It was eight years ago Thursday - April 19, 1993 - that flames 75 feet high roared through the rickety, wooden Branch Davidian compound on the Double E Ranch Road just east of Waco. Among those who died with cult leader David Koresh were Sheila's husband, David, and four of the family's six children.
"When I see those flames I can feel the heat on my back," said Martin, who along with several of Koresh's surviving followers still live near the site of their Mount Carmel compound. "I wonder where my family was when those flames spread. I wonder ... did they think of me? Did they call out my name?"
The FBI armored assault on the Branch Davidian compound eight years ago remains one of the most controversial events of recent American history. Timothy McVeigh cited the Mount Carmel assault, which ended a 51-day standoff with federal authorities, as the reason he bombed the Murrah federal building in Oklahoma City two years to the day later, killing 168 people.
But for Martin and other survivors, it's personal pain and not public controversy that motivates them.
"It doesn't seem like eight years," she says. "I can still feel the flame on their backs. I can still imagine the shock in their faces and the pain on their backs.
"That hasn't eased in eight years. I think about their smiles, and their lives, and what they were like, and what it was like to live with them. It seems just like it was yesterday."
Martin and two of her children survived the fire.
Many survivors of the Branch Davidian drama haven't lost their faith in Koresh.
"We're waiting for David to come back and hoping that he will come back very soon," Catherine Matteson said confidently. "He's going to be resurrected, and when he is, you're going to really see things pop."
Matteson was briefly jailed after leaving the compound during the standoff.
The remaining Branch Davidians have a brief memorial service every year on April 19 near the Mount Carmel site, which federal agents quickly bulldozed after the fire. Many remain convinced that the entire episode was an attempt by government officials to kill them.
"I'm not surprised" the FBI stormed the compound, Matteson said. "Because that same thing has happened many times before, mainly to people who follow the Scriptures."
The survivors and several relatives of those who died lost a claim last year against the federal government and a special commission led by former Sen. John Danforth, R-Mo., ruled that the FBI and other agencies involved were not responsible for the fire.
The only government official to face criminal charges in the episode, ironically, was former Assistant U.S. Attorney Bill Johnston, one of the prosecutors in the 1994 trial of 11 of Koresh's followers. He pleaded guilty to misprison of a felony, after he allegedly "misled" a federal grand jury about the FBI's use of tear gas canisters in the siege.
But on days such as Thursday, none of that matters to Sheila Martin.
"I watch the video of that building burning, and when that big explosion comes, I wonder, were my children blown to bits? I can't just think about the deaths, I think about what condition they were in when they died. Sometimes, I can't forget it."
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