Lives miraculously spared during The Cokeville Miracle
On May 16, 1986, when former town marshal David Gary Young and his wife Doris Young took 154 children and thirteen teachers hostage at Cokeville Elementary school in Wyoming and kept them at bay with a shopping-cart sized bomb attached to five hairpin-trigger blast caps, it should have ended in great tragedy – one of the worst in American history. Yet, the bomb did explode, and it exploded in a room packed full of children – but the only people to die that day were Mr. Young and his wife.
In what is called “The Cokeville Miracle”, the lives of the children and teachers were miraculously spared. If you ask residents of the town how such a thing could happen, they will look you in the eye, smile, and answer in one word – Angels.
Cokeville – old-fashioned America at its best
Located in Wyoming’s southwest corner, along the Idaho border, Cokeville is a small community of less than 1,000 people. Their only claim to fame is a boarded-up bank on main street that was once robbed by Butch Cassidy. They know each other by name, leave their doors unlocked at night, and proudly proclaim that the Cokeville Elementary School is the town’s biggest employer. They are strong believers in a higher power and if you argue otherwise, they will throw down the gauntlet and tell the tale of the events that transpired on May 16, the day an army of mysterious ethereal entities were sent to protect their precious children.
The events began to unfold just after lunch on May 16, 1986, when an unknown woman walked from classroom to classroom, interrupting the teachers’ lessons, and announcing that there was an emergency in Room 2 and that the teachers should rush the children there right away. Although the request seemed strange, the teachers complied and soon the 30-foot by 30-foot room was packed full of all 154 children and 13 teachers.
As they entered the room, each teacher was handed a typewritten manifesto with quotes from Shakespeare and Socrates and a mysterious title across the top of the paper that read, “Zero equals Infinity”. Standing in the middle of the room was a raggedy, scruffy-looking man with wild eyes, arms resting on a shopping cart threaded with dozens of wires and filled with metal and other material that a witness recalled “smelled like gasoline”. A rope was attached from the cart to the man’s wrist, held there with a clothespin. Behind him, leaning against the chalkboard, was a line of guns – four rifles and nine handguns. The man pointedly told the hostages that he could, at a moment’s notice, simply twitch his arm to trigger the bomb.
The woman, Doris Young, did most of the talking and explained to the classroom full of people that they were starting a revolution and that each child in the room was required to pay $2 million dollars (investigators later discovered that the money was to be put into a “fund” that the Young’s would use after they were reincarnated). The Young’s believed that a community that loved its children, with strong roots in the Church, would listen to their demands – and comply. Meanwhile, across town a teenage girl rushed into the Town Hall shouting that her father had taken a large bomb into the local elementary school. Emergency management coordinator Kathy Davison instructed the town clerk to call dispatchers.
Inside the classroom, Doris Young attempted to twist the situation to her advantage. She told the children, “Someday you’ll be famous for this. You’ll write about it in your journals, and you’ll have a great story for your grandchildren.” Although not quite for the reasons the unstable Doris Young believed, as it turned out, her proclamation would ring much truer than she could ever anticipate.
Chaos and salvation
As the hostage situation dragged on for several hours, teachers busied the children with videos, stories, and songs but of course, their little minds inevitably wandered back to the situation at hand. As tensions mounted, some of the younger children began to edge towards David Young. Visibly irritated, Young instructed the teachers to push the tables and chairs to the edges of the room and to tape a square on the floor around the bomb located in the middle. He announced, “Cross this line of death and I’ll start shooting the grown-ups. I’ll shoot everyone if I have to!” Teachers called it the “magic square” and told the children to stay away from it.
As they waited, on their own, the children began to pray. One surviving teacher recalls:
“The kids were sitting in circles, and, as I looked over at them, you could see the circles would be saying a prayer. And they were all doing that. It was amazing to me.”
Around 3:45 P.M. the man, who witnesses noted was growing more and more agitated at the 100+ children crying and praying, handed the rope to the woman and quickly left the room. The woman attached the clothespin to her wrist, ensuring the triggering mechanism was tightly secured to her body.
One child, named Nathan, explained what happened to him at that precise moment:
“I was sitting in the classroom playing with a toy when something made me look up. That’s when I saw the angels. They were shiny, with flowing white robes. Some were holding hands. They glided down through the ceiling, then hung in the air for a second. I felt totally safe. Everyone seemed to have an angel. They came down next to us. My angel was a beautiful shining woman. It was almost as if she landed on my shoulder. She said, “Don’t be scared, Nathan. Get up and go to the window. The bomb is about to go off.” I did just what she said. Other children started doing the same thing.”
As the children’s prayers grew louder, Doris Young too became irritated and begged the teachers to settle the “unruly” group down. In one careless instant (some say she was startled), her animated movements pulled the cord on her wrist too tight. The bomb exploded prematurely, sending her flying across the room “like a flaming torch”. As survivors would later attest, and against all rational explanations, a tragedy of immense proportions had not been set into motion. Instead, the Cokeville Miracle had begun.
Salvation and Penance
The room quickly filled with smoke so dark, occupants could not see the person sitting right next to them. One teacher recalled, “You couldn’t see in front of you, all you could do was feel.” Students reported seeing a bright flash followed by a mushroom-shaped cloud of smoke. Some recollect being thrown completely across the room, smashing into the walls. One remembers the carpet on the wall igniting, bursting into flames, and burning her arm.
Immediately after the detonation, teachers began feeling their way around the room, groping for children, snuffing out the flames on their clothing when a burning child was found in the dark. They began lifting children out of a blown-out window and instructing them. “When your feet hit the ground, run.” Anxious parents waiting outside snatched the exiting children and rushed them to safety behind a gauntlet of emergency vehicles. The Billings Gazette explained how one child’s story played out:
“Lori Nate was thrown back against the wall. In the darkness, she heard someone speak and caught her bearings. She crawled for the door. When she ran out the school’s side door, she realized she didn’t know where her younger brother, Kevin, was. She tried to run back in, but the firefighters wouldn’t let her.”
In another instance, young Jennie Johnson’s story began to unfold:
“Jennie Johnson crawled to a hallway connecting her classroom to another. Then, she blacked out. Her next memory is of running, the bright light of the sun, her grandfather hugging her, pulling her close. Jennie said afterward, that she had not run outside but rather, someone had carried her – someone she had never met before.”
As the children were being sheltered, the drama inside the school continued to unfold.
David Young, hearing the explosion, rushed back into the room with a .45 pistol in one hand and a .22 in the other. He found his wife engulfed in flames, staggering around the room. He calmly raised the .45 and shot her. He then stepped out of the room, pressed the muzzle of the gun under his chin, and took his own life. In the end, although the classroom was completely destroyed and seventy-nine people were injured, the only deaths that day were those of David and Doris Young.
Angels in the classroom
As soon as the children began arriving into the arms of frantic parents and waiting emergency workers, their excited stories began. Some said a “beautiful woman” had advised them to go stand near the window. The radiant apparition assured them that the crisis was almost over, and they would be just fine. Some children reported seeing an angel hovering over the heads of each child in the room while many of the children later told how their personal guardian had whispered in their ear, “a disaster will happen but do not be afraid, your life will be spared”. Other children claimed that during the entire episode, a large angel stood near David and Doris Young, between the children and the bomb, with its wings spread for protection. And others still, told of a circle of angels formed around the bomb device, flashing gentle smiles as they stood facing the children, linked together holding hands.
At first, authorities dismissed their claims as the panicked ramblings of frightened children but soon, as the children’s stories began to merge and meld and evidence began to stack up in their favor, they began to realize that indeed something miraculous had just occurred in Cokeville.
To begin with, bomb experts called to the scene were baffled – how had the bomb not caused more damage? Bomb technician Rich Haskell studied bombs in the Marine Corp and had completed improvised explosives training at Redstone Arsenal near Huntsville, Alabama. He had worked with dynamite, blasting caps, fuses, and seismographic charges. Rich knew what bombs could do to buildings – and people.
“I just expected to see dead bodies every place,” he said. “But I didn’t.”
Young’s homemade bomb was contained inside an old shopping cart. It was a sophisticated bomb consisting of layers of wooden shelves with hundreds of rounds of ammunition on top, a layer of gasoline below, and tuna fish cans full of powder, resting on top of blasting caps. Young had tested an identical bomb inside an old school bus. It had worked perfectly.
Rich Haskell explained how the bomb was designed to work:
“When the blasting caps triggered, particles from the cans would go into the air, mix with the gasoline, which was on a time delay, and ignite in a fireball. The explosion would travel outward in a 360-degree circle, engulfing the room in flames.”
