The story of the Bangor native who survived the siege and assault on the Branch Davidian compound in Waco, Texas in April 1993 will be told in a new six-episode miniseries, “Waco,” that premieres tonight.
The miniseries is based in part on David Thibodeau’s 1999 book, “Waco: A Survivor’s Story,” which recounts his experience living with the Branch Davidians for about 18 months in his early 20s, and the years immediately following the raid by federal authorities on their compound.
“Writing the book was my therapy,” said Thibodeau, 48, who lost his wife, Michele, and daughter, Serenity, in the raid by federal authorities. “I had to tell the story.”
“Waco” series creator John Dowdle called Thibodeau four years ago and arranged to come to Bangor to meet him. Thibodeau has long been skeptical of people that wanted to tell his story and the larger Waco story. But Dowdle’s pitch was different.
“If people wanted to sensationalize the story, I didn’t want any part of it,” said Thibodeau, who was one of only nine survivors. “But with John, I realized quickly that we liked a lot of the same things, a lot of the same books. We had a similar way of looking at the world. We both wanted the deeper story.”
The Branch Davidians, formed in 1955, are a breakaway sect from Seventh-Day Adventist church. A 51-day siege between February and April 1993 by the FBI and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms ended when authorities finally mounted an assault on the compound. The group, which was headquartered at the New Mount Carmel Center, a compound just outside of Waco, was suspected of a slew of weapons violations.
Seventy-six people died in the raid, including Branch Davidian leader David Koresh, who had been suspected of sexual abuse of minors. Federal authorities maintain that the Branch Davidians set the fires themselves, assertions that have been widely disputed by a number of books, documentaries and other media reports.
Thibodeau, a lifelong drummer, met Koresh while playing music in Los Angeles, where he moved after graduating from Bangor High School in 1987. As Thibodeau writes in his book, the two bonded over a shared love of music and guns, as well as their similar backgrounds — both were abused by family members while they were children, and both were fascinated by the Bible. He lived at the Branch Davidian compound for about 18 months while in his early 20s. He returned to Maine after the raid, and has lived in the Bangor area since 2003.
Thibodeau agreed to sell the rights to his book, and was a paid consultant on the development of the series throughout production. He was on set for all three months of shooting in Santa Fe, New Mexico. He even met Gary Noesner, the FBI’s lead hostage negotiator during the siege, in person for the first time while on set; Noesner also was a consultant for the series.
“It was a very profound and sobering experience, being on set. It was just like being back there. They recreated the room where I used to play music with David,” said Thibodeau. “Karen, the costume designer, had a picture of every person that was there. I spent five minutes with each photo, remembering them. Because this isn’t a story about me. It’s about these individuals that had their voices silenced.”
In the miniseries, David Koresh is played by Taylor Kitsch, FBI negotiator Gary Noesner is played by Michael Shannon, Koresh’s wife, Rachel is played by Melissa Benoist (TV’s “Supergirl”), ATF agent Robert Rodriguez is played by John Leguizamo, and Thibodeau is played by Rory Culkin.
Thibodeau said that Dowdle and the crew that produced “Waco” did, in his opinion, the best job thus far of telling the story.
“This is the first time that all sides of the story have been told,” said Thibodeau. “I really felt like it captured everything.”
These days, Thibodeau lives a relatively quiet life in Maine — quiet during the days, anyway. By night he’s the drummer for local rock band the Blast Addicts, who perform regularly in bars and clubs throughout eastern Maine, including at the Eagles Club in Brewer in Feb. 17. Drumming has always been an emotional outlet for Thibodeau, but it became an even more important part of his life in the years after Waco.
“I had a lot of rage inside me. A lot of unchecked anger,” said Thibodeau. “Now I just hit the hell out of drums instead of raising my voice. That helps a lot.”
Thibodeau is pleased that the Waco story will be heard by a new generation of people, thanks to the new miniseries.
“I’ve talked to a lot of young people through this process of making this, and they come to it with a fresh mind that isn’t hampered by the way Waco was covered back then,” said Thibodeau. “It’s been really great to be able to help tell the story the right way.”
“Waco” airs for six consecutive weeks on the Paramount Network (formerly Spike) at 10 p.m. on Wednesdays beginning Jan. 24.
This story appears though a media sharing agreement with Bangor Daily News.