David Thibodeau Now: Real Story of the Waco Survivor

david thibodeau now

Getty Rory Culkin and the real David Thibodeau now.

David Thibodeau was one of nine survivors who escaped the blaze that destroyed the Waco, Texas compound Mount Carmel, taking the lives of Branch Davidian leader David Koresh and dozens of his followers. (Warning: There will be some spoilers for the Netflix series Waco in this article inasmuch as it follows real people and events.)

The Netflix series Waco, which chronicles the extreme government actions against the group, prominently features Thibodeau as a character (played by Rory Culkin). He’s shown in the series, which earlier ran on Paramount television, as a drummer who is lured by Koresh to join his band and then to move into Mount Carmel, the sprawling complex in Waco, Texas where the group was living. In the series, Thibodeau jumps to safety out of the burning complex. He’s also shown marrying Koresh’s “wife,” Michele Jones, to protect the Davidian leader from claims that he had sex with Michele when she was underage. At Mount Carmel, men aren’t allowed to have sexual relations with their own wives. Only Koresh gets to do that. Michele and her daughter Serenity perish in the blaze.

In real life, dozens of women, men, and children ended up dying when fires erupted after federal officials used tanks and a chemical agent against the compound. The federal actions were harshly criticized, including in a Congressional report.

However, was David Thibodeau a real person? Where is he today? How closely did the show stick to the real story of his life? Pretty close, as it turns out. Thibodeau was living in Maine in recent years and has spoken out about his recollections of Waco and David Koresh.

Here’s what you need to know:

The Real David Thibodeau Met David Koresh at a Guitar Center & Wasn’t a Branch Davidian Member

david thibodeau

Branch Davidian David Thibodeau of ‘Waco’ speaks onstage during the Paramount Network portion of the 2018 Winter TCA on January 15, 2018 in Pasadena, California.

David Thibodeau was a real person. In the show, Koresh is shown enticing him to live at the compound after asking him to drum a set with his band.

According to the Dallas Observer, the real Thibodeau did meet Koresh through mutual interest in music. He did move into the compound, and he did escape from it. The Netflix series was based in part on his book, Waco: A Survivor’s Story. It’s true that he was one of only nine people to escape the blaze.

The Smithsonian reports that Thibodeau met Koresh in real life at a guitar center. Thibodeau doesn’t believe the Branch Davidians started the fire, according to that site.

In real life, according to a Congressional report on the deaths, Thibodeau “lived at the Branch Davidian residence but did not consider himself to be a member of the Branch Davidian religious community.” The report indicates that he did testify before Congress, as is shown in the series.

“I just want the people inside to be humanized,” said Thibodeau, according to the Smithsonian. “They died for what they believed in, whether you believe that or not. To me, they’re martyrs, and they shouldn’t just be demonized and hated.”

Thibodeau Really Was Asked to Marry Michele Jones & She Really Died in the Blaze

michele Jones

The real Michele Jones.

In 1999, the Austin Chronicle described Thibodeau as “an endearing, slightly goofy man of average size with sharp blue eyes and floppy brown hair.” He was living in Austin, Texas, then, and was working “as an account executive for a direct marketing firm that caters to high-tech companies.”

Here’s a picture of the real Thibodeau as a young man; he’s the man with longer hair.

David thibodeau

Branch Davidian cult members Jaime Castillo (L) and David Thibodeau (C) are led from the federal court building after their arraignment 20 April 1993 in Waco, TX. The men were two of only nine members of the cult to survive the blaze that destroyed the Branch Davidian compound 19 April.

What of the sham marriage to Koresh’s “wife” Michele? Is that true?

In his book he wrote, “By April 1993, David had had sexual relations with a total of 15 women — and had fathered 17 children with 11 of them.”

Indeed, wrote Thibodeau, Koresh had sexual relations with Michele Jones, who was the sister of his first wife Rachel, and claimed he did so as the result of a vision. Rachel agreed when she had a dream about it.

Rachel Jones Koresh

Michele was 12 years old at the time and had Koresh’s child Serenity two years later. Altogether, though, the real Michele had three children by Koresh. Koresh did ask Thibodeau to marry Michele, which he did without ceremony. Even though the marriage was in name only, it meant something to Thibodeau, who said, according to the Austin Chronicle, “Somehow, being a husband, even in name only, settled me.”

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Michele and her children did die in the fire, as did Rachel.

Thibodeau Says He Was ‘Just a Dreamer Looking for Answers in a Place Called Waco’

You can find Thibodeau’s book here. In it, he describes how he lost 30 pounds in the siege, surviving on pre-packaged food rations and living in conditions with no heat or electricity. In the book, he called 4-year-old Serenity his “little stepdaughter” and described how they became “good pals.”

He described himself as a rock drummer from Bangor, Maine who was not a “religious fanatic.”

He was “just a dreamer looking for answers in a place called Waco.” Thibodeau described Koresh as radiating a “quiet kind of sincerity and strength.” Indeed, as the Netflix series shows, Thibodeau says in his book that his mother was living in a Waco hotel, worried about him during the siege.

He described Michele as quiet, reserved, and not flirtatious. He said he wasn’t “much attracted to her” because she didn’t put out flirtatious signals that he was used to in the outside world.

One eagle-eyed Reddit user claimed Thibodeau makes a brief cameo in the Netflix series. See that photo here.

The 2018 Observer article says that today Thibodeau “says he still has deep faith but doesn’t belong to a church.” He visits Waco survivors and attends reunions. “I really thought the FBI was going to kill me [once I left the building], but at that point, I thought it was better to die by a bullet to the head than to die by burning to death, he told The Observer.

READ NEXT: The Real Story of Waco.

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