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Cokeville Blast

Did Angels Bring About The Miracle At Cokeville?

By James Donahue

On the afternoon of May 16, 1986, David Young, a former town marshal, and his wife Doris, walked into the elementary school in Cokeville, Wyoming, with guns and a homemade bomb and held the teachers and 167 children captive in a terrifying standoff with police that lasted for two and a half hours before coming to a miraculous conclusion.

Young had been the town’s police officer in 1979, but then was fired after only six months on the job. It was said he moved on to Tucson, Arizona, but then, seven years later, he and his wife showed up in Cokeville to carry out a manifesto they called "Zero-Infiniti." When they entered the school they announced that it was "a revolution" and they marched all of the children and staff into a single room. They demanded a ransom of about $300 million and a personal telephone call from the President of the United States.

So this was the scene that fateful day in Cokeville. All 167 children and the teachers were packed in a 30-by-30-foot room with the Youngs and the bomb, mounted on a cart, standing in the midst of them all. Second Grade teacher Carol Petersen remembered that all of the children were herded into the room by a woman who declared that there was an emergency. When they entered the room she said there was a strong gasoline smell in the air and there were guns lined up against the chalkboard.

Young, who was waiting in the room, announced that it was a revolution and that he was demanding payment of $2 million for each child in the room before he would set them free. Petersen said the homemade bomb was designed to be fired by a trigger that was held by a clothespin attached to Young’s wrist with a shoelace.

School Principal Max Excell called authorities and made frantic attempts to contact the White House to pass on Young’s demands, but he could not get through to the President’s office.

While police surrounded the building the teachers tried for those terrifying two and one-half hours to keep the children calm. Petersen said they had them sing songs and showed a video. In the end the children were taking turns praying.

At about 3:45 p.m. Young handed the triggering mechanism to the bomb to his wife while he left the room to go to a nearby bathroom. For some reason, Doris Young accidentally let her hand slip and the bomb exploded. The witnesses said the explosion sent Doris Young flying across the room "like a flaming torch." Then the room was black with smoke.

Jody Pope Keetch, who was a kindergartner at the time, said some of the children were burned because their clothes and hair were on fire. The teachers put out the fires and started lifting the children out of the windows. Keetch said she remembers one teacher telling them: "when your feet hit the ground, run."

By this time parents were also gathered with police around the school. Everyone was almost sure there would be terrible casualties after the bomb exploded. Some worried that additional bombs had been placed in the building. Then there gunshots heard somewhere in the smoke and everybody thought one of the children or a teacher had been shot. It turned out that Young shot his wife after finding her burning alive, then he turned the gun on himself.

The miracle was that all of the children and teachers walked out of that school alive that day. Seventy-nine were treated for burns, but because of the quick action by the teachers in snuffing out the fires, none of the burn victims were seriously injured.

Bomb experts later said what happened in Cokeville that afternoon was a miracle. The bomb that the Youngs had assembled was powerful enough that it should have torn out the entire side of the school and killed everybody in the room. Investigators said one of the blackened walls was plastered with shrapnel that surrounded the shape of a human figure with wings. Not a single child was hit by flying shrapnel. It was obvious that something extraordinary had happened in that school.

Later the children told stories of angels who appeared to them in the midst of the ordeal. They said the angel told them to move to a corner of the classroom because the bomb was going to explode.

Some of the children said they saw beautiful figures in white while others said they saw long dead relatives who told them not to be afraid. Some said they thought every child had an angel standing beside them.

It was never explained just what motivated Young and his wife to do what they did. Town residents said Young acted like a western gunslinger during his stint as the town’s only police officer. They said he always wore a six-shooter on his hip even when he was off duty.

Investigators said they found 41 rambling journals in Young’s possessions. In one of them he declared that 1986 would be "The Year of the Biggie."