Katie Walker

Describe your experience of may 16

It was a normal spring day for me I got up went to school ate lunch had recess and was about our normal daily activities which included being combined with the other 1st grade class in the afternoon for reading time, when a man walked in to our classroom pulling a cart behind him. A woman was with him, carrying guns that she lined up near the chalkboard. Other classes started to come in to the classroom, Room4, and I was joined by my friends and neighbors and a brother and sister when they came in the room. I wasn't scared at first, simply because at age 7 I was pretty oblivious to strangers and "bad people" in the world. I lived in a town of less than 500 and I trusted others, although that would soon change. I simply thought we were having an assembly or something. As teachers started to question David Young I quickly learned it was not an assembly and became terrified as he explained his plot. As one teacher stepped forward and tried to reason with him, David Young pulled a pistol out of his jacket/vest and said don't take one more step or I will shoot you. The teacher stepped back and David continued to tell his plot, that he had a bomb and how it worked and that he was taking us hostage. I was sitting in a circle with others and talking to a friend that just lived 2 houses from me and she was trying to talk to me and make me feel better. As we sat in that little circle we decided to hold hands and pray. Now I don't remember what I uttered in that simple pray almost 30 years ago, but I do know that as I sat there and held hands with other survivors as they also prayed My Heavenly Father was aware of us and Listening. Time went on and I others tried to make each other feel better. One of my brothers friends came over to me and sat with me and let me cry and comfort me. I just wanted to go home and he kept explaining to me that we just had to stay there and that was how it was. The teachers had brought things in for us to do and I remember David Young getting really agitated because everyone was not quiet. We started to get sick from the gas fumes in the air. someone suggested that we make a magic square out of masking tape and David Young was the only one allowed in that square. I remember being told if you went in the square you would be shot. David young sat on a desk hooked to the bomb in that square.

At one point my brother came over and told me we were going to go sit by the window. I followed him and sat down and he then went and got my sister Rachel and sat her down with me. He told us he had to tell his friends he was going to sit with us and he would be right back. He walked across the room and the Bomb detonated. It was an explosion that I cant explain to you and total instant black, the kind of black that you can't see anything. I felt compression and heat like nothing I had never experienced before or since. I heard teachers screaming and yelling to get down. I looked in the center of the room and all I could see was fire. I could hear the teacher in front of me coughing. I don't remember going out the window of room 4,but I do remember running and seeing others running and total chaos. I remember running until I saw my cousin that wasn't in the room with us and she ran to me and scooped me up in her arms and swung me around in a circle. I remember watching as others ran from the school screaming and watching others being stripped of their clothes on front lawns and being sprayed with garden hoses to stop the burning. I remember my mom finding me and telling me that we had to go get Rachel because she had been burned and needed to go to the hospital. She had burned her arm and needed medical attention, my mom was an EMT at the time and so my sister rode in the back of the ambulance with another EMT and survivor that had also been burned and I sat in the passenger side of the Ambulance on my moms lap on the ride to the Montpelier hospital.

What Miracles or tender mercies did you witness?

As for tender mercies, a loving teacher sat me down among others and prayed, windows were opened because of the gas fumes, friends and neighbors were in that room together and comforted and helped one another. The big miracle is that I was in a room with a bomb that detonated and a room filled with fire and I survived as did my friends, neighbors!!! That is such a miracle. There are also the spiritual miracles that happened that day that TC Christensen portrayed so delicately in the recent movie. Here is a clip from an interview I did as part of that:

What is the most important thing that you could tell your descendants? Check out this Exclusive clip from the Cokeville Miracle and hear Katie Walker tell her story in her own words.

Posted by The Cokeville Miracle on Monday, July 6, 2015

What have you learned with nearly 30 years of reflection?

I learned very young a testimony of prayer and the faith of not only little children, but of a town and possibly an nation and world that prayed for us so many years ago. I have learned that you can come out of one of the hardest most trying days of your life at the age of 7 and you can LIVE. By that I don't mean just get up everyday and go through the actions, but rise above the terror ,the triggers, the trauma, the pain, the nightmares, and really live. I can live every day. I get to married to my best friend and be a mom, a sister, a daughter, a friend and celebrate life. I have learned that ya sometimes things we go through are really tough and seem very unfair, it wasn't fair to have the innocence of childhood ripped away at the age of 7, but guess what I survived. Life isn't fair and really tough but each day truly is a gift and what we do with each day is up to us. I have learned that you always put your family first, that tell those you love that you love them, that life can change in a matter of seconds and you are never the same. I ran across the school lawn that morning a changed little girl than the one I woke up that morning. I have learned that May 16 1986 does not DEFINE who I am, yes it in ways have shaped who I have become but does not define me. I have learned that we the survivors share a bond that cannot be broken. We will always be there for one another. I have learned that each healing journey is different and that I can't heal for someone else or take their pain as they walk their own individual healing journey, I can be there for them but they have to be the one that wants to heal themselves. I can offer compassion support and my love to them but how and when they heal is their journey and their choice.

