an "Army of God." As a result, they started stockpiling weapons.

On February 28, 1993, the Federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms raided the compound. A four-hour gunfight left six of Koresh's followers and four BATF agents dead. Believing he and the Davidians had opened the fifth seal of revelation, Koresh claimed it was time to kill God's faithful. The result was a 51-day stand-off between Koresh and federal agents, in the latter's attempt to free his hostages. On April 19, 1993, Koresh died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head, after the Federal Bureau of Investigations launched a tank and tear gas assault on Mount Carmel.

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