April 19th, 2011
12:41 PM ET

18 years ago, David Koresh called CNN

Sundays are usually slow in the news business. But there are exceptions.

February 28, 1993, was one of them.

Around 12:45 p.m., CNN national weekend editor Dave Schechter was overseeing the network's national desk when a young assignment editor stood up with his hand over a phone receiver. "I've got someone on the line who says they're in Waco," he announced to his boss. "I'm not sure but I think I heard a gunshot."

A few seconds later, the call dropped.

"All I knew was that someone called from somewhere in Texas about something," Schechter said. "Keep in mind, this is an age before Google. We can't just go online, plug in Texas and see what might be going on. And I couldn't just ring someone's cell phone. We had none of that."

Few outside of the Central Texas town had heard of the Branch Davidians, or their leader David Koresh. The Waco newspaper had only days before published a series called "The Sinful Messiah" about Koresh and his odd followers living in a country compound. And on February 28, the Associated Press had not yet moved a word about the gun battle that had erupted that morning between the Davidians and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives which left several dead on both sides. Koresh had been shot in the side.

Read about Davidians whose relatives died at the compound but still believe Koresh is the messiah

Schechter called CNN's Dallas bureau chief Tony Clark. The correspondent knew about the newspaper stories, and gave Schechter a rundown: Koresh was a charismatic leader of a fundamental off-shoot of the Seventh Day Adventist Church who preached that the Bible foretold the end times. Federal agents had been watching the Davidians for some time, suspecting them of stockpiling military-style weapons with the intention of building an "Army for God."

Watch how the story of the Waco siege began

Clark was dispatched to Waco.

Around 2:30, another call came into CNN. This time Schechter picked up. It was Steve Schneider, David Koresh's right-hand man.

"He was shouting, 'There are women and children in here and they're shooting at us!'" Schechter remembers. "He wanted to talk and tell us everything was going on. Schneider was saying there were people inside (the Davidian compound) and some have weapons. Koresh was wounded.


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Filed under: Branch Davidians • Texas