To their surprise, experts discovered that only one of the bomb’s five blasting caps had gone off. The wires to the other four caps were mysteriously cut. In addition, the container holding the gasoline had sprung a leak turning the volatile powder in the tuna fish cans into a paste. And the gasoline fumes had made some of the children sick. After a few threw up in trashcans, Young allowed the teachers to open a window, creating a vent that would buffer the force of the blast. According to investigators at the time, if the bomb had functioned as designed, it would have blown off the entire southwest side of the school building.
Still, an explosion of this magnitude, and the thousands of bits of flying shrapnel it had dispersed, should have killed more people but for one very important reason – the force of the blast had not radiated outward in the direction they would have expected. Analysis of the scene revealed that much of the force had been directed upward. Experts still cannot explain how or why. CNN wrote: “That every child and adult was spared in the bombing is nothing short of a miracle.”
Forensic evidence aside, the town residents began to realize that a series of “lucky” events had preceded the bombing, events that ended up saving the lives of the children who had been injured. For instance, the town was full of emergency responders who happened to be in the area working a flood that had occurred the week before. And two weeks prior to the incident, the volunteer fire department had, for the first time, practiced how to treat the elementary school if it were to catch on fire. Their experience was honed over the next two weeks as an electrical short in the school’s alarm kept setting it off, initiating a series of unplanned, but beneficial, fire drills on the school’s campus.
But the final, conclusive explanation came as the smoke cleared from the room. Etched into the wall, just behind the blast area, was the burnt outline of a large, human-shaped figure with what looked to be wings extending from the sides of its body. The children’s “wild tales” had just been fortified with physical evidence.
Haskell related how he had been “taught certain things” but was not active in his faith. “Since that day, I have been,” said Haskell, who is now sheriff of Sweetwater County.
Years later, Jennie Johnson, the student who blacked out and was carried from the burning room, was looking through an old photo album with her grandmother. They came across a picture that she had never seen before. “That’s the lady,” she said, “She was the one that was there with me.” Her grandmother explained that she couldn’t have known her. The woman was Jennie’s Aunt Ruth, her father’s sister. She had died before Jennie was born.
As the investigation unfolded, authorities began to realize that David Young was a very sick man. In 1979, he had been the town’s marshal for only six months and residents remember his “Wyatt Earp” style of law. He wore a pair of six-shooters on his hips. After being fired for “misconduct”, the Young’s moved to Tucson, Arizona and lived there until 1986 when they returned back to Cokeville. Investigators found forty-one journals in his home including one titled, “1986 – The Year of the Biggie”.
The incident was detailed in the book When Angels Intervene to Save the Children by Hartt Wixom and his wife Judene, which formed the basis for a CBS made for TV movie titled To Save the Children. In 2006, the Cokeville Miracle Foundation compiled a book of recollections about the day from parents, emergency workers and former hostages. The story was also featured on Unsolved Mysteries, Unexplained Mysteries, and I Survived…
The Billing Gazette followed up on “Jennie”, the girl who recalled being carried across the room by an unknown woman, and who, by all accounts, should have died. “Jennie grew up, graduated valedictorian of her high school class, married in the Salt Lake City temple, finished college, had three children, traveled the world, started a career in accounting, ran a marathon.”
Crime scene photos from the Cokeville Elementary School bombing
David Young’s Manifesto
Below is the complete text of David Young’s rambling “manifesto”. Spelling and grammar errors have been left intact.
Zero equals Infinity
Seemingly, some thousands of years ago, several individuals combined, or perceived their combination and therein created Man.
This creation was, and is, a concept; a thought or idea, neither right or wrong (left) but a way among ways.
For the better part of the interim then, men played with Man making love, fire, food, mores, children, Gods, language, tools, wastes, etc: combinations of divers sorts, in almost as many directions (purposes). Now people come and people go, but always as people, no longer as individuals from which people had risen (or succumb). Almost as frequently as people come and go, additional, more distant concepts (from whatever reality is the individual/that precedes them); families, clans, tribes, villages, towns, cities, states, and civilizations make their brief passages and then leave the scene.
These various combinations of Man with teir various concepts of themselves invented war in order that any singular combination might achieve dominance over other combinations. This came to pass as Man attempts to preempt those rights of the individual. The individual remembers reality only in learned (rather than the original and innate, therefore false) responses to right (his combinations values) and wrong (other combinations values differing from his own.)
History is the study of these combinations.
As a matter of record, therefore, some 2400+ years ago, Socrates, and individual, addressed himself to an evolving concept called knowledge. Knowledge is again a way to conceive, but conception is enlarged through rules less combination specific. Philosophy, remote as ever, is slowly displaced by science (mathematics, medicine, astronomy, etc.), a disciplines observing the singular rule that a fact becomes knowledge when it can be proved.
Proof is a concept, it suggests something that “is” on account of itself – it “is” proven. At best a probability, at worse nonsense, proof in any event is very distant from reality. Nevertheless it has been the predominant concept these 2000+ years and any combination that has competed with other combinations using it has eventually either adopted it or ceased to exist.
Be this as it may, knowledge and its attendant proofs remain but a way among ways. Socrates, reputed to be the wisest man of his time, investigated the basis of knowledge in a manner still available (Plato wrote it down and it survives), still as viable, and still as conclusive as it was 2400+ years ago. Socrates concluded, just as we must, “As for me, all I know is that I know nothing.”
Nothing? This knowledge of ‘nothing’ then is all we have for all the lessons of history, these 2400+ years, Christ, revolutions, insurance, relativity, moon and space probes, cruesades and inquisitions, Shakespeare, Newton, medical science, hydrogen, fusion, metalurgy, Hitler, electricity, government and law, etc.?
The answer to this concern regarding the nothingness of knowledge is rather yes and no. The Knowledge of Nothing is all there is (to know), but 99.9% of us don’t even know that. Mostly, as in all these several thousands of years, we believe (another concept!) we know that 2 plus 2 equals 4 or that a line perpendicular from the ground is up, or that Christ is good (bad or indifferent), or that our names or ages are such and such.
That our belief that the moon is something we can put men on, or that a certain creed offers a unique conclusion, or that E+MC@ is not one whit more true than a New Guinean tribes concepts and rationales that have preserved its stone age culture into our world, leave the majority of us feeling wronged. Therefore, rather than learn the reality and limitations of knowledge, we refute truth with some age old axiom (bullets conquer stone axes), note the bobbing heads of surrounding bigots (99.9% of everyone) and return without doubt or question to selfish, self-centered, egotistical sub systems and social specific cultures fromwhich we otherwise might free ourselves.
Were we to continue, however, the invextigation of knowledge, we’d need to internalize Socrates’; All I know is that I know nothing.
0=[infinity], Zero (or Nothing) Equals the Infinite. TRUTH!
How is this to be? Believing 2 plus 2 equals 4 hardly invalidates Knowing 0=[infinity]. The diabolical trick we’ve otherwise learned (internalizesd) is realitivity; when in Rome do as the Romans, when doing math do as the mathematicians, when fighting a thermonuclear war, discard spears and arrows for the thermonuclear devises, etc. While 2 plus 2 equals 4 (and there would have been no men put on the moon if it hadn’t) it might just as well equal 22 or many (‘primitive’ tribes frequently respond thus to any mathematical concept above 3) or various other concepts that are easier to ignore than to realize, know, and internalize. But would we internalize these various concepts, we realize the relativeness of these various formulas, that knowledge is indeed relative, therefore untrue, therefore unknowledge, certainly nothing less than falsehood.
That0=[infinity] is TRUE, REALITY, and a symbolic manner of prphrasing Socrates’ conclusion regarding the limits of knowledg is another matter. Here we confront what we thought we pursued all these years, what we should have remembered from 2400 years ago. The imortal Greek told us, showed us, and taught us the limitations of knowledge and we killd him for it, not merely one individual once, but in all this nonsense we’ve engaged in since. Still, in 2400 years, 24,000 years, or 240,000 eons, there is truth-relativity and TRUTH. Let’s cease being beasts and begin to be Gods!
As was suggested at the beginning of this writting, Man is an invention, he is lots of individuals. Rather or not individuals ultimately exist (and what we mean by asking that question) is matter for another writting, it will presently suffice to remember that we still singularly (individually) conceive and perceive in the ever-present. Aware of the relativity of the games we play in our various existances, we will allow our individual trajectories (precepts and concepts) their original and innate freedom to achieve their own accords (determine their own natures ) without the hindrances of Man, families, clans, villages, towns, cities, states, or civilizations. Responsible, as ever (we die our own death, remember?) for our own actions (no Man, family clan, village, town, city, state, government, or religion condoning withholding the above noted original and innate freedoms) we will collectively evolve into the next step of wherever it is we’re going (Nowhere in the REALITY of 0-[infinity] but still a long way from achieving it.).
We are all ONE and ‘we’ came apart to do ‘this’ for something ‘to do’ in Nothing and Infinity.”
