Branch Davidians feel at home

With chickens pecking the front yard and aromas wafting from the kitchen at dinnertime, the Pace household is a lot like other rural families.

Benjamin and Michael Pace, ages 10 and 13 respectively, play baseball in the spring. Michael is a Boy Scout. Their 17-year-old sister, Angie, hates sports, and spends her time singing, or playing guitar, piano or drums.

The Pace boys fish in their pond for bass, shoot pellet guns and enjoy hunting for artifacts. They recently filled two pie tins with spent bullets — after only an hour of excavating.

The family lives at the former site of Mount Carmel, the Branch Davidian compound made famous when a 51-day standoff with authorities ended with the death of its leader, David Koresh, and more than 70 of his followers in 1993.

Charles Pace, a Branch Davidian pastor who prefers to go by his adopted spiritual name of Joshua Solomon Branch, runs the chapel, which was rebuilt a couple of years ago. Three other adults who live at the compound are in charge of a small museum of sorts with books and videos for sale.

Pace first came to Mount Carmel in 1973, after a falling-out with the Catholic Church had brought him close to committing suicide. He had offered God three days to send him a message, and on the third day, a Seventh-day Adventist picked him up as he hitchhiked in British Columbia.

Three years later, he was at Mount Carmel, learning the message of an Adventist offshoot, the Branch Davidians. After living at the site off and on until 1985, Pace left in a disagreement with church leaders, but not before warning members about Koresh, who then called himself Vernon Howell.

Pace returned to Mount Carmel with his family in 1997, with the goal of educating the world on the true Davidian message — and because, to him, the land is sacred and a place where he and his family feel at peace.

"I can't tear them away," he said.

Angie echoed her father's sentiments.

"I love it here," she said.

Charles Pace said the 1993 siege and destruction of Koresh's compound was predicted in the teachings of the Branch Davidian church, which still owns the land. He believes it was a reminder to the world of what happens when a man claims to be the only one who can interpret the word of God.

Today, nearly 12 years later, the Paces go about their lives on the property, although Pace said at times they do feel as if they're "living in a fishbowl."

"We really don't think about it all that much," said his wife, Alexa. But when the boys showed her the bullets they had amassed, she did admit it sometimes made her "sad and mad to think of what happened."

Glancing at the boys' finds from the day's dig, Charles Pace remarked the bullets and other debris were supposed to have been cleaned up years ago.

Although they teach their children at home and try as hard as possible to be self sufficient, the Paces insist they are not reclusive. In addition to extracurricular activities, the family attends classes each Friday with other home-schooled families for subjects their mother cannot teach. Angie takes science, her favorite subject, and Spanish. Michael is enrolled in drama.

Angie asserted she isn't lonely, and cherishes the solitude, sometimes rare with two younger brothers.

"I like the quietness out here," she said. "I can't imagine living in town now. It's really peaceful here."

The Paces don't hide or advertise their religion and home site, instead letting people get to know them first.

"The reason we don't tell anyone is because we would rather befriend them first, so they know what kind of people we are," Charles Pace said. "They usually don't care."