Spokesman On Standoff Home

Ricks Relishes Edmond Comfort After Horror of Waco

By Bobby Ross Jr. | The Edmond Sun 

EDMOND, Okla. — After the 51-day cult standoff near Waco culminated in a hell of human destruction, home beckoned FBI Agent Bob A. Ricks like heaven’s pearly gates.

As Ricks crossed into Edmond city limits late Tuesday, blooming redbud trees and bright green grass contrasted sharply with the angry flames that blazed across the prairie compound the day before.

Lured by a “wholesome environment,” good schools and the chance to practice his favorite pastime nearby, the avid golfer bought an Oak Tree addition home three-and-a-half years ago.

“As I was driving back here (Tuesday night), the first real moment of joy I felt was when I got back to Edmond,” Ricks, 48, said Thursday in an exclusive interview with The SUN.

Home offered a chance to return to life as normal, after an excruciating seven weeks at the Branch Davidian compound. The standoff ended in a shocking Monday inferno that killed as many as 86.

Amid that horror, the colors of spring in Edmond provided Ricks’ first real feeling of relief. And the next afternoon, a round of golf (“I did far, not real good,” he said, smiling) provided him the chance to put Waco behind him, if only for a few hours.

“When I left (Edmond), the trees had not started blooming and the grass had not turned green,” said Ricks, whose return was greeted by his wife of nine years, Janis.

“It’s like all of this occurred overnight … almost like I was in a time warp. But it sure was great to be back home in Edmond.”

For the special agent whose daily press briefings made him a household face, home is a place where he used to enjoy relative anonymity.

That was before he embarked on the special mission Feb. 28 and became a fixture on the nightly network news.

One of four special agents who headed the operation, he handled the majority of daily cult-related information dispensed to the media.

“Ricks’ performance was one for the textbooks,” wrote Fort Worth Star-Telegram television critic Steven Cole Smith in a recent column. “He was calm, unflappable, occasionally funny, though his repeated wry comments about David Koresh’s love for his Chevy Camaro with the 427-cubic-inch engine now seem mean.”

For his part, Ricks said he did not particularly enjoy the media spotlight that surrounded — and continues to surround — him.

But he said he was assigned to do a job, and set out to perform his mission as best he could.

While a blurring throng of media tape recorders and cameras captured his every utterance, the man behind the microphone explained that most of his comments were directed at only one person: Koresh.

“He (Koresh) knew I was speaking to him, and we could get the responses most of the time that we wanted,” he said. “In some cases, I would insult him, demean him, and I could try to drive him back to us to get back on the phone.

“In some cases, where we thought things were rolling along, well, I would try to foster that and get him building on that. We were trying to build in some rationality as to what was his decision-making process.”

But in the end, that proved a futile effort, he said.

After the fire Monday, a noticeably shaken Ricks had to appear before the media one more time to discuss what went wrong. Blaming the carnage on Koresh, he lamented the FBI’s horror and shock over the tremendous loss of life.

“We thought, ‘Oh, my God, they are killing themselves,’” he told the media, as he described agents’ reaction to the fire.

Seventeen children under 10 perished in the inferno that, broadcast live on television, burned a place in America’s psyche.

Ricks said he thought of those children as he watched the building go up in flames.

“I thought about all the things they were never going to see … never going to experience,” he said.

But he said he was in total support — and stands by — the FBI decision to move in with tanks and tear gas to try to end the standoff.

“We did not use lethal force,” he said. “I’m proud of the fact that during that 51-day period, we never fired one round of ammunition even though our agents received hundreds of rounds fired at them on that last day.

“We gave them the opportunity to surrender. You cannot say that you’re responsible for every madman out there that decides to kill himself and all of his followers. … I can’t be responsible for the actions of madmen.”

Before landing him in Oklahoma, Ricks’ nearly 24-year career with the FBI snapped him from California to New Jersey to Washington, D.C., among other destinations.

But in Edmond, the native Texan believes he has found a place to hang his hat — and his golf clubs. Permanently, he hopes.

For Ricks, the road leading to Edmond started in Houston, where he was born in 1944.

The trail passed later, ironically, through Waco, where he pursued his college education at Baylor University in the 1960s. However, he doesn’t think that background influenced his assignment to the compound operation, because the mission was confined to a remote, isolated area.

