May 16th, after recess break:
After-lunch recess ended and we brushed off grass stains and some mud spots from our clothes. We were happy to be done with the snowy months, and enjoying the warmer weather. We filed inside for our 30 minutes of quiet reading time. Mr. Mitchell interrupted the silent reading and asked us if we noticed a smell of gasoline. Many of us did. He wondered if Delbert Rentfro, the custodian was up to something like getting the riding lawn mower ready for spring or something. We returned to our books to finish up reading time and then walked single file to the south side of the building for our routine bathroom break. I lined up near Mr. Mitchell against the media center wall, facing down the south hallway. Most of us were lined up, ready to return to class when a lady walked up to us from the 2nd grade room. She was heavy set in the hips with black polyester pants and a red v-neck terry cloth shirt - that detail may not be correct, but it seems pretty clear in my mind’s eye as I try to recall it. I don’t remember if she had wide brim glasses or not.
She asked if we could follow her to the 2nd grade room, she had a surprise waiting for us in Room Four. Mr. Mitchell was visibly and audibly puzzled. He wondered why he didn’t know anything about this surprise, seeing that his own wife was the teacher in that room. As we followed her toward the room, he turned to us, asking if any of us knew who this woman was. No one knew. The door opened and the room was darkened, with many of the overhead florescent lights turned off. Only a section of lights in the middle were illuminated. As I looked at the younger children’s faces, they were somber I wondered what was going on. I saw modeling clay on their desks and I wondered if they were showing off their creations or something. Looking to my left, I noticed M-16’s and other rifles leaning against the bulletin board that flanked the chalkboard on the north wall of that room. I thought there must be some kind of gun safety assembly, or something like that.
Crossing the room toward the windows, where some of the 5th grade class sat on the floor, Mr. Moore waved Mr. Mitchell over to talk. I was right next to them as Mr. Moore said, “This man has a bomb and is holding us hostage”. Mr. Mitchell and I turned and noticed the brooding, bearded man near the center of the room. The sound in Mr. Moore’s voice told me he was serious, and his manner seemed very subdued, very un-like the boisterous Irish blooded mountain man we all knew and loved as the 5th Grade teacher. Our class found places on the floor near the 5th graders.
Hearing the words “hostage” and “bomb”, my mind went straight to the current events that we talked about in class. Far away, in Libya, a man named Muammar Gaddafi was using terrorists to be a bully in the world, telling American military ships that if they crossed “the death line”, as Gaddafi had called it, that he would shoot and sink them. I had drawn pictures of these so-called “terrorists”. I had depicted the terrorists as red ants in every one of them. Mr. Moore had printed out an image of Gaddafi with targets encircling his face. I asked if I could use it for my dart board at home. It became shredded over time, and I replaced it with a poster of Michael Jackson. I don’t know why. Sorry to all Michael Jackson fans everywhere.
I knew the man in our room was not Gaddafi, but I wondered if he was part of something bigger. I immediately thought of the movie “Red Dawn” I’d seen at Cameron Robert’s sleepover birthday party that same year, I believe. I imagined paratroopers landing on the grounds of schools all over the United States, just like in the movie. I looked out the window to the school grounds...no activity like that…
My mind was trying process all of it. I asked Mr Mitchell if it was some sort of drill to prepare us. He said if it was a drill he would know about it, because he was 2nd in command after the principal. I probably asked him several more questions trying to figure out how this was happening. I think my little kid mind was trying to eliminate all the reasons to not believe it was real. Maybe realizing that it was real, I looked out the window again, wondering if I’d see FBI and sniper-men hiding behind anything out there and peering through scopes into the room. I didn’t see anything like that either… But it occurred to me to get out of the window, so I would not be between their shot and the man with the bomb. I was beginning to absorb the reality, but only in fictional (TV inspired) doses.
I don’t remember much of what happened between those thoughts, and the moment when the 4th grade class arrived, but I do remember the gloom we all felt when the 4th grade class finally arrived. We all knew they were the last to be found. We’d heard they were outside somewhere and I thought maybe they wouldn’t be found and captured. But here they came.
I think it was after all were gathered in, that David spoke up and had his “manifesto” paper sent around. It was typed on a sheet of paper with hardly any margins and I took no time to read it once it seemed just plain crazy. This was the first time I had heard him say anything at all. Apparently he had done some yelling at the younger ones, and to the teachers before our class had arrived. He spoke in a very underwhelming voice, but gave the feeling that he did not care whether we understood his words, almost as though he expected us to not understand. “I am the most wanted man in the culture”. (Yes, I do think he said culture). I wondered what he meant. I heard him say something about sending the letter off to President Reagan and other government officials... he said other things, but I wasn’t following it.
