Cokeville survivors relive school bombing for film
Wiscombe was only a kindergartner at the time, but he still recalls the blast and the fear that followed.
"I just remember that loud, loud sound going off and then it was pitch black," Wiscombe said. "The last thing I remember seeing was fire at my feet, and I remember thinking, ‘I’ll never see my mom again.’ "
It’s been tough for the survivors to go through it all again — even amid the safety of a film set. And it’s been difficult to see their kids re-enacting what they experienced almost three decades ago.
The survivors and their kids spent several days acting out scenes in the classrooms and outside the school. Their faces were smeared with fake ash and blood.
Background on the Cokeville school bombing
— David Young, 43, and his wife, Doris Young, 47, entered Cokeville Elementary in Wyoming at 1:20 p.m. on May 16, 1986, and held 154 students, teachers and administrators hostage in a classroom. The captors demanded $300 million in ransom to finance a long-planned revolution.
— At 3:40 p.m., Doris Young accidentally detonated a firebomb, injuring nearly 80 children and adults. More than 20 had to be hospitalized with burns.
— Doris Young was seriously injured in that blast. But an autopsy revealed she died from a gunshot to the head. Minutes after the explosion, David Young shot himself to death.
— During the standoff, David Young handed out copies of a rambling memo to hostages with references to Socrates, nuclear war, Christ, Hitler and the “nothingness of knowledge.”
— In 1979, David Young was Cokeville’s town marshal and was jokingly referred to as Wyatt Earp because he wore long-barreled pistols in gunslinger-type holsters strapped to his leg. The mayor fired Young because, “he was a weirdo who wouldn’t follow orders or do his job.”
— Sheriff’s investigator Ron Hartley, who read dozens of Young’s diaries, believes he targeted Cokeville because he considered the children to be intelligent and he wanted them to surround him in a reincarnated world that he would dominate.
Source: Salt Lake Tribune archives
But the kids didn’t seem scared. Instead, they felt honored to essentially play younger versions of their parents.
"I like to pretend I’m my mom," said a smiling Regyn Conger, 9.
Kamaya Wixom, who at 12, is now about the same age as her father when he was held hostage, said, "It’s nice to be able to feel what he went through."
Kamron Wixom said he believes it will ultimately be good for his kids.
"It was a positive story," he said of the crisis. "It’s a faith-promoting thing and a good thing for our kids to have a little more connection to."
Kamron Wixom also ended up as an extra in the filming. On Thursday, he dressed as a paramedic, comforting a little girl and boy running out of the school — a little boy that could have been him 28 years ago.
Conger also worked as an extra, pretending to be a worried parent waiting outside the school. It wasn’t difficult for Conger, now a mother of five, to imagine what her mother, who also had five kids, must have gone through that day.
"It wasn’t hard for me to cry," she said of acting out the scene.
But Conger hopes the difficulty of reliving the events will be worth it. She feels a responsibility as a survivor to share her story, which she sees as one of hope and faith.
"I thought it was time to tell the vital parts of the story," Conger said, "and let people know miracles happen and prayers are answered."