David G. Young 4/th Wct. 1978 Tucson, Arizona
Complete text of Lead investigator, Ron Hartley interview
Interview of Ron Hartley
From the Archives of the Wyoming Department of State Parks & Cultural Resources
Transcribed and edited by Russ Sherwin, February 20, 201 1, Prescott, Arizona
Version: V2 First Draft for review
• Subject: Ron Hartley
• Occupation at the time: Lead
Investigator, Lincoln County Sheriff’s
Office; father of four student survivors.
• Interviewer: Mark Junge
• Interview date: September 22, 2010
• Place of Interview: Cokeville, Wyo.
• Topic of interview: Cokeville
Elementary School Bombing
• Source recording for transcription:
MP3 Podcast from Wyoming Dept of
State Parks and Cultural Resources:
Transcriber’s notes: I have added some reference footnotes to this transcript where I thought
appropriate. In most cases I have deleted redundant ands, ers, uhs, buts, false starts, etc. If I
deleted an entire phrase, I have inserted ellipses . . . Where you find brackets [ ] I have added
words for explanation or to complete an awkward sentence. Parentheses ( ) are used for
incidental non-verbal sounds, like laughter. Words emphasized by the speaker are italicized.
This document contains 10350 Words
Filename : V2 RonHartleylntervie w. do ex
Introduction: By Sue Castaneda, Program Coordinator
This oral history collection is entitled ” Survivor is my Name ” and features remembrances of the
Cokeville, Wyoming Elementary School bombing of May 16, 1986\ It is produced for the
Wyoming State Archives by Sue Castaneda. The interviewer is Wyoming Historian, Mark Junge.
The entire project is funded by the Wyoming Cultural Trust Fund. No part of this audio
recording or transcript may be reproduced in full or in part without written permission of the
Wyoming State Archives. Here now is Ron Hartley, father and lead investigator.
Mark Junge: Today is the 22″*^ of September, 2010. My name is Mark Junge and I’m here in the
house of Charlotte Freeman, sitting at the dining table, and around this table are
seated opposite me Ron Hartley who was the Lincoln County Sheriff’s Office
Investigator during the Cokeville Bombing incident. To his right is Sue Castaneda
who is the head of the Wyoming Oral History Project, and directly to my left and
across from Sue is Claudia Hartley, the wife of Ron Hartley. She is going to be
here to help him out about things that maybe he forgot about, right?
Okay, Ron. Just go ahead and give me your name and who you are and what you
were and so forth.
Ron Hartley: My name is Ron Hartley. I was an investigator for the Lincoln County Sheriff’s
office at the time of the bombing which was in 1986. 1 was assigned at that time
to do the background for David Young and also find out who else was involved
and the other investigator who was Earl Carroll was given the crime scene, to
process it, and also to do the interviews of the other individuals along with the
DBA and the ATF.
Mark Junge: DBA meaning —
Ron Hartley: Drug enforcement.
^ The Cokeville Elementary School hostage crisis occurred on May 16, 1986, at Cokeville, Wyoming, United
States, when former town marshal David Young, and his wife Doris Young, took 167 children and adults hostage at
Cokeville Elementary School. After a two-and-a-half hour standoff, a gasoline bomb the couple was carrying went
off prematurely, injuring Doris Young while David Young was out of the room. Returning to the scene, David
Young shot his wife, then himself. All the hostages escaped, though 79 were hospitalized with burns and injuries.
Page 2 of 29
Ron Hartley: Alcohol, tobacco and firearms. In fact, DBA wasn’t there. It was the ATF and the
FBI that were involved with this.
Mark Junge: Federal Bureau of Investigation?
Ron Hartley: Yes.
Mark Junge: Tell me something about the background of David Young, who he was.
Ron Hartley: David Young, when he did the bombing, he took everything with him that was
important to him into the bombing. Though we never did get a testimony from
him, obviously, because he killed himself, and he had never left really any
information behind to state why he was doing this. He took forty-three diaries
with him. He had two boxes of slides that pretty much documented his life. David
Young was an absolute fanatic at record keeping. His diaries, I could tell you after
reading them what he had to eat, what the weather was like, who he talked to,
pretty much every day. It was really easy to find out about David through his
diaries except for the fact that they were absolutely impossible to read. His
handwriting was really difficult and it took me a while before I could finally
figure out what he was writing.
He had a list of all the jobs that he had, all the addresses that he had throughout
his lifetime. And I shouldn’t say throughout his lifetime — it seemed like it started
about when he was twenty-five or thirty, somewhere around there. And some of
this stuff I’ll be guessing because I certainly don’t remember exactly. But these
are the impressions in my mind of the timelines and his ages. He was very bright.
And a lot of this stuff is my opinion, but he was so bright that he really had
difficulty having any kind of meaningful relationship with other people. He would
just talk way above their heads or talk about things that did not make sense to
your average person. He had straight As in Grinnell, Iowa, where he went to
school. He had taken classes in psychology, criminology, everything was straight
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As. I think he had a C, if I remember right, it was just odd, but it was something
to do — was it a C or a B? A B in — well I’ve got his grades.
He was extremely brilliant except for things that he didn’t believe in. And I
thought it was a philosophical class, mainly because he took their textbook and I
had his textbook. I did a search warrant and went through one of his textbooks
and he had written in the margins the things that were wrong with the textbook.
That was the one that he got his lowest grade in was a philosophy class.
However, the philosophy class is where he psychologically did a turning point in
my opinion. He had changed at that point and everything — up until that point he
had planned on being wealthy. He had thought about taking a jetliner and hold it
hostage for ransom. He had no intention of, I guess, having a career in anything.
And this is back in the ’60s he was going to take an airliner and demand ransom
for it. And then in this philosophy class, there was a change. He had written on a
postcard, in fact, where his philosophy — he had finally come to the conclusion,
especially after reading Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance,^ where he
believed in reincarnation.
And just everything from that point on was totally focused at the next world. It
was called BNW to him. It took me forever to figure out what he was talking
about on these abbreviations. And he used a lot of abbreviations in his diaries, so
it was really difficult to — and I remember our “War Room,” we had the entire
basement of the Sheriff’s Office and I just had abbreviations all over the walls and
I had some of the girls helping me fill some of that documentation in. What we
Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry into Values (ZAMM) is a 1974 philosophical novel, the
first of Robert M. Pirsig’s texts in which he explores his Metaphysics of Quality. The book sold 5 million copies
worldwide. It was originally rejected by 121 publishers, more than any other bestselling book, according to the
Guinness Book of Records.
The title is an incongruous play on the title of the book Zen in the Art of Archery by Eugen Herrigel. In its
introduction, Pirsig explains that, despite its title, “it should in no way be associated with that great body of factual
information relating to orthodox Zen Buddhist practice. It’s not very factual on motorcycles, either.”
Page 4 of 29
found out that BNW stood for was the Brave New World . That was just a
milestone. At one point, and it was really fairly soon after the bombing that we
came up with that terminology, and that’s why the sheriff, at that point and we
thought that he was connected to the Aryan Nations^, because they had dialog
about the Brave New World. So they were kinda thinking that this was part of
their movement. So we weren’t sure that David Young wasn’t part of the Aryan
Nation group, and had taken some of their philosophy. But in fact, he had just
believed in and totally immersed himself in reincarnation and had developed this
theory all of his own. It took him several years to write Zero Equals Infinity,
which was his —
Mark Junge: Manifesto, maybe?
Ron Hartley: Yeah, exactly! That’s a good word. Help me with words from now on, by the way,
when you see me stumbling, because my vocabulary is getting bad because of my
age — getting worse. An3rway, it was his manifesto. And I remember in that Zero
Equals Infinity letter, I spent a lot of time on that, along with the FBI. The FBI
behavior shrink. And I know what he was doing was actually watching me to
keep me on the sidewalk so I wouldn’t go off the deep end, ’cause they were
worried about one of their officers that had — you know, when you get your own
children involved, you psychologically can go sideways. And I think that’s what
he was doin’. S’posed to be watching me.
Anyway, I told him, “I’ve gone over this a thousand times, and I dream about it. I
just can’t understand what he’s talking about.” And he says, “Well, let me tell
you: the day you understand what this is talking about, I’ll be seeing you
professionally. Forget it! It doesn’t make sense.” So, okay. I just turned a page
Aryan Nations is a far-right white supremacist religious organization based in the United States. Richard Girnt
Butler founded the group in the 1970s, as an arm of the Christian Identity organization Church of Jesus Christ-
Christian. As of December 2007, there were two main factions that claimed descent from Butler’s group. The
Federal Bureau of Investigation has called Aryan Nations a “terrorist threat”, and the RAND Corporation has called
it the “first truly nationwide terrorist network” in the US. Wikipedia
Page 5 of 29
and it was okay. But he lived by this and he couldn’t explain to anyone including
his wife and the other individuals that were involved. They thought he had come
up with some kind of a new energy. Because he was so bright that they thought he
had developed some kind of a new energy source and that’s why they gave him
Mark Junge: This was Gerald Deppe and Doyle Mendenhall, and there was another guy in
Jackson, John somebody-or-other, wasn’t there? Like a Harrison or something?
