The Cokeville Miracle

The Cokeville Miracle

Jun 25





The Cokeville Miracle Movie Website
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• The Cokeville Miracle Movie on YouTube



By Sharon Haddock
Deseret News
Friday, March 13, 2015

Original Link

The children taken hostage by a couple in a small classroom in Cokeville, Wyoming, nearly 30 years ago still jump at loud noises and worry at the smell of smoke.

Katie Walker was 7 and in the first grade that day — the day she says her deceased grandmother (whom she’d never met) came to help her get out of the burning classroom after a bomb exploded.

“I live with daily triggers,” said Walker after the LDS Film Festival screening of filmmaker T.C. Christensen’s “The Cokeville Miracle” on March 7. “A lot of it our brains didn’t process then because we were so young. It’s taken years to sort through it.

“It taught us at a very young age that the Lord answers our prayers and it helped create a pretty unique bond in our town. We were not alone.”

Lori Nate Conger, who was 11 at the time, said the incident at Cokeville Elementary on May 16, 1986, was a terrifying experience.

It began when a man and his wife, David and Doris Young, walked into the elementary school in the tiny town of Cokeville with a homemade bomb and a battery of guns. After everyone was gathered in one room, the bomb was prematurely detonated — but miraculously, only the couple were killed.

“I firmly believe this is a story that needs to be told,” Conger said on a night when the 700-seat theater at the SCERA Center for the Arts was filled.

Kam Wixom was 12 at the time of the incident and in the sixth grade. He was bold enough at the time to ask questions of David and Doris Young. “Why are you doing this? How long do we have to stay here?”

Wixom said he now realizes the audacity of his behavior, but wasn’t scared at the time.

“It was calming,” he said. “I felt a presence.”

The survivors agreed that the anxious hours spent in that elementary school classroom bonded them as a town and as friends in a unique way.

Walker said Christensen was unusually sensitive to the survivors’ needs and desire for the story to be told right. Christensen even arranged a private screening for Cokeville residents.

“We didn’t want a lot of focus on the insanity and the physical damage but more on the spiritual impact,” Walker said. “He’s done a very good job with our story.”

Wixom said the release of the film is a triumph and provides closure for the people of Cokeville. “This feels right,” he said.

The children in the film deal with the frightening changes as children do. Some have inappropriate questions they just put out there. Some innocently correct and censure David Young (played by Nathan Stevens), who threatens to shoot them and blow them up but who also wants them to have access to the bathroom.

Meanwhile, the adults have issues going on in their own lives about God and faith. In one family, the father can’t reconcile what he sees every day as a police officer with a loving God.

There are surprises and miracles that keep the children and teachers herded into Classroom 4 alive. In addition to the prayers and protection from heavenly beings, there are numerous coincidences that help save lives.

One father, Ron Hartley (played by Jasen Wade), sincerely doubts his wife’s faith. Even after his son tells him about “light-bulb people” standing guard in the classroom, he can’t accept it wholesale.

He has to wrestle it to the ground.

This is a story stranger than fiction. It’s tough to understand people who could do this kind of horrific thing to little children and innocent people. It’s almost easier to understand the protection offered by angels — angels summoned by the prayers said around the room by the kids, by the high school students and by those in the TV audience around the world.

Christensen acknowledges in the credits that not all tragedies are resolved miraculously and that “we don’t know why.”

But the Hartley family mantra goes, “It’s too much of a coincidence to be a coincidence.”

“The Cokeville Miracle,” which is not yet rated and has a running time of 93 minutes, is scheduled for limited release June 5.


Wikipedia on the Cokeville Elementary School Hostage Crisis





By Jessica Clark
Wyoming History

Original Link

May 16, 1986, will never be forgotten by the residents of Cokeville, Wyo. On that Friday afternoon in their quiet, rural town, a deranged couple entered the community’s elementary school, took those inside hostage and detonated a bomb in a first grade classroom.

At that time, about 500 people lived in Cokeville, and there were slightly more than 100 students attending the elementary school. Located in Lincoln County and nestled between the towns of Star Valley and Kemmerer on the Wyoming-Idaho border, Cokeville, many residents believed, was a safe place to rear children.

“[T]rust is big here … youngsters grow up knowing they can turn to many other members of the community with confidence,” write Hartt and Judene Wixom in Trial by Terror: The Child-hostage Crisis in Cokeville, Wyoming. The first chapter is titled “A Town of Trust.”

Thus, when David and Doris Young entered the town’s only elementary school with an arsenal of weapons and a gasoline bomb in a grocery cart, no one saw it coming. David Young’s journals and writings reveal that he was a troubled man who spent many years grappling with deep philosophical questions — about man’s existence, the afterlife and spirituality.

