30 years later: Smith County sheriff recalls working for ATF during Waco siege

“The first thing I saw (in tv coverage) was a friend of mine that was on the roof get shot at the compound.”
30 years later: Smith County sheriff recalls working for ATF during Waco siege
Published: Apr. 19, 2023 at 6:09 PM CDT|Updated: Apr. 19, 2023 at 7:06 PM CDT
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TYLER, Texas (KLTV) - Wednesday marks 30 years since the end of the Waco siege. The seven-week standoff between law enforcement and the Branch Davidians ended with the compound going up in flames.

At the time, Smith County Sheriff Larry Smith worked for the ATF. He remembers watching the initial shootout on television before being told he was needed at the compound.

“I actually walked in from church, I had my son in my hands, and I turned the TV on,” Smith said. “The first thing I saw was a friend of mine that was on the roof get shot at the compound.”

Almost simultaneously, Smith was called and told to get to Waco as fast as he could. Once there, the ATF was looking for people to operate armored Bradley tanks.

“Being raised on a farm and everything, I just got in there and started operating it. So, they picked me and a friend of mine from Dallas office that operated the two Bradleys.”

Among Smith’s assignments: recovering evidence following the initial shootout, including the body of a Branch Davidian.

Throughout the siege, David Koresh released several children, some of which Smith took to the emergency room.

“One of them had the same first name as my son,” Smith remembered. “You could tell he was accustomed to not trusting people in uniform because he was real standoffish with me. And you know how long you have to stay in an emergency room to get treatment. I was in there for several hours. And toward the end, I kept trying to talk to him, and he finally kind of broke through his shell and was able to talk a little bit.”

Back at his East Texas home, Smith’s own children went weeks without seeing their father. But he did manage to make two brief overnight trips back home with a pager at his side.

“My children were real small and I didn’t wake them up, but I did get to see them,” Smith said. “But my wife would wash my clothes and in the middle of the night and I’d go back to Waco. And I was there ready to go to work the next morning.”

The day of the standoff’s fiery end, Smith was close enough to feel the heat of the flames. He remembers seeing a large amount of melted ammunition once the fire was out and said the brass was high enough to reach his waist.

During the standoff, Smith remembers seeing a man alongside the road leading to the compound: Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh, who would commit his heinous crime on this day in 1995.

“After the Oklahoma City bombing and after his arrest, I saw his picture and I said, ‘that’s the same guy that was there that day,’ and sure enough it was him.

The ATF would end up assigning Smith to also help with the investigation into Timothy McVeigh.