Somewhere at about this time David had to shed his gold windbreaker - or sweater? He may have even removed his light blue button up sweater that was underneath the windbreaker. I remember some very tense moments as we watched Doris helped him take the jackets off. He carefully unwound the white ragged shoelace from around his wrist, lifted his hand slowly from the handle of the cart, and pulled his arm through the shoelace trigger, and then out of his jacket sleeve. He took a moment away from the trigger to adjust a pistol from the front of his pants, did whatever you do to pistols and put it back. I recall he checked one or two more guns on his body, one in an ankle holster, I think. He placed the shoelace back around his wrist and settled back into position with his cart. He remained in the middle of the room the entire time I saw him. Doris was only near David when she helped him remove his jacket, or when he called her over. She generally stayed near the main door, once she was done recruiting classes.
The smell of gasoline was getting thick, and the temperature of that room, with 154 hostages was on the rise. Kids were throwing up in the sink or garbage cans, and asking for drinks of water. Doris made an announcement: “Kids! Many of you want to get drinks of water, but we can’t have you doing that. If you’re thirsty, get a paper towel wet and put it on your forehead.” My buddies and I giggled to each other from our end of the room. “How is a rag on your forehead going to help if you’re thirsty?” That idea seemed strange to us. Then Doris made another announcement: “Kids, think of this as an adventure… this will be something you will tell your children and grandchildren about.”
One of the teachers spoke up and decided it would be a good idea to sing Happy Birthday to Jeremiah Moore. That song sounded dreadful. Many say they noticed David and Doris singing along which was even more strange. Maybe another song was in order. The First Graders were just finishing up a week themed with bears, so they sang a song I’d never heard before: "If you go out in the woods today, you're sure to get a surprise..." I wondered what kind of song that was! This song thing wasn’t working!
The mood was still very somber and sobs were heard around the room. Tissue boxes were passed around. I saw one of my classmates, one that is usually very mouthy, have a very uncharacteristic meltdown. He was sobbing while saying out loud, " I'm never going to see my parents again... they're never going to see me… " At about this time I heard Brian Nate say to someone, "Heavenly Father won't let us die, we haven’t done anything wrong." Although I personally had not even begun to draw conclusions about our situation, I had felt bad for the kids who were crying and I wanted to help. Brian’s words immediately made perfect sense to me… “We haven’t done anything wrong… Heavenly Father won’t let us die!” I immediately began spreading that phrase around the room. Brian said it in one direction, and I in the other. We said,"pass it on!" to the kids in each direction.
Somebody suggested we should pray. I did an individual prayer silently but don’t recall much from that… Then, someone suggested we say a group prayer. It seemed like a great idea and and I remember moving around on my knees to gather people into a circle for a prayer. We didn't make any effort to conceal ourselves from David or anyone else. Didn't really even think about it.
I was at one end if the oval, maybe about 8 -12 of us, seems like mostly 5th and 6th graders were in the circle. It was about as large an opening as we could make in the crowded room. As I looked around at the circle, I saw a lot of eyes looking at me. I could only guess that they were waiting for me to either say it, or call on someone to say the prayer! I felt the obvious choice was Allyson Cornia because she had always been the smartest kid in class! Made sense to me at the time! I asked Allyson to say the prayer.
She prayed loud enough for the small group to hear. Kneeling, we bowed our heads and folded our arms. She said a simple prayer. You can imagine the words. The feeling afterward was a feeling of total confidence that we had just placed our lives in the hands of our loving Heavenly Father. There was nothing left to worry about. It was like our part was completely done and it was just a matter of time. I don't even think we wondered just how long or short or how it would be done, just that it would. At least that’s how I felt.
Looking back, the fact that the mood was much lighter, and louder, tells me I was not the only one that felt it. This is probably the point at which they asked to remove many of the desks into the hallway to make room. Teachers had also asked if they could bring book carts in from the library and later, even a TV on a cart for the kids to watch in the corner.
