- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 19, 2007

WACO, Texas (AP) — A new religious community is slowly taking shape in the ashes of the Branch Davidian site where at least 70 persons died in a 1993 blaze during an armed standoff with federal agents.

Charles Pace, leader of the Branch, the Lord of Righteousness sect of the Branch Davidians, hopes to open a museum for tourists in addition to building a tabernacle and wellness center as part of his new church.

But the few remaining Branch Davidians who once lived at the compound oppose Mr. Pace and his plans, saying the museum won’t be an accurate representation of the events of April 19, 1993, because he was not there and he despised their leader, David Koresh.

“He’ll portray us as deceived and put us down and say David Koresh was the devil,” said Clive Doyle, who survived the fire and lived at the site until last year because of conflicts with Mr. Pace.

On Feb. 28, 1993, authorities tried to arrest Koresh for stockpiling guns and explosives. Four agents from the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms and six Davidians were killed in the ensuing shootout.

A 51-day standoff ended with an inferno that survivors say was ignited by tear gas rounds fired into the buildings. The government claims the Davidians committed suicide by setting the fire and shooting themselves. A 10-month independent investigation concluded in 2000 that Koresh was solely to blame.

Mr. Pace, 57, returned in 1994 to the Waco-area property — owned by the church, an offshoot of the Seventh-day Adventists.

“I just felt I needed to be here to represent the true church,” he said.

Visitors still come to the site about 10 miles east of Waco. But there are no signs directing them there or markers commemorating its place in history.

People sympathetic to the group planted a simple memorial of trees and placed under each one a granite stone inscribed with the names of the Branch Davidians who died in the 1993 standoff.

But Mr. Pace removed the stones, destroying Koresh’s. He plans to build a wall from the stones, with a new stone bearing Koresh’s real name, Vernon Howell.

In addition, Mr. Pace foresees “a spiritual community” on the property, with families living in separate houses or mobile homes, as opposed to the group-living situation that existed under Koresh. They would attend church and seek treatment at a wellness center.

“I believe people are going to be coming here seeking truth, and they’re going to find it, and they’re going to be healed — physically and spiritually,” said Mr. Pace, a licensed massage therapist.

He estimates the project will take years and several million dollars in donations, partly because the property lacks running water and a septic system.

Waco has long tried to distance itself from the tragic events.

Jim Vaughan, director of the Greater Waco Chamber of Commerce, said raising millions to develop such a memorial is unlikely without “a whole lot of meetings and input and conversations in the community.”

“You have to ask, ‘What is the story that the community would want to tell?’ ” he asked.

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