Filming at Layton school highlights 1986 'miracle' bombing

Tuesday , June 24, 2014 - 12:12 PM

Standard-Examiner correspondent

LAYTON – As one of the 154 students and teachers who survived the Cokeville Elementary bombing in Wyoming on May 16, 1986, Brad Shane Nate didn’t know if he could relive the nightmare when he was invited to be in the film recreating the tragedy.

The movie is being directed by T.C. Christensen, known for his recent LDS-themed films, “17-Miracles,” and “Ephraim’s Rescue.”

The infamous Cokeville Elementary bombing was replayed out last week at Whitesides Elementary in Layton, where coincidently, the room Christensen picked for the filming just happened to be Room number 4, the same room number where the tragic events took place 28 years ago.

Nate, of River Heights, Utah,  knew being in the film would be hard, especially since he can remember every horrifying moment during the afternoon spent at age 11 locked up in a room with a large bomb. The bombers held the school hostage while waiting for ransom money. However, Nate agreed to be in the movie, alongside many of his other classmates.

“This is an opportunity to perhaps share our story, and perhaps help others, even the other survivors,” said Nate.

How those kids survived the bomb, which went off several hours into the hostage situation is exactly the story Christensen wants to tell.

On that May day David Young entered the school with his wife carrying a large gasoline-filled bomb. The couple herded a group of students and teachers into a single classroom. David Young attached the bomb to his wrist and threatened the group that he could set off the bomb just by moving his arm.

After a standoff of 2 1/2 hours, the children were becoming restless, so the teachers led them in prayer. The praying made David Young agitated and he left the room after attaching the bomb’s detonation device to his wife’s wrist.

During the chaos, Doris Young lifted her arm, setting off the bomb. David Young came back in the room, saw the carnage, then shot his wife and himself. Seventy-nine people suffered burns, but no one else died.

‘’The people of Cokeville were blessed with a miracle, a side of the story people don’t know about because the stories from the children came out weeks after the event,” said Christensen.

The miraculous events Christensen refers to are the angelic visitations witnessed by many of the students, and the unsolved mystery of how the bomb exploded without killing a single child.

Christensen expects the film to be in theaters by summer of 2015.

“I hope this film will be a positive, uplifting look at modern-day miracles,” said Christensen, who has spent much of his film-career focusing on pioneer-day miracles. “There are still miracles that happen today, and here is one that happened in our time and shows God’s hand is still involved with people.”

As Nate watched the billowing smoke come out the windows at the school last week as the bombing was recreated using air cannons, compressors, and accumulator tanks, he commented on how surreal the experience was, bringing back memories from the day.

Just before the bomb went off, many of the kids, including Nate, attest to being warned by angels to go by the windows.

“While in the room, I knew it was evil, but then there was a point where I heard a voice, and told that everything was going to be fine and that I needed to go by the window. It was very direct, and the person knew my name, so I thought it was my teacher, but when I asked him, he hadn’t said anything to me,” said Nate.

“I had a super calm feeling, and I was again reassured that everything was fine, at which point, the bomb went off,” he said. “I heard a super loud bang, it was dark, and I was thrown into the window opening and pushed through. I thought I was dead because I didn’t feel any pain and I couldn’t hear anything, but then the sound eventually came back and I heard screaming, so I ran to my grandma’s house, which was nearby.”

Shawn Stahl, of Evanston, Wyo., was 7 at the time of the bombing, and doesn’t remember an angel. But when the bomb went off, Stahl didn’t feel any of the concussive force, which is odd to him now working as a police officer. Anytime he is near a practice bomb situation, he can feel the force from quite a distance.

“It looked like a huge bonfire and there was so much smoke, I couldn’t see anything, so I dropped down and crawled on my hands and knees, crying and screaming because I didn’t want to die,” said Stahl. “Then things started hitting the wall, but I could see a light, so I jumped up and ran to it where a teacher put their arm out and felt me, chucked me out the window and I hit the ground rolling where my dad found me, covered in black from head to toe.”

Ron Hartley, who was also on the movie set watching the action, remembers inspecting the room afterwards as one of the lead investigators. Hartley saw all of the pock marks on the walls in the classroom from the bomb’s shrapnel, and was baffled that the kids were all fine. He then recalls his son talk about the angels that held hands and went up with the bomb smoke, which was a bit too much for Hartley to believe at first.

“That didn’t go over real well for me because I think like a cop, but my son was so adamant, it turned my attention around. My son said there were angels for everyone, saying his deceased grandma told him to go to the window,” said Harley. “Seeing the room afterwards, I thought there was no way they could all be fine, so there was no doubt that all these kids had seen a miracle.”

Stahl and Nate both commented that reliving the experience through the filming has been a healing opportunity.

“We want to give people hope from the story with all the violence and school shootings we face today,” said Stahl.

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