Educated at Chadron State College in Nebraska, he had earned a degree in criminal justice, and was hired as Cokeville’s town marshal in the 1970s. He was dismissed, however, from this position shortly after his six-month probationary period. Young met his second wife, Doris Waters, while in Cokeville. She was a divorcée who earned money working as a waitress and singer in a local bar. Shortly after their wedding, David and Doris left Cokeville and headed to Tucson, Ariz.

During their time in Tucson, according to Doris’ daughter Bernie Petersen, David became increasingly reclusive, focusing on his philosophical readings and writings. While he was writing his philosophy, Zero Equals Infinity, Doris took part-time jobs including housekeeping and waitressing to support their meager lifestyle. They lived in a mobile home with Princess, David’s youngest daughter from his first marriage. He was the father of two, but was estranged from his elder daughter.

It was in their Tucson home that David came up with what he considered “the Biggie,” a plan to get rich quick and create a “Brave New World.” This plan involved David’s longtime friends, Gerald Deppe and Doyle Mendenhall, who believed by investing in David’s scheme they would get rich. But David refused to reveal his plans entirely until moments before they unfolded.

David’s friends did not know that “the Biggie” was a plan to take over Cokeville Elementary School, hold each of the children hostage for $2 million dollars apiece and then detonate the bomb, transporting the money and children to his “Brave New World,” where he would be God. While David and Doris Young were not involved in an organized religion, both were deeply spiritual. They believed in reincarnation, which probably led, in part, to the creation of David’s “Brave New World” idea. David’s writings reveal that he hoped life would be better for him and Cokeville’s children in this imaginary place.

When Deppe and Mendenhall finally got wind of his plans moments before the hostage crisis unfolded, they refused to participate. David, who dared not risk their reporting him to the authorities, responded by holding them at gunpoint. He instructed Doris and Princess, by now a young adult, to handcuff them inside his van.

David, Doris and Princess proceeded to the elementary school and entered the building shortly after 1 p.m. that Friday. David had the makeshift bomb attached to his body and housed inside a grocery cart, while Doris and Princess carried an arsenal of rifles, handguns and ammunition, as well as the Zero Equals Infinity handouts.

But shortly after entering the school, Princess decided to rebel. She fled the building and drove the Youngs’ van — with Deppe and Mendenhall still inside — to the town hall, where she reported her father’s plan. Because they refused to participate, Princess, Deppe, and Mendenhall were never charged in relation to this crime.

In the meantime, David and Doris Young gathered children, teachers, staff and visitors in the elementary school into one central location. They attempted to crowd 154 people into one of the two first grade classrooms, a room with a total capacity of 30 students and a teacher. David set himself near the center of the room with the grocery cart bomb nearby, as Doris went from room to room rounding up people.

According to survivor accounts, Doris enticed many into the first grade room by announcing that their presence was required for a school assembly. Of course, most children were elated by the prospects of an assembly. Upon entering the classroom, children saw an arsenal of weapons, a grocery cart and an unfamiliar man — David Young. Some of them believed the assembly was about weapons; others began realizing something was seriously wrong.

Once all the hostages were contained in the first grade classroom, David Young informed them that they were leading a revolution and distributed copies of his philosophy Zero Equals Infinity to everyone present. Just before implementing “the Biggie,” David Young had also sent a copy of the document to President Ronald Reagan, the president of Chadron State College and numerous media outlets. Cokeville Elementary School teachers and staff tried to keep kindergarteners through sixth graders calm and entertained. In the tiny classroom, they watched movies, played games, prayed. And, then, shortly after 4 p.m., the bomb exploded.

Witnesses later testified that just before the explosion David Young had connected the explosive to his wife. Then he went to the restroom, which was attached to the classroom. Doris accidently triggered the bomb by motioning to her hostages with her arms. The explosion engulfed her in flames and burned many nearby children.

Chaos ensued. David emerged from the bathroom to find his wife in excruciating pain. He shot and killed her. Students, teachers, staff and visitors frantically exited the building, with teachers helping many of the children escape through the windows. David saw John Miller, the music teacher, trying to escape and shot him in the back. David returned to the restroom and killed himself, ending the hostage crisis. The only two fatalities were David and Doris Young. Everyone else survived, including the injured John Miller.

Reporters from all the regional news outlets were on the scene by the time of the explosion or shortly thereafter. In addition, national reporters began arriving within hours of the explosion. Students, teachers, visitors, staff who survived the ordeal and bystanders began recounting their memories of this event as it was still unfolding.

Following the explosion, 79 children were taken to area hospitals, most of which were located more than an hour’s drive from Cokeville, for treatment for burns and smoke inhalation. Survivors shared their stories with each other, investigators, family members, and hospital personnel. In the days and weeks immediately after this event, most accounts focused on the horrors of the day.

