On May 16, 1986, David Young and his wife, Doris, quietly and methodically took control of Cokeville Elementary. Ten-year-old Amy and her fellow fifth-graders were unknowingly drawn into the crisis when Doris Young came to the classroom and told them there was an emergency and everyone needed to gather in the first graders’ classroom.
“I felt immediately uncomfortable,” Williams recalls. “There was nothing extraordinary about her, just something weird.”
There was no reason to question her, so the class made their way down the eerily silent hallway and into the 30-by-30-foot room where the rest of the students and staff were being held—154 people in all. David Young stood holding a string attached to a homemade bomb.
Principal Max Excell was the one who helped Williams understand the situation. “I asked him what was happening, and he told me we were being held hostage,” she recalls. David Young, a former Cokeville police officer who was fired for misconduct seven years earlier, was now back to start a revolution and was demanding a ransom of $2 million per child. “He started reading his proclamation of a brave new world, and at that point, kids started crying.”
Williams started crying too. “I began to wonder, ‘What happens if I die today? I don’t know where to go. Will I see my family again?’ I was really scared for the unknown. Most of the kids in my class were LDS, but I wasn’t, and I didn’t have the knowledge that they did.” She continues, “We didn’t go to church, read scriptures, or talk about Jesus. I was a boat on an ocean without a sail—there wasn’t any anchor to tell me what life was about.”
Gasoline fumes from the bomb began making people sick, so David Young allowed some windows to be opened. He also allowed teachers to group the children together as classes to help keep them calm. That’s when a kindergarten teacher invited Williams to join her and some students in prayer.
“I told her I didn’t know how to pray. She said, ‘You don’t have to know how,’” Williams recalls. “I crawled over and folded my arms and bowed my head. I don’t remember much of what she said, but I remember suddenly feeling like I had a warm blanket around my shoulders—this incredible amount of comfort and joy that I can’t explain. I knew in my heart that I would be okay no matter what happened.”
With newfound courage, Williams decided to do something to comfort the other children. “It was really hot. We were sweating,” she recalls. “So I asked a teacher to ask David if I could give the kids some water.” Young agreed, so Williams found an old Miracle Whip jar with paintbrushes in it. She washed out the jar, filled it with cold water, and began taking it around for the children to drink.
“I handed the jar to Mikey Thompson. He raised it to his lips, and that was it,” she says. “There was this loud noise, and the room filled with this bright red color. I was flung over him, and we all ended up in a pile on the floor.”
What happened to the children? And what experience caused Williams to join the Church? Keep reading at LDS Living.
Aleah is a graduate of Southern Virginia University, where she studied English, Creative Writing, and Dance. She now works full time as a marketing and product manager, writer, and editor. Aleah served a mission in California and loves baking, Lang Leav poetry, Gaynor Minden pointe shoes, and Bollywood movies.