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10 YEARS LATER, COKEVILLE JUST SAYS: LET US BE

SHARE 10 YEARS LATER, COKEVILLE JUST SAYS: LET US BE

Though the people of Cokeville can never forget the day they almost lost their children to a crazed bomber, they wish the rest of the world would.

Before the incident, this Mormon community of 493 wasn't even on the map. Glenna Walker, an emergency medical technician and mother of three children held hostage in the elementary school, remembers the FBI had to be given Cokeville's coordinates, since the town wasn't marked on some highway maps.A decade after David and Doris Young took almost a third of the town hostage at Cokeville Elementary School, four books and a made-for-TV movie have been based on the event. Last year alone, the Walker family received calls from 13 producers and writers. "Unsolved Mysteries" has been to town once and plans to return Thursday to mark the bombing anniversary.

"We're just so burned out on the whole thing," said Tina Cook, the elementary school's secretary.

The people of Cokeville consider their neighbors family - teachers let students borrow their cars, students at Cokeville High School leave their lockers wide open, everyone refers to everyone by first name.

Hardly any family in the community didn't have someone in the building that day. So though what happened to the town became a public spectacle, the people of Cokeville see it as very private.

But the rest of the world can't forget Cokeville's story, because it's about evil appearing where it's unexpected - in a public school in a small Wyoming town. And because it's a story with a happy ending.

On May 16, 1986, David Young, Cokeville's former town marshal, and his wife, Doris, carried five rifles, five handguns and a "dead man's bomb" into the elementary school. Cook, the school's secretary and the first person taken hostage, could tell Young's threats were serious.

"All you had to do was look in his eyes and know it was no joke," she said.

The Youngs herded Cook and 154 children and teachers into a 30-by-30-foot first-grade class room. They demanded $2 million for each child and promised to blow the children to a "brave new world."

They lined five rifles along the chalkboard and set the bomb in the middle of the room. Later when the children wandered too close to the bomb, the teachers marked a square around the bomb with duct tape. David Young told the children it was a "magic square" and if they crossed the line he would kill them.

David Young sent Principal Max Excel to phone the police to negotiate. The teachers tried to keep the children entertained with coloring books and cartoons. All the while the children prayed, said Travis Walker, 21, who was then in sixth grade.

The parents and high school siblings outside the building prayed also. "I don't think we stopped praying to ourselves for 2 1/2 hours," said Glenna Walker.

David Young, who had spent years trying to mathematically disprove the existence of God, told his hostages that the explosion would take them to a new existence where he'd rule over them. He warned them that a trigger switch was tied to his wrist, and he said if he raised his arm the bomb would go off.

At 3:45 p.m. David Young had to use the bathroom. He transferred the shoelace switch from his wrist to his wife's. Shortly after, a teacher, putting her hand to her head, mentioned that she had a headache. Doris Young said her head hurt also and made the same gesture. The bomb went off.

"She came across the room like a flaming torch," Cook said. Afterward,"it was so black I couldn't see if anyone was alive."

Though 79 people were injured in the explosion, only the Youngs were killed. David Young shot his burning wife and then went into the bathroom and shot himself.

Cokeville emerged from the experience frightened, bewildered and grateful.

"It was a miracle. It's a wonderful miracle," said Glenna Walker.

Somehow only one of the bomb's five blasting caps went off. If the bomb had functioned properly, it would have blown off a side of the brick building, said Richard Haskell, the leading investigator at the explosion site. As it was, only ceiling tiles were blown out.

"That would have been a horrendous explosion," he said. "There's no doubt in my mind that there was divine intervention."

A year after the bombing, the more visible scars were gone, most of the children recovered from their burns, and the damaged classroom was repaired. The soot was scrubbed from the walls, blown-out ceiling tiles replaced and the bloodstained floor recarpeted.

Yet, 10 years later the town is still adjusting to the more subtle effects of the bombing.

Only two teachers have left the school. Cook still sits in the same desk where David Young took her as his first hostage, but she no longer says, "Could I help you?" the first words she uttered to the bearded man.

And no one feels quite as safe as they used to.

"It's tense around here in the spring - I guess we'll never be quite the same," Cook said.

Melanie Chadwick, 18, was a second-grader back then. She's graduating from high school May 22 and going to BYU Hawaii this summer on a music scholarship. Still, she shudders every time a white van drives by. It reminds her of the white van the Youngs used to carry their rifles and the bomb.

NaDene Dana said her 18-year-old twin daughters, Renelle and Joelle, both students at Bridgerland Applied Technology Center in Logan, can't stand the smell of gasoline, after smelling the fuel leaking from the bomb. And like most of the town, the Dana twins hate firecrackers.

"That summer after it happened there were never fireworks," said Dana, the town clerk. Even now townspeople don't use fireworks as much as they did before May 1986.

But the most significant change is the onslaught of attention. Travis Walker said even on his mission in New Zealand, people would ask him about the bombing. Sometimes, he said, he feels like people are interested in him only because he was a hostage.

"I'd like to be known for who I am, not for what I've been through," he said.

Joy Hutchinson, whose daughter, Billie Jo Hutchinson, 17, was the most badly burned and still has one last doctor's visit this summer, also wished the outside world would leave Cokeville alone.

"All (the attention) does is just pull off a scab, basically," she said.

Rocky Moore, the fifth-grade teacher agreed that each interview brings back bad memories. "I haven't had a dream or a nightmare for years," he said. "But because you people are here, I will."

A bombing is the kind of thing you don't forget, said school psychologist Nohl Sandall. But he said if the media would stop asking so many questions, the kids would be able to heal faster.

Still, Sandall believes the Cokeville children have recovered remarkably well from the incident.

"Our class is a lot closer," Chadwick said. "We realize that if it had gone off like it was supposed to, we wouldn't be here, this town would be a ghost town."

Travis Walker, like many of the people of Cokeville, said the experience built his faith.

"God answers prayers," he said. "He knows our needs and won't leave us alone."

But still the people of Cokeville would like to keep both the horror and the miracle to themselves.

"When the 20th anniversary comes up, let's ignore it," Sandall said.