Ron Hartley: Yes. Harrison. It was Harrison.
Mark Junge: Was it?
Ron Hartley: Yes, they just took him to the airport in Jackson. He was from Missouri,
somewhere back there. All three of these were his friends, and they kept in touch
because they wanted to invest in whatever theory or energy source he may come
up with. They wanted to be on the ground level at the start of it. But anyway,
often they would ask him, “What are you up to?” Or someone else that he was
talking to. “What is the key to this new thing?” And he would give them a book,
Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, and say, “Read this. This is what it’s
all about.” They couldn’t read it. It’s not of this planet as far as a redneck from
Wyoming is concerned. I’m not that intelligent to deal with that.
Anyway, he’d give them the book and he was being truthful with ’em. That was
his bible. That what he got his — everything based off. I’ve got places where he’d
written in the margins. And I’m tr3an’ to think — there was one reason that I
pulled, in my opinion, from the Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance
where he had written in the columns of why he picked a school. And it was
because he was so mad and angry with the teachers because they had this ritual
naming of things. I think what it is, he had such a bad experience in school that he
targeted the teachers as one of the things that he couldn’t stand. Couldn’t handle.
And that’s why he was going to blow the school up with these very intelligent
children. I found a letter that he’d answered in the newspaper where he — a lady
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had advertised for a “Mr. Right” and he answered that ad. He told a little about
himself and he says, “I currently am a town Marshall in the town of Cokeville of a
hundred people countin’ their dogs and cats with extremely — ” and this is not
word for word, but basically said, ” — very, very bright children. Extremely bright
children.” In my mind that’s why he picked Cokeville because his intent was to
take these children, blow them all up in this explosion and take them into the next
world — the Brave New World — so that he could teach them the right things.
I have no doubt in my mind that he would have sent all of the adults — either
released them before it blew up — and this is pure speculation on my part after
spending all this time figuring out what he’s like — but I’m sure he would have
sent the adults somewhere else. Either released them, shot ’em, I don’t know what
he would have done with them. But he would not have taken the competition with
him to the next world. He wanted to be the person that was going to re-educate
Mark Junge: Tina Cook said a little while ago that he expected the teachers and the other people
in that room to be his, like, assistants, or to help him do things. Is that true?
Ron Hartley: Yes. His personality is, any adult is beneath him. He was very, very comfortable in
what he was doing and using these other people as go-betweens because he knew
he had the upper hand with where he had these children hostage. He knew the
adults would do everything he asked. He was no dummy! He’d been through law
school as far as criminal law enforcement school, the academy. He knew how law
enforcement would react. He’d listened to all our radio traffic on a little radio, but
for the most part he knew what law enforcement was going to do. So as long as he
had those children around him he always had the upper hand.
Again in my opinion, there’s a spiritual side to this, at a point where he finally had
lost his control. I’m putting two totally different worlds, the spiritual and the
absolute facts. I’m kinda putting them together because I was experiencing the
facts, the evidence and everything for about a month, month and a half, without
knowing what happened on the other side, spiritually, after talking to my son.
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Nathan, the six-year-old. So, I don’t how much of this stuff you want me to get
into, whether I should do that, put those opinions in or not.
Mark Junge: Well, no, go ahead. Put it in.
Ron Hartley: Maybe we ought to do this later. Just jog my memory about it.
Mark Junge: Okay. Now, you already talked about the diary and how it was almost
incomprehensible. You spent a month, month and a half on this? To try to
decipher what he was saying? Did the FBI try to help you with this?
Ron Hartley: Yes, they had access — like I said, there were several of us working in the basement
in the rooms down there, but they focused — except for the behaviorilist — I think
he spent more time in the diaries. And the ATF were the ones that were doing —
actually assigned the investigation.
Mark Junge: Did you come up with a profile of Doris Young at all? Who she was? Where she
was coming from?
Ron Hartley: Battered woman syndrome. Just low self-esteem, going to stick with her husband
no matter what. As far as I’m concerned there’s no real explanation for that. It just
Mark Junge: Did you interview this Gerald Deppe and Doyle Mendenhall?
Ron Hartley: No. I didn’t do any of the interviews at all.
Mark Junge: Did you find out anything about them? I mean, seems to me that the first thing you
would have done would be to impound ’em and hold ’em.
Ron Hartley: Yes. What happened was — let me bring it up to the event. In 1968 — don’t quote me
on the date — in that philosophy class, when he finally turned around, he then
decided to do the BNW — the Brave New World. Nobody knew what was going
on. He would tell Doris this was what he was going to do, but she had no idea. No
comprehension of what really was going to happen. And Princess [David’s
daughter] was involved also. She came to Cokeville with them and I don’t know
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whether to get into that aspect or whether to get into trying out the bomb before
he left Tucson.
Mark Junge: I think it would be nice to know something about Princess.
Ron Hartley: Okay. The thing I can tell you about her involvement, she assumed they were going
to knock over a bank. She helped put the paper to white out the windows in the
van. She helped build the bomb and things like that, but she had no idea what the
target was. She was in the dark right up until David told all of them in the van, the
day that that happened, exactly what he was going to do. She did not want to do it.
And the two, Gerald Deppe and Doyle Mendenhall, they flat-out wasn’t going to
cooperate with him. They had a little meeting out here on the highway when he
announced what was going to happen. He ended up having to handcuff those two
to the van. He made Doris drive and I think Princess was just a passenger. But he
went and sat on the passenger side and held a gun. From that point on they were
held at gunpoint.
They drove down to the Elementary School and it was during a recess and some
of the kids were outside so they just drove past it. They came up here on this road
and stopped by Ty-Tel and just gave it a few minutes and then they drove back
again and there were still some kids out. So then they drove over by the big hill
which is where the landfill is and then they could see the school through
binoculars from there. They watched until everybody went into the school. Then
they went and drove down there and backed the van up to the south entrance and
started unloading everything.
Back when he told everybody else what was going on, that’s when Doris said,
“Yeah, I’ll do it. I’ll help you.” She was going to go and support him. When they
backed the van up. Princess was crying, she was helping them unload all the
materials and was really angry with her father. After they got the van unloaded
then he just threw the keys to her and he says, “If you don’t want to go with me,
that’s fine. You’re no daughter of mine!” Just chucked her the keys. She
immediately drove the van over to the City Hall and reported this, the incident
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that her parents were taking the school hostage. And that’s what initiated the law
Mark Junge: Let’s go into your personal story. You know, where were you when you heard
about this, what was your reaction, what did you do?
Ron Hartley: Again, there’s a spiritual side to that part, but I stopped — two nights before I
stopped at a friend’s place there in Afton. He was in the oil field business and was
tryin’ to do a little bit of work here and there. Where I grew up — I grew up — we
manufactured dry ice, and we had a five mile long pipeline out through the desert
into Wellington. The place was bought and sold and it no longer existed. But that
pipeline needed to be cleaned out of the area and there was some money that he
could make by doing that. And I stopped, and I said, “I know about this pipeline.
Do you want to go look at it?” And he said, “Yeah, let’s do.” I mean, just out of
the clear blue. Just stopped right in front of his house.
So we went down to Utah, down to Price, stayed overnight at my brother’s
house — I think we stayed at my brother’s house. Then the next day we started
driving back on the 16*. We didn’t have the radios going, didn’t know anything
about it. And I guess the Highway Patrol, everybody was tryin’ to find me. The
Sheriff kept tryin’ to get a hold of me, because I was the only one that was trained
in tactical things. I shouldn’t say the only one, but I was the tactical leader in
hostage taker profiling, stuff like that. Anyway, he was tryin’ to find me and when
we were driving down here by Sage Junction I saw two ambulances with their
lights on goin’ down the road. And I commented to Rob, I said, “There must be a
wreck right up here.” They got two ambulances goin’ down, we turned, headed
toward Cokeville, passed a school bus, which I didn’t think too much about it,
then we passed another ambulance, and I thought, “Man, this must be a big
Well, we get over here by Thompson’s house, which is straight across right over
there, and we can see the airport. There are huge aircraft sitting on that airport.
And a helicopter was coming in. that, I says, “There’s gotta be something goin’
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on here.” Then we got to Cokeville Main Street and you couldn’t even go down
the main street. And I says, “What in the world is goin’ on.” And the first person
that we drove up to when we got down here to the blockade was Kathy Davison.
She was our Emergency Management Coordinator. And I said, “Kathy, what is
goin’ on? You got some kind of a super mock-disaster going on?” She said, “No,
somebody had taken the school hostage and a bomb went off, and I can’t talk to
you right now. They had all the kids in the class and the bomb went off!”
