Dateline Texas

The Wounds of Waco

The latest victim of the federal government’s assault on the Branch Davidian compound in Waco died shortly before Thanksgiving. There were no gun battles. There were no reporters or TV satellite trucks anywhere nearby. And there will be no high-profile government investigations into his death.

But there is no doubt that Dan Mulloney was mortally wounded at Mount Carmel on February 28, 1993. It just took him eight and a half years to die from his wounds.

Mulloney wasn’t infamous in the way that David Koresh was. He wasn’t a media star like FBI agent Byron Sage, who did much of the hostage negotiations with the Davidians and later became the FBI’s chief apologist. He wasn’t a lawyer or a cop. But without Mulloney’s hard-nosed approach to his job, the world would never have fully understood or appreciated the deadly beginnings of the clash between religion and government that took place on the rolling plains east of Waco. Mulloney, a cameraman at KWTX-TV, shot the TV footage that was shown around the world, of agents from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms storming the Davidians’ home. He risked his life to capture the images of ATF agents as they exchanged gunfire with the well-armed Davidians. Mulloney and his partner, reporter John McLemore, later used their vehicle to transport injured ATF agents away from the shootout.

Mulloney, fellow KWTX cameraman Jim Peeler, and McLemore were the only non-combatants at Mount Carmel that fateful day. And the three became the only independent witnesses in the subsequent trials that attempted to assess blame for the botched raid as well as the subsequent federal assault and fire on April 19, 1993, that left about 80 people dead.

The federal government and the media were quick to blame the TV guys for tipping off the Davidians. They were convenient scapegoats. Shortly before the ATF arrived at Mount Carmel that morning, Peeler had run into a Davidian named David Jones on a road near the compound. Jones, a letter carrier for the U.S. Post Office, had immediately gone back to Mount Carmel and alerted Koresh that something was happening. The TV crew shouldn’t have been there in the first place, said the critics.

But why blame the TV guys for the botched raid?

The ATF had standing orders to abort the raid if they knew the element of surprise had been lost. Yet the ATF commanders, Charles Sarabyn and Phil Chojnacki, ignored reports from ATF agent Robert Rodriguez, who was working undercover inside the Davidian compound. Rodriguez told the commanders that the Davidians knew the ATF was coming long before the lightly armed agents—hidden inside two cattle trailers—left EE Ranch Road and drove onto the long muddy driveway at Mount Carmel.

Yet the two commanders ordered their agents to go ahead with the raid. The U.S. Treasury Department’s report on the botched raid, in which four ATF agents were killed and more than a dozen injured, contains unusually harsh words for the ATF commanders. “Sarabyn and Chojnacki lied to their superiors and investigators about what Rodriguez had reported,” says the report. The 200-page document also says the commanders altered records after the raid, in order to mislead investigators. Treasury Department investigators said the officers’ attempts to cover their tracks is “extremely troubling and reflects a lack of judgment.”

Sarabyn and Chojnacki lied. They ignored a standing order. They altered federal documents. Yet they were never prosecuted for their misdeeds. It was that lack of accountability, that lack of honesty by the ATF and the Depart-ment of Justice, says one prominent law enforcement official in Waco, that Mulloney simply could not accept. The fact that he was blamed for an incident that wasn’t his fault, “was like a cancer that finally ate him up.” Mulloney watched as his partner John McLemore was forced out of the TV business. He saw his long-time friend, Jim Peeler, who still works at KWTX, torn apart. “He was tormented by it,” says the law enforcement official. “I think he basically grieved himself to death.”

Mulloney was an average cameraman. But he was an extraordinary news man. He knew almost every cop in Waco. He also knew most of the firemen, lawyers, ambulance drivers, and anyone else who might know things that could help him get a story. That’s not braggadocio, it’s just true. Mulloney was a better reporter than any of the reporters at KWTX, and everyone at the station knew it.

Those connections allowed Mull-oney to hear about the ATF raid on Mount Carmel a couple of days ahead of time. Mulloney knew someone who worked with Waco’s ambulance crew who told him about the raid. He later confirmed the tip when he talked to Tommy Witherspoon, a reporter for the Waco Tribune-Herald, who had been friends with Mulloney for years, and who had also received a tip about the upcoming raid.

According to Mulloney, Wither-spoon named a man in the McClennan County Sherriff’s Department as his source. Law enforcement officials in Waco who investigated the incident confirmed that a sheriff’s deputy named Cal Luedke was the source of the leak that allowed the TV crew to be at Mount Carmel that day. Yet in the aftermath of the disaster, it was Dan Mulloney—not Witherspoon or Luedke—who became the pariah. Witherspoon has since denied that he ever told Mulloney who his source was. “I deny ever telling Dan Mulloney anything,” he told me. Then he added, “Mulloney is a drunk.”

There’s certainly no denying that fact. After Mulloney left KWTX in 1998, after 15 years at the station, his life began a slow downward spiral. When I interviewed him at his small but tidy garage apartment a few blocks south of downtown Waco last year, he went through several 16-ounce beers in less than an hour. Infected with hepatitis-C due to a blood transfusion he had received several years before, Mulloney’s liver was already damaged. He shouldn’t have touched alcohol, much less worked in a tavern like Charlie’s Corner, where his last job was.

But Mulloney’s pain and desire to soothe his life with drink is a bit easier to understand for those who have seen the entirety of the videotape that he shot on February 28, the day of the disaster for which he has been blamed. There are the familiar images of the ATF agents breaking windows on the second story of the Davidian building and of agents exchanging gunfire with the Davidians. But the more haunting images are of the ATF agents carting off their dead and wounded. The entirety of the footage that Mulloney shot that day—the video of the long, slow retreat of the anguished ATF agents with Mount Carmel in the background—has never been broadcast. In one shot, Mulloney captured four agents dragging the limp, face-down body of one of their dead comrades by his arms. Other wounded agents, grimacing in pain, are being carried away from the battle.

At one point, a pair of ATF agents and a group of deputies from the McClennan County Sherriff’s Office attack Mulloney, and begin slapping him in the face and neck, kicking him, and trying to wrestle the camera away from him. “Get that fucking camera out of here,” one agent yells, while assaulting Mulloney. Mulloney put the camera between his legs and tried to cover his head against the blows. But he kept shooting, kept doing the job he was trained to do.

Mulloney died alone, and that that was undoubtedly how he wanted it. His bellicosity and prickly personality had estranged him from most of his friends and family, including his only sibling, Patricia. His heart had begun giving him trouble earlier this year. On November 19, he went to the hospital and had some of the fluid drained from the area around his heart. He drove home and went to bed. Several days later, his landlady became curious and called the Waco Fire Department. On November 24, firefighters climbed through a window and found his body.

As we sat in his apartment last year, Mulloney sorted through a four-inch-high stack of news clippings on the Davidian disaster. And he repeatedly asked why the ATF never disciplined Sarabyn and Chojnacki for their mistakes. “We’re tired of being the brunt of this,” he told me. “The ATF has had a chance to rebut all of the allegations against us. The problem is they don’t want to admit they made a mistake. I don’t have an axe to grind. I just want the truth to come out.”

Some of the truth about Waco died with Dan Mulloney. He was 52.

Contributing writer Robert Bryce lives in Austin.

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Published at 12:00 am CST