Meanwhile, Greg Nate, Kyle Thornock and myself were positioned behind a row of 1st grade desks near the northeast corner. We were looking at the bomb cart and how it was put together. We saw the wooden clothespins wire-lashed to the cart handle. We knew the shoelace around his wrist was important, but I’m not sure we knew it was the main trigger. We peered into holes in the paper bags and saw Duracell batteries. We conjectured together that maybe when the batteries died out, then the bomb would go off. We saw a coil of chains on a roll underneath everything, at the bottom of the cart. The chains, we thought, might be for tying kids up... ? Turns out the chain coil was there to throw shrapnel. That detail gets me everytime I think of it now. How a person get to that kind of thinking? That shrapnel, that bomb was designed by that man to kill me, and everyone else! Who does that? The milk jug sat in the top right corner above other boxes and cans.
I wanted a closer look at the bomb, as we studied it from behind the row of first grader’s desks. We kind of dared each other to go get a book from the book cart. I took the challenge and walked confidently to the book cart. I grabbed a book. I walked back, eying the cart to get a look and then my eyes met his. It seems he knew what I was up to. His eyes were as cold and soul-less as I've ever seen. There was no light in them. He had no scowl or angry looks, just a cold stare in my direction. I moved past and felt bothered by the emptiness of those eyes as I sat back down behind the desks with the others.
Carol Petersen (1st grade teacher), maybe noticing that we needed to keep out of trouble, said boisterously (in a mock enthusiasm, as if we were 1st graders) "Hey kids! Who wants to read about Dinosaurs!" We laughed heartily and it broke the momentary tension after my encounter.
Timelines are hazy, but at some point after the TV was brought in, Mr. Mitchell got everyone's attention and raised a roll of masking tape in the air. He said, "We are going to make a magic square here on the floor. We're going to play a game to see who can stay outside of the square. If you go across the line, you’re out.” He and another teacher placed a 9x9 square around David and his bomb. He sat on the corner of a 1st grader’s desk in the middle of the square, under the one florescent white light, and faced north towards the chalk board, generally.
When that tape was being laid down on the carpet, I noticed some Lego blocks at the southeast corner of the square. I asked Brenda Hartley if she wanted to go over and play with the legos. We moved in, closer to the bomb. I had my back to the TV as I built a little tank with the Legos. She watched the TV and me, while fiddling with some of the blocks.
Once I had my tank built, I said to Brenda in a gruff military voice, “Okay men! We’re going to go across the ‘Death Line VROOMMM!!” I then drove the tank across the masking tape on the carpet. Brenda laughed. I looked up at David to see if he had heard me. He had heard me, and glared at me from over his right shoulder. As I looked up from my position on the floor, looking past David, I noticed that the light around him and in the room was a yellow/hazy light. I wondered at it, because I knew it should be more of a white florescent light. This light was more like the hazy yellow light you’d see in a smoky room.
In the process of looking up I also noticed a crowd of fellow 6th graders gathered by the main door. Thinking nothing more about the color of the light, or about David’s glare. I nudged Brenda and said we should go see what our friends were talking about by the main door. This was my first time to that side of the room since I had arrived. I saw just how easy it would have been to step right out the door, into the hallway. I stayed, knowing I simply needed to. I listened in on the conversation my friends were having with Doris as she sat on the desk “guarding” the door.
She seemed delighted to have the attention, and answered them in such a tone. Someone asked how long they were planning to keep us. She said, “Maybe 10 days, maybe a month... depends on how long...” Drew Cornia interrupted saying “Shoot! I just got these braces in and I don’t have my special toothbrush!” We all laughed.
Suddenly the group broke apart when David called Doris away from her post, guarding the door. Brenda Hartley went back to the other side of the room with Tess Excell, I think. I turned and saw some younger kids playing with magnets and iron shavings at a desk near the chalkboard. That looked like fun, so I joined them. We were kind of secluded from the rest of the room behind a few teacher’s tables that were stacked on top of each other, between us and the bomb. There we sat playing around with magnets and some iron dust...
Apparently David had called Doris away from us at the door so he could hand the bomb over to her. He needed a break for some reason, The tiny bathroom, with tiny little toilet and sink, between the two first grade rooms was the nearest place for seclusion. He needed to either use the bathroom, or was having a diabetic need, or was getting nervous with the way the kids no longer seemed nervous, or was nervous because he was now surrounded by angels!!!