My heart just sunk! From that point on, every second was an hour. I couldn’t
move fast enough, I just couldn’t go anywhere. Everything was in slow motion. I
just grabbed my gun out from underneath the seat of Rob’s truck, I said, “I’ve
gotta go!” and I just jumped out, ran up through the crowd, and I seen the Sheriff
on the other side of the tape and I went up to him and I asked him what was goin’
on and he said, “Your kids are okay.”
They’d taken the school hostage, and the bomb had went off, and all those kids
were in the classroom! I said, “What do you mean they’re okay?” He said,
“They’re okay.” I said, “Where are they? I need to go see them.” He said, “I can’t
have you go see ’em, they’re on their way to Kemmerer, but they’re okay. I need
you to find out who did this, who else is involved.” And I says, “Are you sure
they’re okay?” He says, “They’re okay. I seen ’em! They’re okay! Get with Earl
and the bomb tech and get up to speed and then you take David, the evidence and
find out who it is, his background and who else may be out there.”
So I went over to the school and Rich Haskell was there, he’s the bomb tech, and
Ron Norda, and they said — I’m not a religious man — but he said, “You’ve got a
miracle!” He said, “If that bomb had of went off the way that it should and the
way it was designed to this whole wing should be gone.” And he said, “It just
didn’t go off the way it was supposed to.”
Then Earl came out and Earl says, “Come with me.” And so we went in and he
says, “This is the stuff that David’s brought in. There’s boxes of diaries. We
walked up the hallway and the desks and everything was all out there. Everything
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was just scattered. Then we went into the classroom and I saw the pock-marks in
the walls and how burned out and everything was just totally black. And the
ceiling was blown through.
I couldn’t believe that my kids were okay. So I got one of the guys portables and I
called the Diamondville officer and I says, “I want you to go to the hospital and I
want you to look at my kids. I need to have you check on ’em.” And he says, “I
will.” It took forever for him to get back with me. But I took the boxes of diaries
over to my office which was in Downtown Cokeville, in the City Hall, and then
he called me on the radio and just said, “I’ve seen ’em, I’ve talked to ’em, I’ve
talked to your wife, and they’re okay.” I said, “Can they see? Can they hear?” and
he said, “Yeah, yeah. They’re okay. They’ve got a little bit of a burn on the back
of one of your little kids. The other one’s got some slight burns, but they’re all
So I could finally focus. I just took the boxes in the office and I just found the
newest one, the one on top and I just started diggin’ into that. And the first page
of that was just unbelievable with all of the numbers and abbreviations and things
that are on the front of that, and I just, I couldn’t take it in. I couldn’t understand
what he was talking about. So I flipped to the back of the pages. I wanted the last
entry. I read about the last two or three and I don’t remember what they say, but
there’s just nothin’ — nothin’ there to indicate that this was — he’s talking about a
“biggie,’ you know. And that’s what the first of the book said. It had a little bird’s
feather in it and it said “The Year of the Biggie, BNW.” I didn’t know what they
So I just kept goin’ page after page backward to pick up anything that had to do
with the bombing, and I came to this one date that says, “I’m often excited now.
It’s still too dark to do the test. Waited until daylight and performed the test which
did exactly what it was supposed to. I’m excited enough to tell Doris we’re going
to do this. ” Then the rest of it was goin’ backwards, findin’ the shopping cart and
stuff, but I found where he actually had tested the bomb. It had performed exactly
the way it was supposed to.
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Mark Junge: What did he test it on?
Ron Hartley: He had a place out there that he’d always go and shoot his guns and gather up old
ammunition and brass and stuff. He was a gun nut. He called it the “blow hole.”
He just went out and tested it in the open air just to see if the stuff would ignite.
He took the design out of the — oh, what’s it called? The black book. Military.
Improvising munitions. How to make a bomb out of anything book. I keep
wanting to call it a black book and it may be the name of it. I can’t remember
right now. Anyway, it’s designed to blow up — you ever heard of a grain silo
igniting and blowing up just from the dust that’s inside there? And coal mines?
That’s the way this bomb reacts only he used flash — aluminum powder.
Mark Junge: Why aluminum powder?
Ron Hartley: It flashes, extremely bright, fast.
Mark Junge: Like Napalm? Just burns right through you?
Ron Hartley: No, it’s an explosive. In a dust form. You can blow flour up, put flour in the air.
You can put several different kinds of real fine powders in the air. Once it gets
airborne, if it has an ignition source, which was what the gasoline bottle was there
for, with the blasting cap inside it also. There were three blasting caps in there.
Mark Junge: Well, can you describe what this bomb looked like? I mean, there was a shopping
cart, people have told us. I’ve gotten several different versions of what this thing
Ron Hartley: What it is is a regular shopping cart, only everyone has pictured in their minds as
one of the four wheeled push cart, and it’s not. It’s actually a two wheeled cart
that is about this wide — well, it’s this wide and this thick and everything is
stacked on top of it. It’s not your regular big shopping cart. But there’s several
layers. In the bottom of it was the powders, there were the aluminum powder and
things that was going to ignite and blow up. Inside there there was also
gunpowder, there were links of chain, there was a lot of ammunition. All this stuff
was designed to blow up and then send shrapnel out also. He was also in the
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process of making other bombs. He had other bomb making materials there that
he was going to set for booby traps for officers responding or whatever.
Mark Junge: Was there a gallon jug of gasoline?
Ron Hartley: Yes. A gallon jug of gasoline was at the top. The thing — there’s several things that
kept this from going what we call “high order.” Well, to function properly. The
cans beneath that gasoline have to be dry. The powder has to be dry for it to go
out in a dust cloud. The milk bottle that they used had developed a leak for some
reason. Nobody knows why. It had dripped gasoline down inside these powder
cans. So when ignited it blew out mud. Just a flammable, gas-soaked mud instead
of this dust which kept that explosion from blowing up. And one — can’t
remember if it was one or two — blasting caps failed to go off. The failure rate on
a blasting cap is — you can’t even measure ’em. It just doesn’t happen. But they
didn’t go off and they were all wired to the same ignition source.
Mark Junge: Which was — what?
Ron Hartley: The battery. There was a lantern — 9 volt batteries that have wire contacts going
from these electric blasting caps that are set inside — one set inside the gasoline,
the others are set inside these powder cans. They’re all wired to the positive
terminal and then the negative line goes over to what we call the dead-man switch
which is a improvised clothespin with some contacts on it.
Mark Junge: So the way it would work is if he pulled this piece of wood or part of a clothespin
out from between the two ends of the clothespin that had the contacts, that would
cause a circuit to be made?
Ron Hartley: That closes the circuit and causes the ignition. And that wedge that was stuck in
between those contacts had a string hooked to it, a lanyard hooked to it, was
around his wrist.
Mark Junge: Was it you, or Rich Haskell or somebody — might have been Haskell — was saying
two of the lines were cut. And I didn’t understand that. I mean, if you’re
describing a positive and a negative, two lines were cut? Which lines were those?
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Ron Hartley: Well, I don’t know whether they were the positive side, but with three blasting caps
you got six wires. You’ve got a positive and negative on each one of ’em. And the
one to the gasoline was the only one that wasn’t cut.
Mark Junge: How do you figure those were cut?
Ron Hartley: Ask Rich Haskell. He don’t know. Nobody knows. Don’t know.
End of Part I
Mark Junge: See, the only thing I can come up with besides a miracle is that maybe David
Young said, “I don’t want to do the whole school, I’m going to clip — “
Ron Hartley: Not a chance!
Mark Junge: Not a chance?
Ron Hartley: Not a chance! Not a chance! This man had been planning this since 1978. He is
absolutely, 100% positive in reincarnation. That is his whole — that’s why he’s
there. He even stated in one of these little fits that he had, or moments that he had
that he jots down on post cards and matchbook covers and any of this other stuff,
that when he finally figured out — and it was an epic moment to him, you could
tell on that postcard, because he had Zero Equals Infinity, God Equals Nothing,
Two Piss-Ants Together Equals Nothing. I mean this guy is going out, the bottom
line is, this is his life. This is what he’s been built for and the whole world is a
stage. Everybody else, you and I are just in his little theater.
Mark Junge: If Doris or Princess had cut these lines — nobody saw Doris cut any lines, I mean,
nobody said that they saw her, right? If Princess would have cut those lines would
he have noticed? Were they cut in a certain place where he would have noticed?
Ron Hartley: I don’t know. You’d have to ask Rich. I didn’t do the bomb scene. He and Ron
Mark Junge: Okay, well, do you have anything else on that? Your reaction when you finally
found out your kids were okay and then what did you do after that?