As time progressed, however, a different story emerged in this highly religious and largely Mormon community. It became a story of a miracle rather than a tragedy. Oral histories, memoirs and drawings began to reveal a narrative of fortune rather than misfortune. Survivors began to tell their stories through a spiritual lens. They increasingly spoke about their memories in public with professional psychologists, church officials and community counselors.

Many recalled praying silently, forming prayer circles and seeing angels during the crisis. This narrative was perpetuated in many publications and productions. For instance, The Cokeville Miracle Foundation’s 2005 book Witness to Miracles: Remembering the Cokeville Elementary School Bombing and the Wyoming State Archives oral history project called “Survivor is My Name” both focused on the reconstructing of this narrative as a miracle instead of a tragedy.

Kameron Wixom, son of Hartt and Judene Wixom, writes a “childlike faith saved us.” In his contribution to the Witness to Miracles book, Kameron writes: “I didn’t have to see angels, hear them, or even think that their presence might be required that day. I did not have to imagine how God would move … that day when I said my little prayer just hours before, I simply knew he would. He did deliver our salvation that day. That much I know. I’m living proof.”


Angels in the Classroom
BeliefNet – Angels on Earth

Original Link

Ron Hartley

In the spring of 1986, I was a sheriff’s investigator for the Lincoln County Sheriff’s Office in Cokeville, a little ranching town nestled in the craggy mountains of western Wyoming. On May 16, at approximately 1:30 p.m., a man with a bomb — a warped criminal genius named David Gary Young — seized the Cokeville Elementary School and threatened mass murder if his bizarre demands were not met. Among those he held hostage were my four children, including my six-year-old son, Nathan.

Nathan Hartley

After lunch, strange things began to happen at school. All of us kids and the teachers were herded into Mrs. Mitchell’s first-grade classroom. Somebody said something about a safety demonstration and a big surprise. I thought, Cool, no more class today!
Then I saw him — a raggedy man with wild eyes and a gun. He had shaggy hair and a red beard. A plain-looking woman was with him. She acted as his helper. The man growled orders at us. There were a whole bunch of rifles and guns lined up under the blackboard at the front of the room. The man threatened to shoot anyone who gave him trouble. Pretty soon everyone was jammed shoulder to shoulder in the room. It was stuffy and there was a strong smell of gasoline in the air.

What was really frightening, though, was a shopping cart he had — the kind you use at the supermarket. It was full of wires and metal and was attached to him by a string. Notebooks were strewn across the floor. When he and the woman finished piling up the notebooks, the man waved his gun and shouted at us, “I am a revolutionary! I am the most wanted man in the country!”


David Gary Young was no stranger to Cokeville. Some years earlier he had been appointed town marshal. Soon, however, it became disturbingly clear that he fancied himself another Wyatt Earp. He swaggered around town, recklessly twirling a pair of loaded side arms. He was given to irrational outbursts. In a matter of months his erratic behavior got him summarily dismissed. When he married a local woman, a would-be café singer named Doris Luff, and roared off on his motorcycle, the townspeople thought they’d seen the last of him. Now he was back.

The shopping cart was filled with deadly explosives. Young had attached the bomb’s trigger mechanism to his wrist with a short length of twine. If anything happened to David Gary Young, the whole school would be blown sky-high with him.

Eventually, Young sent out his demands to the police officers who had surrounded the school. He wanted $300 million in ransom for the 167 hostages he held — students, teachers, school workers, and a UPS driver, nearly a quarter of Cokeville’s population. He also wanted a personal phone call from the president of the United States.


Some of the kids started crying after the man with the red beard said he was the most wanted man in the country. Some of us started to pray quietly. I don’t know why but I wasn’t that scared. I knew it was a very dangerous situation, but I didn’t think about being hurt. But the smell of gasoline! The fumes were overpowering. Some of the kids started getting sick. The man wouldn’t let anyone leave the room so the kids threw up in wastebaskets. Then he ordered the windows opened

The woman who was with him did everything he said. Her name was Doris. The funny thing was she seemed pretty nice. She walked around talking to us, and even got us interested in playing games. She said, “Think of this as an adventure, something you can tell your own kids and grandkids about.” The sort of calmed the tension, and some of the kids and teachers started singing “Happy Birthday” to my best friend, Jeremiah Moore, who turned seven that day. Still there was something scary about the woman.

After an hour or so, a lot of the kids were getting fidgety and some of the real young ones started to edge around the man with the shopping cart. This made him even angrier. Finally he asked a teacher to take some masking tape and mark off a square around him on the floor. “Cross this line of death,” he warned, “and I’ll start shooting the grown-ups. I’ll shoot everyone if I have to!”