I don’t know what led David to leave at that moment, but it seems something was in the works at about the time I pulled my little tank across the death line stunt - the time at which I noticed the different lighting in the room. According to other’s accounts, they had been told by angels they saw, or by voices they heard distinctly that the bomb would go off “in about 10 minutes and to listen to their brother’s instructions”. The brother, in the meantime had heard and followed a prompting to get his sisters near the window because the bomb would be going off soon”. Their accounts are in direct timeline with the strange light I had noticed about ten minutes before the bomb went off. Other angel witnesses were recorded.
I think it is very interesting, as I look back on that part of the story. People ask if I saw angels, and I have to tell them that I did not. But I quickly add that I have no doubt that some did. The most intriguing thing to me is that I was not in any kind of spiritual, or prayerful, mind-set when I saw the different light in the room. When I saw it, I did not think to myself, “oh, those must the angels that God is sending…” I simply noticed it was different, with my physical eyes. But amazingly, it was that same moment that I noticed the crowd by the door - the very subtle lure that got me two feet away from the bomb and right near the exit. I did not hear voices, or see angels, but I was led to safety. Maybe just coincidences, but I have to wonder if that is yet one more way in which God works in our lives. He orchestrates things masterfully, even if we don’t hear the orchestra, or see the performance.
When the bomb went off, I remember immediately hearing my conscience say, “The bomb”. I do not remember a sound of an explosion. My mind was so far removed from the dangers of the day, it’s as if my conscience had to remind me that I needed to run for my life. Of course all this was in milliseconds of time. But time did slow down for those moments and I recall vividly what I saw and what happened next:
I was being lifted and spun around in the air, in the direction of the open door. So now I was positioned 180 degrees from how I had been, and floating (what seemed very slowly) through the air. As I spun around I saw pitch black smoke in the far side of the room - right where that TV had been set up, and where maybe most of the kids were. In front of that blackness was an orange dome shaped fire ball (not a mushroom blast shape, or fireball with fingers of flames) but a smooth edged, orange dome shape. I’m not saying that’s all it was, that’s just what it looked like when I saw it. It’s possible that the big flash happened before I ever got clear of the tables to be able to see anything clearly in that direction.
This all was happening very, very fast, I’m sure, but it seemed very slow to me. As I was floating through the air towards the door I saw slow moving pieces of paper with the leading edge in flames. I had to pull my head back to dodge them. What I wonder about today, is why those pieces of paper were being blasted outward away from the bomb, yet I was being blasted towards the open hallway… not against the wall. The physics of that doesn’t seem natural. I had always said that I was literally “blown out the door”, but with other’s accounts of divine intervention, I wonder exactly what was going on with me?
About this point, still floating, I remember thinking, “The fire alarm has not gone off yet! Those little kids gathered in front of the TV in the far end of the room (where it was so black) aren’t going to know to run!” My eyes turned upwards at the digital clock/intercom speaker that was above the door. “The fire alarm should be going off!” I thought frantically. Just as I was beginning to panic, the alarm went off and I was relieved. Somehow I thought that the simple sound of the alarm going off, or not going off was going to be the difference in those kids getting out safely!
Still floating through the air, looking back downward, I noticed a puff of black smoke billowing right in my direction, just a few feet off the ground. I thought to myself, “don’t breath the smoke in! Stay low! Get below it.” I tried to lower my head but couldn’t get below it. The light from the hallway was illuminating everything through the doorway and I had experienced very little darkness - but I knew how dark it was on that other side of the room.
It’s possible that at this point my feet hit the ground, but it must have been a bounce more than a step because I was immediately in the hallway and in a full run. There had been no one else around at all, but once I was running north toward the main exit from the building, I remember seeing a first grade kid suddenly by my side and a little behind me. I don’t remember his name, but I know for sure it was the kid that the fifth and sixth grade classes fought over in recess football games because he was so fast. He was short, super tough, and nearly impossible to tackle. I remember thinking, “wow, if I stay ahead of him, I’m doing good!” I knew he was safe and running hard. It’s good I was in front because when I came to the main doors (front doors) of the building, I just stiff-armed them open at full speed with my 6th grader size. I knew he was close enough behind me that he’d catch the open door. As far as I know, he and I were the only ones that came out those main doors.
As I ran, I saw kids piling up outside, below the window of the room. I don’t recall seeing smoke billow out the window. They were being pushed out the windows, but were just piling up! I definitely remember thinking, “RUN!” According to Brad Nate’s entry in the Witness to Miracles book, he was one of those piling up below the window and he remembers hearing someone yell “RUN!”. It may have been me, but I don’t remember actually yelling anything.