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Ron Hartley: Well, then I started going back and when I found out that he had tested this bomb, I
found out what BNW meant. I talked to the Sheriff because the Sheriff was just
getting hounded by the media. You cannot even imagine the media, the pressure
to stay ahead of the media. That was an eye-opener to me. The media has such a
network. It’s far superior to anything law enforcement could even think of. They
could interview — have guys in Grinnell, Iowa, interviewing the parents before we
even know who the parents [are]. I mean, it’s phenomenal. And to try to stay
ahead of them and try to quell some of the things that were being said, it’s just
unbelievable. Anyway, the Sheriff was trying to manage the media and trying to
put all this together.
Mark Junge: Who was the Sheriff?
Ron Hartley: Deb Wolfley.
Mark Junge: Was he a veteran? I mean, a veteran law enforcement officer?
Ron Hartley: Yes. Yeah. He’s a career — he was a career officer.
Mark Junge: Has he ever said what that pressure was like?
Ron Hartley: Oh, yeah.
Mark Junge: Okay, so then your kids eventually come home and you’re not shocked by what
Ron Hartley: Uh, I remember it was after dark, just right at sunset and I could see some school
buses coming in and I just dropped everything and I went to try to find ’em and I
finally found ’em and I just — I picked ’em all up and just hugged each one of
’em. They had little black soot-covered faces and whites of their eyes and big
smiles. I just told ’em I loved ’em!
Mark Junge: Were you finally satisfied that they were okay?
Ron Hartley: Yeah.
Sue Castaneda: How many of them were there, Ron?
Page 16 of 29
Ron Hartley: We had four inside of the building, and our oldest and our very youngest — our
oldest daughter was in junior high at the time.
Mark Junge: Okay. So can you tell me a little bit about Nathan’s angels. What — is he willing to
talk about that?
Ron Hartley: No.
Mark Junge: He’s not?
Ron Hartley: Huh-uh. Nope. He’s had some real difficulties in his life. He’s a little computer.
Very bright, but he’s a geek. Loves computers and that’s pretty much what he
talks about. We have twenty-five grandchildren and he isn’t even married. He
doesn’t even have any kids yet. He has no interest in having children. He won’t
talk about it. I think it is — a lot of this has to do with the pressure of seeing
angels. And I was livid when I found out. This whole thing is a two-edged sword
kinda for me.
Mark Junge: In what way?
Ron Hartley: For about a month — [To Claudia] it was a month, wasn’t it until we had Nathan —
or was it just two weeks —
Claudia Hartley: It really wasn’t very long, maybe a couple weeks max.
Ron Hartley: Alright. So couple weeks. I was thinking maybe a month, cause every day was a
week! I’d go to the Sheriff’s office in Kemmerer — we lived here in Cokeville —
we lived in that house right over here, and I’d go to the Sheriff’s office in
Kemmerer and read those diaries and just live this guy’s life. Try to figure out
why and who else and didn’t know anything about him. But the more I got into
this the more I could see what the end was really going to be. At first we were
okay with things just didn’t go right. He just messed up, he didn’t know how to
work the bomb, he made mistakes, blah, blah, blah. The more you get into his
diaries as absolute fanatic he is at detail, he didn’t make mistakes and this is not a
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But I’d go there and I started to realize he was Uterally going to blow those kids
up. So I got more and more — scared, I guess. I don’t know what it is. It’s not
scared, because it had already happened. Just the realization that that’s what he
Mark Junge: Of what could have happened.
Ron Hartley: Yes.
Claudia Hartley: Can I break in here? See what was happening, was the rest of the town was
rejoicing! The children had been saved and it was over for them. But we — and I
helped read the diaries too. We were living this. We were discovering just how
bad it really was. Just how close it came. It was a nightmare. It was a nightmare
for us and Nathan was having nightmares. It was awful!
Ron Hartley: That’s where I was going to go with that. Nathan started having nightmares, right?
I’d been going for however long and learning about this stuff and then coming
home. I’d cry going there, and I’d do my job, and I’d cry coming back when I was
driving. This is while the FBI shrink was lookin’ at me crosseyed. Anyway,
Nathan started to have fevers — again. And I say again, because when he was two
years old he had fevers were called febrile seizures. He’d get a hunnerd ‘n six
temperature and then his body would — he’d just collapse into a fetal position.
And he would not breathe. I mean, you could not open his arms and he would turn
black until all of a sudden he would just go limp and he’d start breathing again.
His color — one time we called the hospital and they sent an ambulance. He
couldn’t wait for an ambulance. I started headin’ there with him and he finally
started breathing again. And for, in don’t know, a month or so he’d get those
fevers and we’d have to put him in ice water in the bathtub when he was two
years old. Or else take him outside totally naked at ten below zero, try to get that
temperature down, ’cause they said that’s the worst thing on him. It’ll fry his
brain if you don’t.
And so we were puttin’ him through those kinds of things at two years old and
this happened to him. He always seemed like a very fragile kid. He just always
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looked picked on. A runt of the litter kind of thing, just very, very sensitive. And
then this happened. And he’d go downtown with Claudia to the store and he
would lay down on the floor in the car in the back seat so nobody could see him
or he couldn’t see anybody else. And he was having these fevers and he was
having day-mares. Totally awake and he’d just see David. He was right at the
[taped] square where the bomb was.
So Dave Ford, the shrink, he called me, he says, “How are your kids doing?” And
I said, “I think our kids are doing okay except Nathan’s having some fevers.” And
I think he talked to Claudia —
Claudia Hartley: He did call me.
Ron Hartley: Oh, that’s right, called you. So he said, “Well, why don’t you bring him down.”
And I was working. I didn’t hear any of this stuff. She calls me and said, “I took
Nathan down and had Dave Ford talk to him.” We’d had Nathan to the doctors a
couple of times. Two different doctors giving him two different kinds of
medication trying to get those fevers down.
Claudia Hartley: We were asked about tuberculosis. Has he been around dead animals? We were
just sick. See, he had had hip surgery five weeks before that —
Ron Hartley: Oh, yeah. I forgot to tell you about that.
Claudia Hartley: — and that’s what beat him down so badly. It was so painful.
Mark Junge: Nathan had hip surgery?
Ron Hartley: He has Legg-Perthes Disease. He doesn’t even have a socket in his hip. Nor did he
have — you know the knuckle bone on the end of your femur? Those were rotted
off. Those were eaten away. When he was two years old, again, when he would
run he would be out of control and I told her we need to get him checked. So we
took him to Primary Children’s Hospital and there was a doctor down there that
was doing a study on Legg-Perthes Disease. Nathan was his worst case. He was
the worst. He had had surgery where they cut his hip bone and angled the socket
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down a little bit, and they’d cut the femur bone and tipped the point of the stub of
his femur into his femur. Just like a ball and socket, only there wasn’t. There’s no
ball or socket, just bone. He was just barely got off crutches.
Claudia Hartley: He’d been in a body cast for weeks.
Ron Hartley: Anyway, he was just very fragile. So after taking him to the doctor — you know,
I’m taking too long on this stuff — but she [Claudia] told me that she’d taken him
to Doug Ford and Doug came out of the room, and — was in there for a long
time — and Claudia told me he come out and he said, “Do you believe in angels?”
And she says, “Well, our religion does, but I’ve never seen ’em.” He says, “You
need to talk to Nathan.” So she talked to Nathan and Nathan told her that he had
seen an angel. That an angel had came and stood by him and said that she was his
great, great, great grandmother. [To Claudia] You tell them, would you?
Claudia Hartley: Yeah, he said it was my great, great, great, great grandmother who came and
told me to sneak very carefully away from the bomb. I said, “What was her
name?” And he didn’t know. And I said, “Well, Grandma Baker?” and he says,
“No, no.” And I said, “Grandma Meister?” And he said, “Yes.” Well, Grandma
Meister was alive. And she was in Pinedale in a nursing home. I thought well —
Ron Hartley: Well, don’t get into too much detail, because that’s not what you told me. You just
told me he’d seen an angel.
Claudia Hartley: Oh, okay. Well, I thought you were asking what he had told me. So where are
Ron Hartley: This is what beats me up whenever I have to talk about this. So she called me on
the phone and told me that Nathan had seen an angel. I just come unglued. I was
just really mad because I didn’t hate them — [Claudia: yes you did!] I hated
psychiatrists. I hated anybody that has to do with mental evaluation of people and
stuff like that. I’m a redneck! In law enforcement I’ve had cases where the shrink,
the councilors and the doctors said there’s nothing wrong with this young girl, and
30 days later I get a call from a doctor that is not their regular doctor and she’d
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been sexually abused to where she has to have a hysterectomy, and the girl is
twelve years old! So I just had real issues with shrinks.
So I was livid. I was really mad. I just quit what I was doing over there and I
came home. And I sat Nathan down — I sat him down and did an interview with
him just like I would any criminal. And I just was going to show him that he was
absolutely wrong! So I says, “Okay, Nathan. What did you see?” And he says,
“Well, I had this angel come and she stood right by me.” And I says, “So, who
was she?” and he said, “I don’t know her name. I think it might have been
Grandma Meister.” Went through pretty much the same thing Claudia did.
