Cokeville miracle marking 25 years

By Trent Toone

Mormon Times

Published: Thursday, May 12 2011 3:30 a.m. MDT

A while later, some children complained of thirst. Williams asked if she could take a jar of water around and give kids a drink. Young approved, and she filled an old mayonnaise jar and began making the rounds. She had her back turned to the bomb around 3:45 p.m. when it exploded.

The bomb Young had on the shopping cart was homemade and powerful enough to destroy a section of the school. Moments before the explosion, Young handed the shoelace and clothespin to his wife and went across the hall to the bathroom. Doris Young apparently didn’t realize how sensitive the trigger mechanism was and accidently caused it to go off.

The blast knocked Williams off her feet. The room erupted in chaos as children ran screaming in the dark, smoke-filled room. While many kids, including her friends Amber Kemp and BranDee Prows, escaped through the window, Williams crawled toward a light at the doorway. She crossed paths with David Young at the door, and he tried to grab her shirt, but the tide of running children prevented him. She escaped but saw flames on her shirt and felt an odd, tickling sensation on her shoulder. She started rolling to try to put it out, but the burning sensation only intensified. She was saved from further burns when some teachers found her and slapped out the flames. Then they told her to run.

Outside the school, parents scrambled to find their children. As Williams emerged, she could feel she was severely burned but was in a state of shock. She started wandering down the street and found music teacher John Miller lying in his own blood. He had been shot. Williams learned later that after Young failed to grab her, he sprayed bullets into the black room. Some kids were grazed by whizzing bullets, but none were hit; Miller, however, took one in the spine. He later recovered.

Miraculously, everyone was eventually accounted for except for the Youngs. Upon finding his burning wife, Young shot her and then returned to the bathroom and shot himself.

It should have been worse. Bomb experts later discovered that only one of the bomb’s five blasting caps went off. When firefighter Lyle Forrest entered the dark room to look for children, he found himself on a pile of guns, but none of them went off.

There are also reports of several children seeing angels. For example, Glenna Walker’s children saw a “beautiful lady” who told them to go near the window right before the explosion. When looking at a picture in a locket later, one of the children identified the lady as Walker’s deceased mother.

Williams had third-degree burns on her face, neck and back. Because there were more than 75 injured, ambulances were dispatched to Montpelier, Idaho; Kemmerer, Wyo.; Evanston, Wyo.; and to Utah. Her parents drove her to Montpelier, where the hospital had not received word of the bombing. “Get prepared for a long night,” Williams' father told them.

Williams was lying in a hospital bed when she learned two Melchizedek priesthood holders were going room to room giving blessings. She asked for a blessing.

“The blessing said Heavenly Father was there and watched over us, that he loves us, and although this terrible thing happened and my body was burned horribly, that I would heal and have no scars,” Williams said with emotion. “The scars I would have to overcome would be scars of forgiveness and trust.”

Her pediatrician, a member of the LDS Church, didn’t think such a promise was realistic, but Williams, feeling the same peaceful feeling she had felt earlier, believed the blessing. New skin grew in, and to this day she has no scarring, despite severe burns.

“It was a miracle. I healed completely. Nobody has any idea I was in the Cokeville bombing,” she said.

The anniversary

To commemorate the 20th anniversary in 2006, a group called the Cokeville Miracle Foundation compiled a 500-page book of accounts by many people who lived through the fateful day and titled it “Witness to Miracles.” Susan Fiscus, Karla Toomer and Chemene Petersen gathered information for the book. Survivors and residents of Cokeville were invited to a town celebration, and some talked about the event for the first time in two decades. Nothing formal is planned for this year.

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