Still running south across the parking lot, I then saw kids just pouring out the south doors of the school. I remember thinking “That’s a LOT of kids coming out those doors!” I believe those doors were propped open, so kids were able to just stream out. I saw the kids running straight for the fence that separated the school yard from the neighbor’s yards towards main street. They seemed to be hurdling that tall fence in one stride each. I do remember seeing somebody wearing a bright yellow shirt or something.
My running legs were on auto-pilot still, and I may as well have been floating/flying through the air. I was definitely not conscious of my own efforts in running. Moving across the asphalt of the parking lot, I remember the same voice inside my head (my own voice, not someone else’s) that had said the words, “the bomb” was now saying, “I’m alive”. The moment I made that realization, my legs were suddenly back in my conscience. In other words, I felt like I had to consciously put effort into making my legs run and not trip as I ran. It’s possible that whatever/whoever had been helping me through the ordeal was releasing me back into my own power. It was as if it was saying, “you’re okay now”. I know that was the feeling I got, I don’t think there were any words like that actually spoken to me.
At about this point, I was approaching the corner of the parking lot, where lots of ambulances and people were waiting. I was surprised to see them, I had no idea if anyone even knew what had been happening. I was comforted to know that the outside world had known. A wave of EMT workers and others were approaching me, running towards the school with horrified faces. One EMT lady with the most concerned look she could possibly wear on her face looked at me as I ran past, and it was understood by both of us, that I was clearly OK. I knew I was. And I’m sure I didn’t look burned or black or anything. She had her arms open and was in a bent position, ready to scoop up any child that may need her first. Thinking about it now, I wonder what on earth those people waiting outside must have expected to see when they heard that bomb go off!
This is where my memory has a definite time gap. I know I must have been dazed and walking around, but I don’t know for how long. However long (or short) it was, I remember suddenly hearing the 4th Grade teacher, Mrs. Sparks yell out in her powerful voice, “Fourth Graders over here!” She was standing on Steve Taylor’s lawn. Her voice, calling for 4th Graders was the only orderly thing happening, and it instantly snapped me into focus. It was fire drill mode. I asked her what I could do to help. She told me to go back toward the school and tell all the kids to gather on that lawn on main street and NOT at the school grounds, as we had always practiced. I immediately nodded and walked back across the street. Kids and people were everywhere now. This is partly why I feel like I must have had a moment of blackout because I just don’t know how so many had gotten there that quickly - maybe it actually was that quickly!
I got to the other side of the street corner and saw two kids who normally had black hair, with orange frizzy/curled hair. I had never seen singed hair before. I stepped onto the curb and saw John Miller, the band teacher falling backward with the help of two EMT’s. His eyes were as wide as saucers. Something was obviously wrong, but he was clearly alert and alive. He was on the little strip of grass between the sidewalk and the short chain link fence of whoever’s house that was, across from Steve Taylor’s. The wide eyed look of shock on Mr. Miller’s face alarmed me. I saw that he was being taken care of by the EMT’s.
I continued on toward the school telling kids to go gather on that lawn. I looked back toward Taylor’s house. On the lawn I saw a girl with her pants at her ankles and being hosed off by the garden hose. Others were pouring pitchers of water on other kids. I was shocked, at first to see a girl with her pants at her ankles in such public, but I also knew immediately why they needed to do that. I turned toward the school again and one kid (I can’t remember his name, but I think he played “Ben” in the Tom Sawyer play that we were in together, just months before). He called me by name and asked very calmly if his shirt was on fire or something. I said, “No.” I gently lifted up the back of his plaid shirt and saw that the first layer of his skin had peeled away into a white ring the size of his entire back. The new skin underneath was very pink and red. I told him he was burned and to go over there where they were pouring water. We both thought it was strange that his skin was burned, but not his shirt.
More kids faces were blackened as I got closer to the school. These kids must have been inside the room for much longer than the others I had seen up to that point. Next I saw Brenda Hartley, the same girl I had played Legos with next to the “magic square” of tape. She had worn a sweatshirt that day that had a decorated clown face on the front. It was all gray and black with soot. The eyes of the clown were made of large round plastic rhinestones. They had melted, and it looked like the clown was crying. We commented on that at the time. It looked awful. But it is still something to ponder today - how it must have gotten so hot inside that room for her bedazzled sweatshirt decorations to melt, but yet she survived the fiery furnace. I told her to continue to Main Street with the others.
