The Untold Story of Heather Clifton | Teen Ink

The Untold Story of Heather Clifton

September 26, 2022
By AnnabelFrance BRONZE, Atlanta, Georgia
AnnabelFrance BRONZE, Atlanta, Georgia
1 article 0 photos 0 comments

Growing up in the Branch Davidian Compound was nothing short of the word “eventful”. From the moment I came into this world, we were always taught to believe that David Koresh AKA Father Koresh, our leader, was the son of god. I was born on February 19, 1981. I was only twelve years old on that fateful day when the siege took place. 

As I look back at my early years as a child, the numerous scars on my body all tell different stories. I watched as my mom would sneak out of our room late at night to go into Mr. Koresh’s room while my father lay asleep on the couch. It was not until I was older that I understood why she would go to his room at night. Whenever I would ask her where she was going she would simply say “I am going to pray”. My father grew more clueless as he got older, I think that's because his brain contracted a brain-eating amoeba that slowly took away his consciousness. He fell increasingly ill from this amoeba when I was eight years old. 6 months later. I am still convinced that my father contracted this amoeba from the buckets of unboiled water the leaders would leave out for us to drink for supper.

After my father passed away, everything seemed to spin out of control. My mother became delusional. Everything she did was influenced by Mr. Koresh, he practically controlled every aspect of her life. If I was ever late to bible study, even a minute late, Mr. Koresh would insist that my mom punish me in some form. She would cry profusely when she would have to spank me with the paddle, as would I. Mr. Koresh would always oversee my spankings to make sure my mom was disciplining me adequately. Mr. Koresh acted as if he were my father, which I wasn’t ok with. He was nothing like my father. My father was caring, compassionate, and above all loving. Mr. Koresh was stern, tedious, and daunting. Mother always told me to just “be silent and pray”, even though I expressed my hatred of him daily. Every time Mr. Koresh would walk into the room and she would whisper that specific phrase, it remains ingrained in my head to this day. 

I only had three friends in the compound. They were all my age and practically the only people I enjoyed being around besides my mom. Noah, Alex, and Jessica were their names and I still think about them every night. I pray that the future holds incredible plans for them. I wouldn’t have survived living in the compound without them. I will never forget the day Alex told me about ice cream. Alex described it as a sweet cold milky treat. Alex’s mom left the compound one day to retrieve food from the market and secretly bought some ice cream for Alex to try. We were prohibited from eating or drinking dairy products as it was against our values according to Mr. Koresh. One night, Alex went to the freezer and rummaged through the groceries only to pull out a carton of vanilla-bean ice cream. I grabbed a spoon and scooped some into a bowl. As I let the ice cream melt on my tongue, a whirlwind of emotions circled through my mind. I told Alex it was the most delicious thing I have ever tasted. But this sweet moment only lasted 

As we hear footsteps approaching the kitchen, Alex and I scramble to find a hiding place. We hid under a table with a draped tablecloth over it. As the kitchen door swung open we recognized footsteps that seemed oddly familiar, ones that could only belong to one person. As the footsteps came closer and stopped in front of the table, I felt a singular tear fall from my left eye. I gripped Alex’s hand tightly as the hand pulled up the tablecloth. His big brown eyes were bulging with rage. I can see my face reflecting on his silver glasses. He grabbed us both by the shirt and dragged us out from underneath the table. Alex and I pleaded and continually begged Mr. Koresh not to hurt us. He stayed silent as we walked up the stairs and into a dark room with four cots in it. The room had cement walls and was wrecked with vinegar. “Hopefully time in this room will help you reflect on what sin you have just committed,” he said. As he began to close the door the little light that entered the room from the hallway turned to complete darkness. I couldn't even see Alex’s face. The room was cold and there was only a towel on the bed. As I lay wide awake for the 12 hours we spent in that dark room, I couldn't help but wonder if better things lay beyond the compound walls and if one day I could experience those better things.

