June 24, 2014

The Cokeville Miracle

The Cokeville Miracle - More Than A Paragraph

That was about it. I thought that was basically the story. But after spending two days on the set of T.C. Christensen's new film 'The Cokeville Miracle", wrong I was. I had summed up the story in one paragraph. Which is kind of like saying the story of Snow White is: I first heard about the Cokeville Hostages as a young teenage girl.  I remember hearing something about it on the news and then a few times here and there over the years I would hear similar versions of the story at church and even at girls camp. 

It was one of the faith building tales I was familiar with although I didn't seem to really know many details.  This was probably due to the fact that I was a 13 year old girl who typically stored information depending on how it concerned or directly impacted my life. It's a teenage thing.  My version was short and simple with not many details. I had it tucked away in my mind in the 'Cool Story' section.   Then last week I got a call that changed things. 

I had been given the opportunity to write about a film that was being made about the Cokeville Hostage incident. As my sister and  I drove the hour from my house to a school in Layton to get a behind-the-scenes look at  T.C. Christensen's ( Ephraim's Rescue, 17 Miracles, Work and the Glory) new film  'The Cokeville Miracle" we went over the story I thought I knew:
Back in the 80's, in a small town in Wyoming, a crazy husband and wife went to a school and took a ton of kids and their teachers hostage.  There was a bomb and it went off but only the bad guys died. There were prayers offered.  A couple of children in the room claimed they saw angels.  Some people called those who survived that fateful day back in 1986 lucky.  Others believe it was a miracle.  Either way, cool story. The End.  
That was about it.  I thought that was basically the story.  But after spending two days on the set of T.C. Christensen's new film 'The Cokeville Miracle", wrong I was.  I had summed up the story in one paragraph.  Which is kind of like saying the story of  Snow White is:  

Why would anyone leave out the part about Snow living with 7 dwarfs or her ability to talk to animals?  How about the fact that Snow used to live in a castle and although the girl can sing, when talking normally, she sounds like a chipmunk?  What about the evil step mother or the huntsman she sends to find Snow White?  Not even Walt Disney could tell a good story without all the details.  Who can say it was or wasn't a miracle without knowing the whole story?  So I set off to get the facts from the people who were actually there.

That was about it. I thought that was basically the story. But after spending two days on the set of T.C. Christensen's new film 'The Cokeville Miracle", wrong I was. I had summed up the story in one paragraph. Which is kind of like saying the story of Snow White is:
The Cokeville School Hostage crisis took place on May 16, 1986 in Cokeville Wyoming.  David Young and his wife Doris entered the school with a bomb and took 136 students and 18 adults hostage for almost three hours. Teachers comforted students as best they could and they prayed together which was an annoyance to David Young. 

Parents, friends and people from town all prayed and comforted each other as they waited outside the school. Some children reported seeing angels in the classroom. Although the bomb did accidentally go off in that small classroom, none of the hostages were killed.  Doris was badly injured so David shot his wife and then himself.  There were children hurt and badly burned but they all survived.  Later bomb experts would say the had no explanation why the bomb didn't do incredible damage.  

Within moments of arriving on the set I was standing in a classroom trying to imagine over 100 kids and teachers packed inside. How could a bomb go off in such a small place but not kill children only an arms length away? So many things had been left out, overlooked or forgotten in the story I thought I knew.  In my mind, when all the blanks are filled in, it is hard to call what happened that day anything but a miracle. With every person I spoke to I became more aware that this film needed to be made by some one brave enough to do it the right way.   That is why I am glad T.C. Christensen, who has directed some of my favorite movies is at the helm.  This true story has been put in very capable hands.
I spoke to as many people as possible.  The producer, the gals in charge of makeup, the guy setting up all of the explosives, the crew and all the kids I talked to covered in grey soot - everyone felt lucky and grateful to be part of telling the real Cokeville story.  

After lunch we were quietly ushered into a classroom and seated on tiny little chairs. We listened as four survivors, who are now mothers and fathers themselves, shared their own personal account of what occurred that day.  It was obvious that as children they had shown great faith and here, many years later, I could  feel the strength of that faith fill the room from survivors speaking now as adults.  There was no doubt in their minds that they were more than just lucky that day.  

