Being invited by T.C. and Ron to a special screening was a rare honor, and telling of their genuine care for the town, and lack of ego in these projects. But niceties aside, it was with trepidation that we attended - speaking for all. With many very obvious reasons to be tense about the events playing out on the screen, and apprehensive about how it would be portrayed, the screening was met with a lot of emotion. But once the movie concluded there was a very real sense of relief, of being pleased with the result, and even a sense of triumph. T.C. had done it. He captured the essence of why many in town wanted the story told. If you are curious about the particulars of the actual events vs. the way they were characterized in the movie, you can read more below.
Note:Small towns are constantly craving something that will "put them on the map", but even with the positives of this story, Cokeville will always refuse to be defined by this event. That's part of what makes it Cokeville, Wyoming. It should be known that not all were in favor of this film being produced, for various reasons. In multiple meetings in Cokeville, T.C. patiently listened to sometimes candid and raw arguments for and against the idea of being portrayed (again) in a movie format. A well-intentioned made-for-TV-movie was produced by CBS in 1994, leaving the town feeling misrepresented, and unsatisfied that the better parts of the story could be told in a reverent and dramatic - but not sensationalized way. And some simply don't want to talk about it in any way whatsoever. Traumatic events, even ones with tremendously positive outcomes like this, still require healing. Learn more about our newly inspired efforts to reach out and encourage healing.
What Really Happened that Day? - A Survivor's Perspective of the Movie
When you make the journey to the big screen with some of your most traumatic and sacred memories, there is a deep desire to know that there is meaning and purpose in the re-telling of it. We have hoped and prayed that it matters, or makes a positive difference to others. As several of us survivors have been to some of the sneak preview screenings, to either help introduce the film, or simply watch for the first time, we have felt rewarded by the positive and grateful movie-goers in these "sneak peeks" they've shown in local areas. It's not exactly easy to watch - probably even if you weren't a hostage that day! After all, there's a lot going horribly wrong in front of your face in the first half of this film. I'm guessing that even without having experienced it first-hand, you think to yourself, "this just shouldn't be happening!" More reality sets in for us, of course. I've talked with other survivors watching for the first time, and we've all wondered if one of us was going to vomit, or need to flee from the theater, or lose control in some way with overwhelming emotions). By all reports I'm aware of, those of us that have seen it are doing okay, realizing what healing we still have to do. All of that is necessary to set up what unfolds in the latter half - and builds to a glorious story of very personal healing - all told with amazing childlike simplicity. This latter-half of the story - the part so worth telling - has remained largely hidden in media (other than books). T.C. Christensen is simply a hero for me, as are my parents for writing their book so many years ago. T.C. really did this right. Awkward as the "thank you for telling your story" comments are to accept as a survivor, they do help us settle in and realize that re-telling this story was all worthwhile. Our thanks go to the sincere desires and dedication of the film-makers. Several of us have emerged from this film-making and film-going experience triumphant, and wanting to shout out loud: "EVERYONE NEEDS TO SEE THIS MOVIE!"
Down to the nitty-gritty: It is common to leave a movie such as this asking, “which parts were true, and which ones were creative liberties to tell the story?” The billboards for this movie have been asking the question "What really happened that day?" You’ll see, as I try to break it down, that T.C. and Remember Films did a remarkable job getting the major facts and points of the story spot on – even word for word – while weaving a compelling story line through it all. Fortunately there has been excellent documentation of the event, and of the witness testimonies as they emerged in the aftermath. While the books that contain those documented stories are still available, I realized about a year ago how very little of this was available on the world wide web. I aim to fix that with this website. It's a chance to complete more and more of the unfolding story of healing - hopefully from the mouths of those directly involved. It seems important to let the stories be heard and known.
Fact:All police officers were out of town when the incident occurred. Ron Hartley was traveling back from southern Utah when the bomb detonated. Other officers were busy with mundane errands such as a visit to the dentist office in Kemmerer (45 minutes away), etc. when they got news of the incident.
Fact:Ron Hartley led the investigation into David and Doris Young. He also admits to “being a cop” with his son about his angel story. The real story involves several sleepless nights with a high fever that broke almost immediately after revealing the details about how divine intervention took place that day.
Fiction:Ron Hartley was not the man that asked the Walker kids about their angel story. In order to shorten the timeline, and to draw viewers into one character's evolution the script was made to simply depict it as Ron's story. In truth, Hartt and Judene Wixom had been investigating the story for a book they were writing to document the event - something they felt compelled to do. The first manuscript did not include stories of angels - none of those stories had reached public ears until the Walkers contacted them indicating there was perhaps more to the story. In a visit with the Walkers and their children, nearly eight months after the incident, specific "investigative" questions were asked for the first time such as "what did the angels look like" and it was at this time that the Walker girls first identified their angel as one of their ancestors - similar to the way it was portrayed in the movie. As the Wixoms investigated further, they discovered similar stories of divine intervention from other families involved - and noted the pattern of recognizing guardian angels as deceased ancestors. The way that these witness testimonies were gathered independently of each other is something of particular note.
Fact:Bomb expert Richard Haskell made a list of fourteen factors that led to why the bomb did not detonate as it was designed. Among these factors, several remain unexplained. They are laid out clearly and plainly in the movie. It is true that the Hartley boy described the angels surrounding the bomb, directing the force upward, independent of the bomb technician's investigation. More about this may be available soon.
