30th anniversary of Waco siege: Survivor shares story, talks about life after Branch Davidian compound

David Thibodeau was in the Branch Davidian compound during the 51-day siege that ended in a deadly fire. He joined Town Square with Ernie Manouse to discuss what happened on the inside 30 years ago.


FILE – In this April 19, 1993 file photo, flames engulf the Branch Davidian compound in Waco, Texas. Doomsday cult leader David Koresh’s apocalyptic vision came true when the fire believed set by his followers destroyed their prairie compound as federal agents tried to drive them out with tear gas after a 51-day standoff. As many as 86 members of the Branch Davidian religious sect, including Koresh and 24 children, were thought to have died as the flames raced through the wooden buildings in 30 minutes. Only nine were known to have survived.

Wednesday is the 30th anniversary of the fiery ending of the Branch Davidian siege in Waco, Texas.

David Thibodeau, one of its few survivors, said he really is fine now.

"This was 30 years ago, and there’s been a lot of time to process, a lot of time for therapy," he said.

Thibodeau joined Town Square with Ernie Manouse, where he recounted his time at the Branch Davidian compound in Waco, which ended up in a weeks-long siege against federal and state agents, eventually ending in a deadly fire that killed over 80 people, including children. Thibodeau was one of its survivors.

Thibodeau said he wrote his book, Waco: A Survivor’s Story out of "extreme frustration."

People in the compound were good people, he said, and they had been demonized.


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"And it just seemed like there were so many facts that were being left out, that weren’t being talked about," he said.

The group was led by David Koresh, who Thibodeau said he met, along with Branch Davidian member Steve Schneider, at a Guitar Center in Hollywood.

"I was playing with some bands around town. And I happened to go into Guitar Center one day, and I was looking at one of the electronic drum sets. Two guys for checking it out. They asked me if I’d play it for him, I sat down, I played for about just 15 or 20 seconds, they said, ‘Wow, you’re really good. Are you looking for a band?', I was already in a band, but I didn’t believe in burning any bridges.

"So, I started talking to him and Steve ... they handed me a card and it said, Cyrus Productions on the front, and the back of all this religious scripture. I didn’t know anything about the Bible. I had read it, but it never made any sense to me. And I wasn’t interested in being in a Christian band or anything."

Thibodeau said Schneider told him that he and David had traveled the world talking to various religious leaders, and were trying to learn what the Bible actually means.

"That impressed me if he would have said, just believe in Jesus or the Lord, I probably wouldn’t have listened on. But the fact that they treated it like a study, or at least they claim to treat it like a study that interested me," he said.

FILE: David Thibodeau, a survivor of the Waco, Texas, siege by the FBI, poses in the living room of his West Hollywood, Calif., apartment, March 7, 1997. Thibodeau is currently a Los Angeles-based rock musician.

Thibodeau said what drew him to Koresh was how he viewed the Bible; literally.

"He said once in a study, ‘When I view the Bible,' and he held the Bible up to his forehead, he said, ‘I see it from Genesis to Revelation, panoramically as if it’s happening before me.' And I thought that was a ridiculous statement to make. But then just over the course of a few days of him giving these 10 studies, I said to myself, ‘He really does see the Bible in pictures. And he understand that better than any person I’ve ever known in my life.' And furthermore, for the first time, it made sense to me. He was able to make the Bible make sense."

Thibodeau said initially he joined Koresh and Schneider because of the music, but while he was there, he began to befriend people. He doesn't classify as Branch Davidian now, he said. And he is wary of radical religion and political beliefs.

The 51 day siege at Mt. Carmel

Thibodeau claims Koresh was a reasonable man, and he had invited law enforcement to see what they had in the compound, and what weapons he was in possession of.

Thibodeaux said things became tense at times during the siege, and one reason, he said, was because of a breakdown in communication.

"You can’t have someone promise you one thing, and then have another decision maker come in and do the exact opposite," he said. "When the FBI said they wouldn’t move tanks onto the property, literally, right after telling us that the tanks are destroying sheds at the edge of the property. We’re like, ‘What are you guys doing?'"

Thibodeaux also recalled ways they would try to draw them out of the compound, including playing loud music at night and having a light show in efforts to sleep deprive them. They also played loud beeping sounds in the phones.

"And it never made any sense to me. It’s like, okay, you have a bunch of people in a building that you’re saying are radical that you’re saying are religious fanatics. And what you’re trying to make them crazier? ... It seemed very contradictory."

Thibodeau said throughout the 51 days, things weren't exactly normal, but people were just grateful to be alive another day. He also felt that everything could be resolved, until April 19.

"When I lost hope was when the tanks were coming in breaking into the house, moving the doors back, putting the CS (tear) gas in," he said. "While I was in the chapel area, I can’t speak for what happened in the back or the gymnasium area where they were crushing the building to the ground or, in the cafeteria. But I knew in my area nobody shot at the tanks, not one person I didn’t hear one shot in my area."

In previous interviews, Thibodeau said he had resolved that he would be either shot to death or burned to death, and he decided to walk out because he would rather be shot to death.

"The smoke was already starting to come in and people were thinking, ‘Should we go out, should we not go out?' ... I look over and Wayne Martin is leaning against the wall next to me and I start to see the smoke coming around him and he takes his gas mask off. He just kind of leans against the wall and he slides down onto his feet. And as soon as he slid down, the smoke covered him and I couldn’t see him anymore. ... I saw some of the other guys go out. ... The wall caught fire next to me and I could feel the side of my hair singeing and crackling. And you know, that was it, it was I had a second to get out or to burn."

Thibodeau said after the siege, much of his frustration came from the "disappearance" of evidence that he said was important to the case, and being accused of lying when giving his testimony of what happened.

"I wrote a very honest book about it was very hard to write because I had to face a lot of truths about David that were very hard for me to face," he told Ernie. "When I told my truth, the book and I think it rings true ... today. But I don’t care what they say. I know what I heard. I know what I saw, I know what I felt while going through that experience. And I’m not gonna let anyone take that away from me."