Kamron Wixom was one of the survivors I was able to meet and speak to over the two days. Kamron talked and shared his feelings with me while he was dressed as a paramedic. He told me all about what he had experienced but what really stuck in my mind was when he talked about 'the magic square' the teachers had made with masking tape on the floor, surrounding the bomb. The children had been told not to cross the square.  But he was a brave and curious young boy who dared to fly his toy airplane into that magic no-fly zone for just a second. Kamron said the look he got from David Young 'the scary man with the bomb' is something he will never forget.  

I got teary eyed many times that day but it was Lori's story the really hit me and left me an emotional wreck.  It's because we are both mothers.   Lori described the scene she had filmed the previous day.  She knelt down with others and prayed. Lori spent hours imagining what it must have been like to have her children taken hostage by a crazy man with a bomb.   A mother who felt so helpless when her child was in danger - that was the role she played.   A mother who could do nothing to help her children but pray.  She was acting out her own mother's story.  When Lori Conger spoke about being able to play a part in the movie of a mother who prays for her children, I felt every tear that ran down her face. Sometimes there is nothing you can do except pray, and this was one of those times.   But, sometimes, prayer is all you need. 
I spent two days asking questions, listening to answers and soaking in the facts, details, determination and faith of the people making the Cokeville story come to life.  Ron Tanner - the executive producer who must have heard the same stories a hundred times and still got tears in his eyes almost as much as I did.  Diane Cahoon - the principal of the school where they were filming, who I found standing alone in the hallway, leaning into the classroom where they had just finished filming the scene where the bomb goes off and the kids escape. We talked for a while but her face said it all.  It's the principal's job to safeguard children.  She couldn't imagine failing.

Assistant Director Bob Conder and I had a couple of great talks about many different things. 

Before I left for the day Bob wondered, "why has no one made a film out of this amazing story before now? It's such an incredible story!"  and I agreed.  It has always been an amazing story but now, because I know the whole story, I too believe miraculous things happened that day.  

The last interview was with T.C. himself.  His list of films and accomplishments is beyond impressive so I hoped to come across as professional as the reporter he talked to earlier. But, of course when I finally shook his hand all of the reporter-ish questions I had planned to ask him instantly left my brain.  Instead, I thanked him for his willingness to make the kind of films that inspire, uplift, give hope and strengthen the faith of others.  I thanked him for adding the details, especially when it involves faith.   He was kind, funny and took the time to speak to me.  A little blogger named June who thought she knew the story of the Cokeville Miracle,  but was wrong.  

Thank heavens for T.C. Christensen making a movie with all the details and facts my version was missing.  So much more than my one paragraph summation of the story that it fills a feature length film.  If what I saw, heard and experienced during those two days on the set is any indication of how "The Cokeville Miracle" movie will turn out, you wont want to miss it. "The Cokeville Miracle" is scheduled to be released early next year and I cannot wait to see the finished product.

Thinking back to Bob's question, I now know exactly why no one has turned the book into a film before.  This inspirational true story was patiently waiting to to be told by the right people.  And trust me, Director T.C. Christensen  and his team are the right people.  

T.C. Christensen - 
obviously super excited to meet Simply June


  1. Great job, June! (And, thanks for inviting me!)

  2. Love it. Thanks, June, for your willingness to look deeper and see and feel the miracles of it all. It was such a pleasure meeting you and talking with you. I hope our paths cross again.

  3. I love this. Every May I think about that day. My brother was in that. I am so glad to have the story told .

  4. AnonymousJune 25, 2014

    Thank you June for doing your research and going to the set to find out more of what happened that day. I can't wait to see the movie when it comes out next year.

  5. AnonymousJuly 13, 2014

    What about Lark Rise to Candleford? Is it possible to get all of the seasons for that series too? Thanks so much for all you do! Maggie

  6. Is Rich Haskell, bomb technician, a relative?

  7. Richard Thomas (The Waltons) did a TV version of it back in 1998.