On Feb. 28, 1993, four FBI agents were shot by the members of the Branch Davidians, a religious group living on the outskirts of Waco, Texas.
This marked the first tragedy to take place in what later became known as the Waco siege, a 51-day long battle between the authorities — including FBI and ATF agents and military personnel — and the members of the cult.
So, what happened to the FBI agents at Waco?
The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms launched an investigation against the David Koresh-led religious group 11 months prior to the lethal conflict, notes the New York Times.
A UPS driver noticed that one of the packages ordered by a cult member contained grenades, and immediately alerted the local authorities.
As an inquiry found, the members of the cult were instructed by Koresh to start stockpiling assault rifles, convertible guns, and the like in large quantities — in preparation for what they believed to be fast-approaching Day of Judgment.
But little did they know about how the vast collection of weapons would eventually be used.
On Feb. 28, the authorities organized the first crackdown, ordering AFT and FBI agents to break into the Mount Carmel Center and force the cult members to evacuate the building.
The authorities saw this as a rational step intended to curb the use of firearms. The cult members saw it as the ultimate opportunity to defend their faith.
"The ATF did not understand that what the Davidians were going to see pulling up was the army of Babylon," a commentator told the New York Times.
In the next 51 days, the authorities used various tactics to convince Koresh and his followers to dissolve the organization.
They switched off the electricity, flooding the building with blinding lights. They blasted sounds like dental drills, Tibetan chants, or recordings of rabbits being murdered en masse, notes the New York Times. Nothing worked.
On April 19, they launched a tear gas attack.
The cult members saw this as their last warning sign. Instead of surrendering, they set the whole complex on fire. At least 76 people died, 25 of whom were minors. Some lost their lives during the collapse of the building. Others shot themselves in a bid to avoid burning alive.
One of the FBI agents went on to feature in several documentaries.
"It’s one of those points in your life that you’ll never, ever forget," FBI agent Byron Sage told in a previous interview with Texas Monthly. The first to arrive on the scene on Feb. 28, Sage witnessed first-hand the repugnant outcomes of the oft-questioned operation.
As a lead negotiator, Sage was in daily contact with Koresh and his deputy, Steve Schneider.
But despite his best attempts, he failed to bridge the communicational gap — and ultimately, he failed to convince them to give up.
According to Texas Monthly, he testified in the 1995 congressional hearings, after which he went on to feature in documentaries like the 2012 Seconds from Disaster: Waco Siege or the 2018 Waco Inferno: The Untold Story.
The FBI agents on the scene attracted the attention of budding conspiracy theorists and history buffs alike. It's uncertain what happened to most of them in the aftermath of the harrowing event.
Waco is available on Netflix now.