Fact:There was a moment in the room, just as depicted in the movie, where David needed to remove his sweater or jacket. It was one of the more tense moments in both the movie and in reality.
Fiction:None of the kids interacted or spoke with David. The line about “my dog’s name is Peaches” is awesome, but it was all T.C. . The same goes for the line about the AK-47. But all of it is true to the spirit of how us kids were a little bit brazen in the face of evil, and how twisted David’s logic was.
Fact:Some of us kids really did play games and crack jokes that literally went over the line of masking tape on the floor around David and the bomb. Not the brightest thing to do, I know... In fact, I built a toy tank of Legos and said in a gruff military voice, “Okay men, we’re going across the ‘death line’.” My “death line” was in reference to the current events of 1986 when Moammar Gadhafi drew a “death line” in the bay above Libya that the American Ships were not to cross over, or else they’d be shot. After cracking the joke to my friend, I looked up to see if David had heard me. He scowled at me over his right shoulder. It was shortly after this that he took leave of the bomb, turning it over to his wife Doris.
Fact:The High School did gather together in the old auditorium to offer a group prayer. The principal is shown in the movie as female; reality is it was a male principal.
Fact:The older kids did speak with Doris as she “guarded” the main exit. We asked questions about how long we would be held, and when she said it could be days, one of my friends exclaimed that he didn’t have his special toothbrush for the braces he’d just gotten. Clearly our minds were not centered on death or the bomb. It was immediately after this that Doris was called away to hold the bomb.
Fact:Allyson Cornia was called upon to say the prayer, by me, because she was indeed the smartest kid in the class!
Fiction:It was not me whose idea it was to pray. Fact: I was still trying to make sense of everything. But when my friend Brian said, “Don’t worry! Heavenly Father’s not going to let us die! We haven’t done anything wrong!” I quickly grasped the phrase and began passing it on to let the idea help those younger kids further away from me that were sobbing or feeling endangered. As far as I know, the same phrase was passed around in the opposite direction as well. It was shortly after this that individual and group prayers were suggested and offered. It’s interesting to me that only after those prayers were said, did the mood in the room begin to shift and get louder.
Fact:One mother did drop her boy off for Kindergarten and had her baby (a pre-schooler) stranded in the car. A horrible dilemma to be faced with! Other unmentioned hostages include an ill-timed UPS Driver, and a job interviewee for the following year.
Fact:Jennie Sorensen identified her angel as though it was a teacher who had led her out the door, but it was many years later that she made the connection that the "teacher" had never been a teacher at the school, but was a relative that had passed on some years before the bombing. The timeline of the movie did not allow for this to be explained this way.
Fact:There were two windows that opened in a particular (and awkward) way for escape. There were also two doors for exit, one went past the small bathroom for kindergartners, and then out through the adjoining classroom.
Fiction:The wall of windows depicted in the movie was a generous helping of outside light that was not a reality for the survivors of the blast. It was VERY dark in that room, with a thick, black smoke that filled the room quickly. If the darkness of that room was portrayed realistically, there would be nothing visible on the screen.
Fact:The 5th/6th Grade teacher, portrayed as Mr. Robinson in the movie, did indeed get his belt buckle stuck on the window latch. Truth is, he was actually dangling head first out the window, with his legs sticking up in the air. He told me just hours afterwards that he wondered if that was how he would die, being shot from behind by David. Reality is that it was far too dark in that room, with shrapnel and cartridges exploding for David to make his way through the room towards the windows.
Fact:David did fire shots after the bomb detonated. He shot my band teacher, Mr. Miller in the back with the .22 caliber pistol. (My teacher showed us the bruise where the bullet had traveled through his back and there was an obvious, and unexplained curve around his spine). David then shot Doris who was engulfed in flame. Officials determined, based on the trajectory and aim of the shot through the skull, that David made the .44 caliber shot from a military style crouch on one knee, to steady his aim, and shot with an upward angle.
Fact:This movie does not mention any word about the strange and controversial image (the only soot mark of its kind in the room) on the eastern interior wall wherein some claimed to see either "the outline of where an angel stood" or the somewhat "creepy appearance of a skull face." This particular image, while strange and unexplainable, became the main source for series TV dramas such as "Unsolved Mysteries" and such. It was also the only hint of divine intervention depicted by the CBS movie. There is no way to explain what this image is, or how it may have gotten there. So, it was not depicted as an angelic sign in this movie - there were plenty of other witness testimonies that T.C. Christensen wisely decided to focus on.
In conclusion,I think it is interesting to know the real facts, as they really unfolded. I'd recommend reading the accounts in Witness to Miracles. It's a difficult read, but powerful because it leaves the accounts in the witness' own words.
I’ve got a friend who prides himself on being a skeptic. He recently posted “Skepticism is a healthy doubt when faced with a lack of credible evidence. Denial is willful doubt in the face of overwhelming credible evidence”. I agree. But I still think non-believers are going to “non-believe” despite the overwhelming evidence laid out in this story. Denial is what it is. Devout skeptics find exactly what they were looking for, which was nothing in the first place… sadly, just like David Young in his philosophy that God is nothing. For years I have wanted this story to help defeat and convert the skeptics, the atheist, etc. and "make them believe in God." But I am comforted to remember that signs are given to help strengthen the believers, not to convince the unbeliever. Still, I will continue to tell the facts as they are, and see what comes of it. It’s impossible to accurately judge, or know, who the facts may affect.