As I continued up the sidewalk toward the school, there were fewer and fewer kids. I figured my job from Mrs. Sparks was done. I continued all the way to the corner where I could see the school building. Small explosions and sounds were still coming from the room. Standing on the corner, looking for more kids, an angry, wild man (a father of one of the kids I guess) yelled out, “I’m gonna go in there and get that bastard!” The cops and other adults were restraining him as he flailed. I knew exactly who he wanted to go get, and I knew it must be a parent of one of the kids. I didn’t recognize who this man was, but it scared me. I thought, this guy’s just as dangerous as the one who held us hostage. I got out of that place.
Thoughts of Home:I turned back toward the chaos on main street. Even more of a crowd was there by that time. I began thinking I’d better call my mom and let her know what has happened. Living six miles north of town, I was sure she had no idea what had just happened. I needed to find a phone. I went to Steve Taylor’s house, feeling comfortable there because Mrs. Taylor had been one of my Cub Scout Den Mothers. I used the side door to the kitchen and saw a man talking on the phone. The way he was talking I could tell was reporting what was happening over the radio. I guessed. He began describing “blackened faces and the bomb going off just minutes ago. Here is a link to that exact broadcast, and here is another link to audio of lots of news stories from the day and days after… I said, “Mr. I need to call my mom and tell her where I am.” He closed up his report quickly and let me have the phone. I was kind of surprised he let me have the phone.
I dialed, and got nothing. The circuits were all busy. (All the phone circuits were overloaded for the next day or so I think). Cell phones were not around in 1986. I could see that calling wasn’t going to work. I had overheard that many of the sixth graders were down at the town hall to be out of the way. I knew I was okay, so I decided that would be nice to go be with my friends and classmates, and not in the chaos on main street.
I stepped outside, onto Taylor’s porch, which looked over the chaos unfolding on Main Street. In the midst of it all I saw the white channel 2 news camera right in the thickest part of the people. I may have even noticed their satellite truck. I thought to myself, “They got here quick!” I stepped into the crowd to find someone to tell my parents that I’d be at the town hall - somehow I'd heard that some of my friends were there. I wasn’t sure who to tell that to…who would my mom and dad ask to find me? As I was now on the far side of the crowd, I suddenly saw my dad as tall as a telephone pole coming down the sidewalk. I saw my sister Cindy and my mom. I yelled out “MOM!” My Dad’s arm shot straight up making him appear even taller. I can’t imagine what they must have been feeling as they approached the chaos gathered in front of them. Did they even know if I was alive? What they must have felt! It was a small miracle that we found each other that quickly!
They ran to me and I sunk right into my mom’s open arms. She was safety and softness. Right then was the first time I had gotten emotional all day. It all sank in at that moment that my life was almost taken. I cried. Apparently when I had yelled, “MOM!” the KUTV news camera heard the yell and caught our moment of embrace.(insert images here) (This image was repeated in newspapers across the nation - and one of them was the southern Arizona paper that my oldest sister Wendi saw two days after the event, still unable to get through to us by phone, the image of me wrapped in my mom's embrace was the miracle Wendi needed to know that I was okay. )
After so much commotion had been carted off by ambulance and school bus to nearby hospitals (45 minutes away or more), I sat on the lawn with my mom and Rocky Moore. We talked about the miracle that no one had perished but David and Doris. Rocky said it was his “burning bush”. He described getting his belt buckle caught on the window sill, wondering if David would kill him right there. We had a chuckle. We strolled up to the corner again to look at the school. Officials were still moving about and taking care of the crime scene.
We drove home and Deseret News reporters joined us. My Dad had worked at the Deseret News years before, and they were welcome. I sat on the couch and answered questions. The photographer snapped shots while we spoke and I would stop talking and look at the camera and smile - like you’re supposed to do when people take your photo. They told me not to do that, but just be natural. Well, it was natural for me to look at the camera and smile! What was it they wanted? I picked a spot in the curtains on the far side of the room and they snapped this shot - which became the cover photo for the second edition of the book my parents wrote. Everyone said it was such a great picture for that moment...but to me, I was just staring at the curtains on the other side of the room trying not to have any expression at all!
The interviews were interrupted when somehow a NY Times reporter got through the phone lines to our home called and asked my Mom and Dad permission to interview me. I agreed. All she asked was what my favorite subject was in school! I couldn’t believe it! I have no idea what article was written, but I’m sure stuff was made up because she got no information from that interview!