As years passed, I learned that staying out of trouble would lead me to a less stressful life, but I remained as curious as ever. I started warming up to Mr. Koresh, as he would praise me for my good behavior. I would never explore areas that were considered off limits except for one occasion. When Mr. Koresh left the property one day, I wandered into his room. I was expecting the door to be locked but luckily it wasn’t. As I peeked into his dreary beige room, I couldn’t help but be drawn to the corner of the room where a row of large black rifles lined the wall. There were at least 12 automatic rifles that looked threatening. I questioned why he had all these rifles. I notice another rifle sticking out from underneath the bed. As I crouch down to inspect underneath the bed, my jaw completely drops once again. There were around 20 or more rifles underneath the bed, ones that were even bigger than the previous ones. I scrambled to exit the room in a feat of terror. I decided to not tell my friends or my mother, as I did not want any trouble.

The best days were the days I would receive hammy-down clothes from the older children. Women and girls living within the compound were only permitted to wear blouses, long skirts, and shirts that covered our behind. To bible study, I would wear a blue silk blouse and a long white skirt that drapes down to my ankles. It wasn't until I was 12 years old that my whole world changed forever. On February 28, 1992, it was like any other day at the compound, the weather was overcast with periodic rain. At 10 am I was in bible study class led by Mr. Koresh's right-hand man, Mr. Tyler. My mother was next to me and could barely keep her eyes open. I nudged her leg several times just to keep her awake. Our eyes become directed towards the right-hand side of the room as the two wooden doors swing open. Mr. Koresh enters the room with a frantic look on his face. He pulls Mr. Tyler aside and whispers. As they continue to talk, Mr. Tyler promptly nods his head with a distressed look on his face. As Mr. Koresh leaves the room in a hurry. Mr. Tyler gathers the class's attention. He tells us not to panic but that we need to initiate the lockdown procedure as quickly as possible. As the class scrambles to exit the classroom, my mother grabs my hand and kisses my forehead smirking at me. A chilling feeling ran through my body as I pondered the unknown.

When my mother and I entered our room, she immediately locked the door and shut the blinds. She told me to hold the bible and pray. We sat on the bed with our backs against the wall avoiding any direct contact with the window. I lay my head on my mom's shoulder and closed my eyes. I was frightened at what threats lay outside the compound. I could feel my mom's heart beating rapidly, and that was when I knew something was wrong. She told me to keep my eyes closed and to never let go of the bible, as God would keep us safe. When the first bullet struck the compound, screams echoed throughout the building. My only reaction to the sound was to cry. Now, I was really scared. My mom gripped me even tighter as bullets exchanged from inside the building and outside the building. A piercing screams rings throughout the hallway as a bullet protrudes through the glass window in one of the bedrooms. I was finally able to fall asleep even with all the chaos unfolding. As the gunfire continued throughout the night it was almost impossible to fall asleep for more than thirty minutes.

Days passed by and an increasing number of ATF and FBI agents surrounded the premises. Mr. Koresh told us to all gather in the common room also known as the chapel. I watched as Mr. Koresh paced back and forth with his hands in a strong fists. As he reached into his back pocket he pulled out a sheet of paper. As he cleared his voice he addressed the crowd in a downcast tone. He started to read the names of 19 children in the compound, mine included. He then told us to say our goodbyes to our parents and to meet at the front door of the compound. With weary eyes, I gave my mom a hug not planning to let go. I pleaded with her to not let the men take me. She reassured me that everything was going to be ok and that I would be safe. As a man tries to pry me off of my mother, I still hold on unwilling to let go. He finally grabs my arms and drags me away from my mother. I watch her face fade away as he drags me out the door. Mr. Koresh is holding open the two front doors of the compound with a solemn look on his face. As soon as I pass through the doors, ATF and FBI agents scream at us demanding us to put our hands in the air. When we passed them we were given food, a blanket, and water. 

For several hours we were questioned about the ins and outs of the building and possible entry points. All I wanted to know was if my mother was going to be ok. They placed all 19 of us in a warehouse with cots while guards oversaw everything we did. We would watch T.V on this tiny screen in the cafeteria and that's all that we pretty much could do. Days, even months passed and no news had come from the compound. On April 19, two months after the initial siege, my whole world fell apart. Guards came in and told us the compound had caught fire. I listened as they called out the names of the victims of the fire. Never would I ever imagine that my world would crumble to pieces in a matter of 2 seconds.

The author's comments:

This piece is a fictionalized account of the WACO siege in 1993

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