The tragic siege in Waco, TX, in 1993 portrayed in the limited series Waco, now on Netflix in the US, is a real and heartbreaking story that lasted for 51 days. When the FBI and the ATF (Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives) descended on David Koresh's compound in rural Waco, they pressured the religious sect to surrender for almost two months before the entire event ended in tragedy.
Koresh was leading a religious group known as the Branch Davidians, and they all lived in the compound that would later be destroyed. When RTF got wind of a large collection of firearms on the property, they came to execute a search warrant, but what happened next was a standoff among both sides. Vox points out that it's still unclear to this day who fired first in the start of this siege — the Branch Davidians claiming the RTF came in guns blazing and the RTF saying the same of the Branch Davidians.
In their quest to seize the firearms and get the children out of the house, the RTF and later the FBI spent weeks negotiating with Koresh and others. Over the course of 51 days, the authorities bargained with the Branch Davidians, even sending in milk that they requested but bugged with listening devices.
The authorities escalated their tactics as they got closer to the 51-day mark and started blaring all kinds of music at the compound, as well as bright lights, to try to prevent the Branch Davidians from getting any sleep and driving them to come out of the house and give in. And while some of the members of the sect did leave the house during the 51-day standoff, not all of them did.
On April 19, 1993, day 51, the FBI pumped the house with tear gas. The highly flammable gas caught fire and ripped through the house, killing 76 of the remaining Branch Davidians inside, including Koresh himself. To this day, it remains up for debate how the fire itself started — the FBI insisting they didn't use any incendiary devices and the surviving Branch Davidians claiming they never had a suicide pact. However, audio from the bugged milk jugs suggest the Branch Davidians did set fires inside the house.
Much of what actually happened inside the walls of Koresh's compound in Waco in 1993 will remain a mystery, as so many members of his cult died that day. Though some of the survivors, including David Thibodeau, have told their stories, many accounts conflict. What we do know, though, is the compound was under siege for 51 days and resulted in a terrible tragedy that won't soon be forgotten.