I finally told Claudia, “Grab the Book of Rememberance, which is our family
sheet, and we were just flippin’ the pages and he put his hand down and he says,
“That’s her!” There was a picture of my Grandma there, and also of Grandma
Meister sitting together in this chair. And I said, “Is it this one? It’s Grandma
Meister and she’s still alive.” And he said, “No, it’s the other one.” And he had
seen her once when he was a year old. Sat on her lap before she passed away. And
never seen her since then.
And it sat me back! I said, “Nathan, are you sure?” And he says, “Yeah, that’s my
angel!” I just kinda did the interview a little further — so what did she say, and
what did she do — and he said, “Well, there were angels all around. Everybody
had an angel. Even David and Doris.” I said, “So, what were they doing?” and he
says, “Well, Grandma told me to quick go to the window and — ” He says — he
used this big word — he said, “Before I recognized what she said — ” I mean, this
kid is six years old. Never used recognized. It’s not in his vocabulary. He said,
“Before I recognized what she said, the bomb went off. But the angels were
holding hands around the bomb and when the bomb went off, the angels just went
up through the ceiling.”
And I said, “Nathan, you said there were angels around everybody else?” And
that’s when I told Claudia, “Get him some paper and let him draw this out.” And I
said, “So what was happening with David and Doris?” He said, “Well, before the
Page 21 of 29
bomb went off, David’s angel looked like it was leaving. That she just had been
Claudia Hartley: David didn’t have an angel. It was Doris’s angel that left.
Ron Hartley: No, David’s angel was leaving. And that’s when we went and come to the
conclusion that at one point David had lost it. That’s when he went and gave the
cord up to Doris and went into the bathroom to wash his face and just get himself
together again. Isn’t that —
Claudia Hartley: Well that was the conclusion he came to; David didn’t have one and Doris’s
was leaving. Which made sense because she was gonna die. She was gonna die
within the next few minutes.
Ron Hartley: Anyway, I don’t remember that part.
Mark Junge: Was — did he have diabetes?
Ron Hartley: David did.
Mark Junge: Was that one of the reasons people evidently said he was sweating and —
Ron Hartley: Yeah, everybody said he was having a reaction.
Mark Junge: A diabetic —
Ron Hartley: Yeah. This other stuff, I’m just trying to put the facts that I know, because that’s
the first thing when I talked to Rich Haskell and Ron Norda they said when you
look at this bomb, that explosion went right through the ceiling. It never went out
or else it would have hurt these kids more.
Mark Junge: Shoulda gone out?
Ron Hartley: Yeah. Yeah. And they had said this the day that it happened. And so I’m recalling
all this other stuff when Nathan’s telling me this thing a week or two later.
Mark Junge: Have you interviewed him since then? Have you had a family talk? Has he ever
talked about it since then?
Page 22 of 29
Ron Hartley: Yeah, we did when they were younger.
Mark Junge: He still sticks by his story?
Ron Hartley: He did when he was younger. Now he says, I know what happened, and that’s
about as much as he’ll say.
Claudia Hartley: It was years later that he and I had a talk and for some reason it all came back to
him. The memory came clear, and that was actually when he remembered about
Doris’s angel leaving and David not having an angel. He saw it so clearly at that
point, only he saw it with an older person’s eyes. Then he was a teenager. So he
understood what he saw. He said there was one for every child. He remembered it
fully then and I haven’t talked to him about it since to know how he still feels
about it. It’s been a hard thing for him.
Mark Junge: Yeah, I can imagine. Well is it because it was hard for him that that’s why he
doesn’t talk about it anymore? Or he just wants to put it behind him?
Ron Hartley: Probably both. I don’t know.
Mark Junge: He’s a sensitive kid.
Ron Hartley: He is. He is. Anyway, we got to the end of that interview when I was finding out
and he took every question, I mean, he’d look right at me and tell me this is what
happened with these angels. And at the end I said, “Nathan, why didn’t you tell
me this before?” And he looked right at me and he just said, “Dad, you would
never believe me.” And that’s why I hate even talking about it.
Mark Junge: It’s tough for you. It was tough for you.
Sue Castaneda: He didn’t think you would believe him because you were a policeman?
Ron Hartley: Well, that’s exactly what I told Claudia when she called me on the phone over
there. I said, “It is bad enough that that kid has got to live being a cop’s son. He
can’t go around saying he’s seen angels.” That’s when I came home.
Mark Junge: But that’s what he saw.
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Ron Hartley: Yeah.
Sue Castaneda: Did he know other people had seen them too?
Claudia Hartley: Well he didn’t know that for a long time after.
Ron Hartley: We never did talk to anybody about it or anything. Then I don’t know what had
happened. It had to be months. We started hearing just bits and pieces that other
kids had seen them.
Mark Junge: He sat on Grandma Elliot’s lap at the age of one. I don’t see how he could have
remembered what she looked like.
Claudia Hartley: No. And she died shortly after that.
Mark Junge: Did he ever see a picture of her after that?
Claudia Hartley: No, we didn’t have any pictures out of her. No.
Ron Hartley: No. When he picked her picture out, that’s when I knew this kid — I just had that —
where do you go when you can pick something — actually pick the right Grandma
with two of them, the only two great-grandmothers he’s had, and he picks the one
that he’d never seen.
Claudia Hartley: And he didn’t even know it was a picture of his Grandma.
Ron Hartley: Yeah, that’s true.
Mark Junge: So both of you believe what he says when he says he saw angels?
Ron Hartley: There’s no doubt in my mind.
Claudia Hartley: Yeah, the facts even support it.
Ron Hartley: Believe me, I didn’t — at that time I didn’t hang with people that talked about
angels and talked about this stuff. You know, I’m a cop.
Mark Junge: You say the facts bore it out?
Page 24 of 29
Claudia Hartley: Well, you think about it. David has full control. He’s doing fine and then all of
a sudden he starts to sweat profusely. The same time that corresponds with when
Nathan says the angels came in. David lost all power when those angels came in.
He was on his own then. He had no support. God had taken over.
Mark Junge: Well, I’d say you’re very lucky people.
Claudia Hartley: Luck had nothing to do with it.
Mark Junge: Okay, but I didn’t mean it that way. I’m just saying you’re very — blessed! Let’s
put it that way.
Ron Hartley: Well, we’ve heard that a thousand times, you know, how lucky we were and stuff,
and just to us, it’s not a question of luck. There’s too many things.
Mark Junge: Has this strengthened your faith? This whole incident?
Ron Hartley: Do I believe that there’s a life after death? Yes. Absolutely. Before, I really didn’t
care. You know, I’m a type A personality. I just — if it’s dangerous, that’s gonna
be fun! And I wonder where my son gets what he gets what he gets. It’s just a
genetic thing. I’m a cop because of the adrenalin.
Mark Junge: You studied the diary, you were personally involved, your son was personally
involved and was traumatized. How do you look at this whole incident? Is it
worthy of being called a historical event? Or is it a personal trauma, more or less.
Ron Hartley: It is absolutely a historic event because it occurred. It affected so many people’s
lives. It’s against the law. It’s unthinkable to attack an elementary school. It is the
most insane thing that I’ve ever seen. And that’s one thing that law enforcement
teaches you is if you think you’ve seen it all, you just haven’t. There’s no end to
this. But when that happened, there’s no limits. There’s no conscience in some
people. I don’t know even how to explain it. How do you take that many innocent
children and kill ’em all. Traumatize ’em.
Mark Junge: So nothing has come close since this event occurred in your profession to the
magnitude of this thing?
Page 25 of 29
Ron Hartley: No. No. There’s one thing that’s close, and that’s the 9-11.
Mark Junge: That bothered you?
Ron Hartley: It made me very angry. But it didn’t — is it a tragedy? I guess you’ve got to be in
one of ’em to really feel for other people that are in ’em.
Mark Junge: I believe that. You don’t have any dreams of this? Do you dream about it?
Ron Hartley: No. No. Only when people call us and want us to talk about it.
Mark Junge: Then this bothers you? (Laughter)
Ron Hartley: Yeah, I don’t like crying. I don’t like this part of me.
Mark Junge: I don’t see anything wrong with it. There isn’t anything wrong with it.
Ron Hartley: Well, I do it because it happened. I can’t change that. And I’ll get through it and I’ll
be okay. I haven’t died from it yet.
Mark Junge: Well, you know how much we appreciate this, you guys talking about this.