What was your "aha moment" that helped me pull out of the negative thoughts/PTSD

That is a tough one for me I don't really know what my aha moment was I think it was more a lot of little moments. I really got tired of the trauma weighing me down I would say so to speak. I was tired of carrying it and wanted to let go of the negative in my life. It has taken years of healing and I am sure my healing journey is not completely over. I will have bad days, nightmares, triggers and times of anxiety, I am not sure if I will I will ever go into any room and not look for a way out and my nearest exit, but none of that will control who I am because I choose to not be my triggers or let PTSD define who I become. So maybe my aha moment was deciding I wanted more in life than to be a victim or let May 16, 1986 define who I become. One of my big aha moments was my sister and niece were killed in a car accident on Dec.25, 2014 on their way to my house, it was another one of the worst days of my life and changed who I have become. However it taught me that even though it hurts to talk about them and I miss them terribly I will simply not stop sharing memories about them or talking about them, just like May 16,2014 was filled with trauma there are memories and tender mercies and miracles that need to be shared even though at times it hurts and is hard to get through the hard stuff the tender mercies and miracles need to be shared. #5 How did the experience mold me? Was I changed? Yes it has molded part of who I have become, you don't come out of a burning room and not be changed. It made me value each and every day, made me realize that life can change in a matter of seconds and hours, made me realize the importance my family has in my life, and also the value of prayer and a loving God that hears and answers those prayers. I still do not trust easily; I can count those that I really truly trust one hand, I am very cautious with who I let in my circle; I am a very private person, I still struggle with bearded men, so yes I was changed I had the innocence of childhood ripped out of my life in a matter of moments. I was defintly not the same little girl that left for school that morning.

Is your outlook different because of your Cokeville Experience?

Yes I feel my outlook is different, I know what it feels like to not know if I will ever spend moments and make memories with my family ever again. I try to make the most of every day and every memory. I have realized that life is short and you never know when a crazy mad man could change your destiny. I realize that family is everything and the only thing we take with us are the memories we make with family and others.

How do I feel about David and Doris Young?

Truthfully I don't really have a lot of feelings about them. I don't hate them today, but wouldn't want to sit down to dinner with them either! There may days and moments that I do hate them but that is part of a healing journey. I may get angry when I have a panic attack or on one of my triggers, but I have learned that is all a part of the process of healing. Forgiveness is a long journey and I am working on it. They don't cross my mind often and I try not to give them any of my time. It has taken years of healing to be able to say this but I have come the conclusion that they may have taken 2 1/2 hours of my life but I refuse to give them any more of it. My thoughts do often turn to Princess (Penny Young) and the other two men that refused to participate in David Young's plan that day. I admire their courage for standing up for children and my teachers they didn't even know. To them I wish I could say, "Thank You for your bravery and courage." I hope they have risen above the events of May 16, 1986 with their heads held high knowing that I, as a survivor, am grateful for their bravery and courage. To those three individuals I say Thank You.

What do I want people to know about Cokeville?

I want people to know that Cokeville is a small town just like many other small towns across the America. They simply experienced a miracle almost 30 years ago that has forever bonded them. It may not be the best place to live for some, but it was the best place for me to grow up. I was lucky enough to grow up in a town that knew the value of one another, that knew that life is short and could be changed at any given moment. I was lucky enough to know ALL my neighbors, and to grow up in a town that helped shape me into the woman that I am today. Cokeville will always be my home town and will always hold a special place in my heart. Thank you so much for this opportunity to reflect and to answer some of the hard questions about May 16 1986. It has made me realize how far I have come in my journey. Healing has not always been easy for me, I have always recognized the miracles of that day, but healing hasn't come easy. I am better than I was six months ago, so that is progress. I would like to say that every experience in that room was different as is every healing journey. Yes there were days I was bitter and angry from the event almost 30 years ago. Healing, I think, from trauma is most likely the hardest part; in my eyes. Yes that day was terrifying but so was learning how to live with the aftermath in my life. I have triggers and I still struggle sometimes, but I will not let that day define who I become. I want to really live and make a positive difference in the lives of others.

Witness Accounts & Additional Reading Resources

Child Hostage Accounts

Children Hostage Accounts

136 children from pre-school age to 6th Grade were held hostage by David and Doris.
READ THEIR STORIES

Adult Hostage Accounts

Adult Hostage Accounts

Devoted teachers, parents, a job applicant, and an ill-timed UPS driver composed the adult hostages.
READ THEIR STORIES

Emergency Response

Emergency Response

Emergency and hospital crews from neighboring towns recount miracles of their own in the aftermath.
READ THEIR STORIES

More Witness Accounts

More Witness Accounts

Parents and other relatives share their reaction to the events on
May 16, 1986.
READ THEIR STORIES