Fort Worth

Tarrant Medical Examiner Remembers Branch Davidian Carnage

"It was such a waste"

Perhaps nobody knows in more gruesome detail about how the 85 people died at the Branch Davidian compound than Tarrant County Medical Examiner Dr. Nizam Peerwani.

"For me they were very long days,” he remembered this week. “I never left the office before 10 or 11 at night."

His office performed autopsies on four ATF agents who were killed in the initial raid on Feb. 28, 1993.

"All of them died of high-velocity gunshot wounds,” he said. “They were shot mostly in the front."

After the compound caught fire on April 19, 1993, it was his job to retrieve the bodies.


He found six Davidians buried in a shallow grave. They were killed in the initial raid.

Many of the others were burned. Some had been shot.

"Obviously it was a horrible scene,” he said. “A lot of destruction. Fire destroyed the buildings. A lot of dead bodies buried in the rubble and tumbled-down buildings."

Peerwani is still haunted by what he found in the compound's concrete bunker.

"It was very hard,” he said. “There were little babies and kids and young children and women, mostly. There were 27 bodies buried in the rubble inside the bunker."

The toughest part: Seeing the children.

"There were little kids still holding on to their mothers,” he said in an interview this week.

Back at their office in Fort Worth, Peerwani and other doctors did autopsies on every victim.

They determined 35 Davidians died of smoke inhalation. Some 18 died of gunshots. Others, from the trauma of the building falling on top of them.

One specific detail sticks with him.

"And then there was one little child in the bunker, about two-and-a-half to three-and-a-half, who was stabbed to death."

He’ll never know why.

Peerwani also examined the body of leader David Koresh.

"He had a single gunshot wound in the middle of the forehead,” he said.


NBC 5 News/Tarrant County Medical Examiner's Office

What is not known is whether or not Koresh committed suicide or was killed by one of his followers whose body was found next to his.

"Well it's hard to predict whether he shot Koresh or Koresh shot himself, since the bodies were so badly charred,” Peerwani said. "We know there were a lot of Davidians shot. But we don't think the FBI agents shot them. I think they were shooting themselves."

Evidence also shows the Davidians themselves set the fire, Peerwani said.

After the autopsies, Peerwani faced another challenge.

"We had several dozen bodies still in our building. We had already examined all those bodies."

But nobody wanted the bodies. He had to build a refrigerated room to store them.

It took weeks before McLelland County agreed to take them.

"It was such a waste,” he said. “So many people died. So many people perished. And I hope we all learned a lesson from this."

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