Ron Hartley: Thank you. But that’s why it is very important to anybody that’s involved with this
that it’s not — we’ve been trying — you know, they’ve tried to get us on talk shows
and TV and everything over there. And one time, one time, just like talking to
Tina out there, we all kinda talked to ’em on Unsolved Mysteries. And they
reported what we said, which is a rarity, but they put it between cattle mutilations
and aliens, and that will never happen again!
Sue Castaneda: What do you think about this — what message could you give or maybe
instruction, or — well, just a couple of years ago just in Bailey, Colorado, they had
the same thing, or sort of the same thing, where the guys took the high school
hostage, and I think he raped one of the girls and killed one, if not the same girl.
Do you remember this?
Ron Hartley: Yeah.
Page 26 of 29
Sue Castaneda: Okay. So, I would suppose things have changed somewhat since then in schools,
but do you think about writing maybe articles or books or anything to help other
schools? What can you do now? What would you say? I know they do lockdowns
and stuff like that.
Ron Hartley: All of these school lockdowns and security levels now just went through the roof
after the Cokeville thing. That was the one thing that all of our law enforcement
seminars, whenever we was asked to give presentations to other schools and stuff
like that, how can we stop this. And you can’t stop it. You can’t turn your schools
into a prison. The greatest thing they did was like some of the ideas that Claudia’s
come up with for their schools. People check in. Mandatory check in. Mandatory
having a window so you can see who’s coming, who’s going. Locking all the
other doors. Just basic things. And I shudder to even think that we have to do that.
Mark Junge: What do you think the difference is between modern days and old days when
nobody would have done anything like this. This is like a first, right?
Ron Hartley: Yes, absolutely the first.
Mark Junge: Is there a history of this before you guys?
Ron Hartley: There was one situation where a school bus was taken’*. And I only heard this
through the grapevine. I can’t remember the case but I know it happened in
California and they actually buried the school bus with the kids in it until they got
their ransom money or something like that. And as I say, I don’t know for a fact
that that’s what happened, but —
Mark Junge: This was a twisted, twisted person, a dysfunctional person at least. Why do things
like that happen today and maybe didn’t happen in the past? What’s the change.
” Chowchilla, California was launched into national headlines on July 15, 1976 when an entire school bus of
children was kidnapped. Twenty-six children and the adult bus driver were taken from the bus, which the kidnappers
eventually concealed under brush in a wash, and driven around in two vans for 11 hours before being forced, one by
one, to cUmb into a hole in the ground. After passing through the hole the children and their driver found themselves
trapped in the interior of a buried moving van. Although they did not know it, their place of confinement was itself
concealed inside a quarry located in Livermore, California. Wikipedia
Page 27 of 29
Ron Hartley: There’s a different criminality in these high schools versus what was going on with
him. There is nothing more dangerous than a religious fanatic. Because — well,
I’m going to say something, it will probably going to be — it’s the Muslims. And
I’m not going to classify ’em all into it, but the ones that are terrorists, the ones
that are fighting amongst themselves in Iraq, in Pakistan, those are the deadliest,
the most dangerous criminals and thought processes, because just like David
Young, they don’t make a differentiation about death as being a punishment, or
they have no fear of dying. And they have no fear of taking somebody else with
them. These other incidents you’re talking about, these schools, you know, that’s
an act of criminal — either he’s angry, or frustrated, it’s just a different profile.
Mark Junge: You said you were sort of — I take it an agnostic, a person who didn’t think much
about the afterlife. Have you changed? Has your spirituality changed?
Ron Hartley: Well, I’ve always been LDS. I was born and raised in the church. But did I have
doubts? Yeah. Because I haven’t seen it. I’m a — like I said, I’m a cop. I’m a type
A personality. And I’ve learned that in court, if you can’t bring the evidence
there, it didn’t happen. If I don’t see it, if I don’t touch it, if I don’t document it or
something, it doesn’t happen. I can only — I have faith. I had faith in the hereafter,
let’s put it that way. But now I know. Has it made me a better person? No! I’m
still a weak shit! (Laughter) But you know, that’s a personal problem.
Mark Junge: All these records you have. What are you going to do with these?
Ron Hartley: Well, we store ’em. Save ’em for posterity. It actually happened. This is the
document — like I said, I’m a tangible person. If I don’t have the records, if my
posterity doesn’t have the records, who’s to say. You guys are doing the right
Mark Junge: You think?
Ron Hartley: — by documenting this stuff. Because we do forget. And technically it’s good for
you guys and for others to ask us to talk about this, because, yeah, it does. It
brings it back, but it brings me back to what I should be instead of what I am.
Page 28 of 29
Mark Junge: Well spoken. Well, this was Sue’s idea. I didn’t think too much of the idea. I
thought, well, it’s interesting. But then when I read this, I got freaked out. I had to
read it when I was not doing well. I was sick. So I thought about it whenever I’d
wake up at night I’d think about this stuff. And yet after talking to — you’re the
tenth person we’ve talked to — after talking to all these people I feel much better
about it. I feel we’ve been talking to human beings who went through an
experience, and it was a bad experience, yes, and this guy was wacko and his wife
was a slave to him, and all that. But on the other hand, just hearing the testimony
from you people is uplifting. I mean, it just makes me feel good.
Ron Hartley: Well and that’s — after we get through this, like I said — and I never thought about it
until just now, but it helps us. It helps me to come back to the reality of what this
earth — what we’re doing right now it’s not the reality of really what’s to come. I
know this. If you can’t get any more physical evidence and to see the spiritual
side, that’s the greatest thing that ever happened to me. I mean, I can read about
all the things that happened in the Bible, the parting of the waters and stuff, you
know. They’re stories. This ain’t a story. Not to me.
Mark Junge: This is an event. This is a historical event.
Ron Hartley: And I have a flip side of that is — and other people said this when we were talking
about why are your kids so special that God stepped in and saved your kids. How
come he didn’t do it to ours. Try to answer that question. I don’t know.
Conclusion of interview
This oral history was produced by the Wyoming State Archives for the Department of State Parks
and Cultural Resources. It was produced by Sue Castaneda. The interviewer was Wyoming
Historian Mark Junge. The entire project is funded by the Wyoming Cultural Trust Fund.
Page 29 of 29
Sources: Billing Gazette, Cinema Suicide, Belief Net, Slightly Warped, Wikipedia, Desert News, Unexplained Events (Tumblr)
Image CreditsCokeville bombing crime scene photo showing debris via Internet Archive by Wyoming State Archives with usage type - Public Domain
Cokeville bombing crime scene photo showing square taped on floor and remains of bomb via Internet Archive by Wyoming State Archives with usage type - Public Domain
Cokeville bombing crime scene photo showing cabinets sucked open by the blast via Internet Archive by Wyoming State Archives with usage type - Public Domain
Cokeville bombing crime scene photo showing remains of shopping cart bomb via Internet Archive by Wyoming State Archives with usage type - Public Domain
Cokeville bombing crime scene photo showing shadow of angel on wall near American flag via Internet Archive by Wyoming State Archives with usage type - Public Domain
Cokeville bombing crime scene photo showing angel on wall via Internet Archive by Wyoming State Archives with usage type - Public Domain
Cokeville bombing crime scene photo showing rifles left by David Young via Internet Archive by Wyoming State Archives with usage type - Public Domain
Cokeville bombing crime scene photo showing rifles left by David and Doris Young via Internet Archive by Wyoming State Archives with usage type - Public Domain
Cokeville bombing crime scene photo showing outside of school via Internet Archive by Wyoming State Archives with usage type - Public Domain
Cokeville bombing crime scene photo showing blown out school windows via Internet Archive by Wyoming State Archives with usage type - Public Domain
Cokeville bombing crime scene photo showing damaged classroom windows via Internet Archive by Wyoming State Archives with usage type - Public Domain
Cokeville bombing crime scene photo showing blast damage to windows via Internet Archive by Wyoming State Archives with usage type - Public Domain
Cokeville bombing crime scene photo showing debris and location of bomb via Internet Archive by Wyoming State Archives with usage type - Public Domain
Cokeville bombing crime scene photo showing debris and taped square on floor via Internet Archive by Wyoming State Archives with usage type - Public Domain
Cokeville bombing crime scene photo showing remains of bomb via Internet Archive by Wyoming State Archives with usage type - Public Domain
Cokeville bombing crime scene photo showing closeup of shopping cart bomb remains via Internet Archive by Wyoming State Archives with usage type - Public Domain
Cokeville bombing crime scene photo showing damaged classroom via Altered Dimensions with usage type - Editorial use (Fair Use)
Cokeville Miracle angel on wall via Altered Dimensions with usage type - Editorial use (Fair Use)
Cokeville bombing's David Young via WyoHistory.org with usage type - Editorial use (Fair Use)
Cokeville Miracle classroom damage and taped square on floor via Altered Dimensions with usage type - Editorial use (Fair Use)
Cokeville Miracle bomb remains via Internet Archive by Wyoming State Archives with usage type - Public Domain