His childhood memories lie in Del Rio, Texas, a small Mexican-border town 150 miles due west of San Antonio, where Ricks attended all 12 grades.

“It was, I think, one of the best times for growing up,” recalled Ricks, whose family moved to Del Rio when he was 4.

“It was the ’50s, it was the start of rock ‘n’ roll music … the great dances that we had … the great sock hops … people having fun but not at the expense of others. We had no drugs — we didn’t know what drugs were at the time.

“It was a happy, sometimes care-free time.”

At Del Rio High School, Ricks wore the Wildcat colors in football, basketball, baseball and, of course, golf.

Then as now, golf held a special attraction for him.

In fact, he chose to attend Baylor out of a desire to make the golf team as an underclassman. He fetl he had a better chance to compete there than elsewhere — and he proved himself right.

Freshmen weren’t allowed on the team, but he lettered in golf his final three years.

As a senior, he served as the team captain, leading Baylor to the 1966 Southwest Conference championship — a feat, by the way, that the university hasn’t accomplished since.

But Baylor meant than golf to Ricks.

An active member of First Baptist Church in Del Rio, he looked to the Waco school as the top Baptist university in the nation.

He still describes himself as religious, but said he considers his personal beliefs a private matter.

“I don’t try to show publicly that I’m a religious person,” he said.

Along those lines, Ricks made no mention of David Koresh, the self-proclaimed son of God blamed by the FBI for his own death and those of 85 followers.

“Hopefully,” Ricks said, “I live my life as an example and I don’t have to do it by going around proclaiming that I’m a pious, religious person.”

He earned his bachelor’s degree in accounting, then attended Baylor Law School.

There, he found his niche after experiencing some difficulty as an undergraduate in academic subjects that didn’t interest him.

A family friend, who had been the sole FBI agent in Del Rio before a transfer to Waco, nudged Ricks toward the career and convinced him to fill out an application.

He did, ending up signing a three-year employment contract the year he graduated from law school, 1969.

He accepted the post at first, he recalled, because he thought it would look good on a resume if he chose to practice law.

But as his three years came to a close and he deliberated over job offers from several Waco law firms, he opted to stay with the agency.

The FBI got its man.

“What happened was I was having such a great time and got hooked on my work.”

But throughout his career, and despite his wife having worked 11 years with the agency in Washington, Ricks said he has tried to separate his job from his personal life.

That, albeit, is easier said than done, particularly in a week like this.

“In this job, it’s so consuming; you’re so much involved in what you’re doing that if you carried it into your personal life, it would probably eat on you after a while.”

But during the recent standoff, “It’s been real hard because I haven’t been away from it. During the 51 days that I was there, I never left Waco.”

During the debacle, Ricks took only two days off.

He spent one afternoon golfing with a local sheriff, and was able to engage for a few hours at a time in private conversations with his wife.

They talked on the telephone and in person, when she visited Texas for 10 days. Also, he called his children regularly to touch base with them.

Ricks has two children, a 24-year-old son in college and a 21-year-old daughter who, he points out, is contemplating marriage.

But most of his waking hours were spent as part of the FBI effort that tried to negotiate with Koresh at his “Ranch Apocalypse.”

For Ricks, the events in Waco marked just another in a long line of experiences with sociopaths.

Following the mass suicides in Jonestown in the late 1970s, he helped investigate a leak of FBI documents found at the site of hundreds of dead bodies.

His career with the FBI has now spanned close to a quarter-century.

Over that time, he has assumed a number of roles across the country, from chief counsel for the Drug Enforcement Administration to head of the New Jersey Terrorism Task Force.

He was deputy assistant director of the Criminal Investigative Division when he was appointed special agent in charge of the FBI Oklahoma City office in 1989.

After that appointment, he and his wife purchased their home in Oak Tree, the addition near the golf course by the same name.

And now Ricks, who is looking forward to “recharging my battery” after the events of recent weeks, says he wouldn’t want to live anywhere else.

“This is the greatest place in the world to live,” he said of Edmond. “Probably, I’ll live here for at least the rest of my career, and probably the rest of my life.

“I don’t plan to leave.”