Dukes of Hazzard was on that night, being a Friday. Other shows with explosions and guns were on TV and I just had no interest.
Saturday brought us into town, on that same corner again, looking at the school building. Kids swapped stories. The rest of our friends were out of town in hospitals. My Dad was the baseball coach. We had a game scheduled for that evening. He asked me if we should cancel it. I emphatically said “NO!” Life should go on as normal, if there was ever a time we should have the game, it was then. That’s how I felt about it. But there was a problem: my baseball mitt was inside the school building! We got special permission to go in on the far north end of the building, where the 6th grade classroom was. Black smoke streaks stained the cieling where the vents were.
The high school gym was opened up to a town meeting of sorts, to hear what psychologists had to say. Smaller breakout sessions followed in other rooms at the high school.
We held our little baseball game that evening. I played center field. The “Chopper Five” (Channel 5 KSL news helicopter) landed near the adjacent football field. I thought that was sooo cool! I wonder what the reporters and out-of-towners thought of that baseball game happening like that.
Sunday was interesting. There was a Channel 5 news camera in the Sacrament Meeting where the kids sang “I am a Child of God”. We didn’t hold any of the other meetings that day for church, but we met again as a town at the “New Gym” that afternoon. The crime scene had been shut down at the elementary school, which meant that we could go visit the bombed-out room if we wanted. Psychologists were recommending it as a way to see that we survived it, to show our family where we were in the room at the time. I remember my Aunt Nancy was there that day from Salt Lake.
Entering the room, it smelled a certain way that stuck with me for years afterward. I saw bullet holes in the bulletin board where I sat playing with magnets when the bomb went off. I saw the strange smoke markings on the east wall, but couldn’t make out the shape of anything mystical or miraculous. It was a strange marking on that wall, I could agree with that. We peeked into the small bathroom where we were told David had shot himself. Blood stained the floor.
We did not return to school for several days afterward. I think it was just short of a week later that they had us back in the school for just a few hours at a time. I spent a day with my brother and his new Toyota 4x4 truck. We climbed several steep hills around town. He just needed to be with me at the time. He had been in Colorado when he heard the news stories on T.V.. He was working as a river guide in the Grand Canyon and had a few days in between trips to spend with me. I’m glad he did!
Moving away from Cokeville that Summer:
We moved away from Cokeville, Wyoming to Provo, Utah that summer - as we had been planning to do. It was a very different summer, and environment from what I’d been used to on the ranch in Wyoming. For summer housing, we lived in a townhouse surrounded by college students-- and a pool! I spent hour after hour in that pool. At night, when the college kids were obnoxious and rowdy, and playful into the later hours, my parents expressed complaints. When I told them I actually enjoyed the noise because it meant people were happy, and that meant things were safe out there. It soothed me to sleep. From then on, they would smile when they heard rowdy and happy college kids at night. It meant their baby boy was okay.
Living close to the BYU campus, I decided to take advantage of something that was never available in a small town like Cokeville; I rode my bike to the nearby movie theatre! I was feeling independent and confident, so I asked if I could go watch the afternoon movie at BYU’s Varsity Theatre. I had no idea what was showing, but we were all sure it would be a movie that was safe for kids, being edited for showing to a Mormon audience. Turns out the movie was JAWS 2! I sat alone in my row, near the aisle, and the exit. The man just down the way, on the other side of the aisle began to make me feel uneasy. I was in a dark room. JAWS music was playing…! I really don’t recall whether I left the movie theatre or not, but I don’t remember the movie! I talked it over with my mom when I got home. She wisely talked me through the silly fears that had built up inside me about that one man across the aisle. I guess I began to see that there could be a lot of scenarios that could make me fearful for the rest of my life because of what I’d been through, but that most of them would be silly, and unnecessary fears.
We moved that Fall to a quieter condo, which is where the “Trial by Terror” book was beginning to be written - on a borrowed computer. They cautiously asked me some questions as they compiled the information for the book. They could see that I was not afraid of answering questions, and they asked more. I asked for quiet music to calm me as I fell asleep in those days as a new 7th Grader in a new town. The only time I really felt insecure was a night when I overheard their reaction to a frightening news story on TV. They wouldn’t tell me what the news story was, and it made me more anxious when they didn’t tell me what had made them so upset. I’ve always felt that just knowing the story was far better than the doubts and anxieties that are conjured when you don’t know the story.