Another hour passed with all of us crammed into Mrs. Mitchell’s classroom. The man was acting more and more nervous, like he might explode. Sweat dripped down from his face and his eyes got wild. Then he carefully transferred the string from his wrist to the woman’s and headed toward the bathroom. “I’ll be right back,” he muttered.


Negotiations dragged on. Clearly, Young knew there was no way his demands could be met and had intended all along on using his shopping-cart bomb. He had combined one jug of gasoline with loose ammunition, powerful blasting caps, flour and aluminum powder. The string attached to his wrist led to a spring-loaded clothespin. If Young pulled the string, the clothespin would snap shut, triggering a battery-operated detonator.

The initial explosion would launch the flour and aluminum powder into the air, igniting the gasoline and triggering a second explosion. In the middle of this deadly hell, hundreds of rounds of ammunition packed into the shopping cart would be set off, sending shrapnel flying in all directions. Admittedly, it was a fiendishly ingenious design, a bomb constructed to inflict maximum terror and bloodshed. But the bomb was as unstable as its maker.


I was sitting in the classroom playing with a toy when something made me look up. That’s when I saw the angels. They were shiny, with flowing white robes. Some were holding hands. They glided down through the ceiling, then hung in the air for a second. I felt totally safe. Everyone seemed to have an angel. They came down next to us. My angel was a beautiful shining woman. It was almost as if she landed on my shoulder. She said, “Don’t be scared, Nathan. Get up and go to the window. The bomb is about to go off.” I did just what she said. Other children started doing the same thing. Just then something startled the lady at the front of the classroom. She whirled around.

There was a horrible explosion. Everything turned black. People screamed. Something went off, sounding like a giant string of firecrackers exploding. There were flashes of light and a whirring filled the room. Somebody pulled me down; it was my sister. A teacher helped me crawl through the window. Another teacher caught me and put me on the ground and told me to run away as fast as I could. A crowd of police and others had gathered and I raced across the playground and found my mother.


On the morning of the fateful day in Cokeville, I had been out of town on assignment. I returned in the afternoon, unaware of the terror unfolding at my children’s school. But as I entered the town I knew something was wrong. My stomach twisted. Cars were backed up and a civil defense worker was directing traffic. I asked what was wrong.

“A bomb went off at the elementary school twenty minutes ago,” she said. In panic and shock I sped to the school. Smoke thickened the air. Everywhere people were weeping. I pushed my way through the throng of cops, townspeople and media folk, looking for my wife, Claudia, and our four children. The local sheriff saw me and told me the kids were fine, but that Claudia had taken them to the hospital to be checked out.

Of the 167 hostages — 150 children and 17 adults — quite a few had burns and cuts; Nathan was one of them. Miraculously, none of them had been killed. The same could not be said for David Gary Young and his wife. Both had perished. When the bomb went off, Young had charged from the bathroom, wielding a .45 caliber pistol and a .22 caliber pistol. He fired the .22 at a teacher, John Miller, wounding him in the shoulder. He then raced to the burning classroom, where he found Doris engulfed in flames. Pitifully, she staggered toward him, arms outstretched. Young raised the .45 and fired, killing her. He then went back into the bathroom, pressed the muzzle under his chin and pulled the trigger.

For months I examined the evidence and Young’s numerous diaries — the notebooks he had stacked in the classroom. They told the ghastly story of his madness. After blowing up the school, he believed Doris, the children and he would be reincarnated into a new world where he would lead his charges in paradise.

When my investigation was finally over and all the parts of the awful puzzle had been found, I couldn’t help feeling that a few pieces didn’t fit. For instance, how could so much ammunition go off in a packed room without fatally injuring anyone? Furthermore, the second explosion could have killed everyone instantly. Yet the bomb didn’t explode as intended, even though Young, a man with a high IQ, had rigged it with several blasting caps. We found that one of the lead wires had been inexplicably cut.

Two weeks before the explosion, an unexplained short in the school’s fire alarm system kept setting it off, initiating numerous unplanned fire drills. The children became highly proficient at emergency evacuations.

But for a hard-nosed investigator like me, the angels were the most difficult part to accept. I grilled Nathan about his story, but he never wavered. In fact, two other children said they too had seen angels. They told of glimmering robed figures descending from above, warning of the blast and directing them safely to the windows. Children who had not discussed it among themselves told similar stories.

As I said, I deal in facts. And one hard fact stands out above all the others: 167 people escaped with their lives when the odds against even a fraction of them surviving the cunning wrath of a desperate madman were slim. The conclusion we have all reached in Cokeville is that God sent his angels to rescue our children and keep them from harm.


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