EMT Glenna Walker, Mother of Three Young Children, on the 1986 Bombing of Cokeville Elementary School
The Cokeville hostage crisis began the afternoon of May 16, 1986, when David and Doris Young took 154 children and adults hostage at the Cokeville Elementary School in tiny Cokeville, Wyo. After a standoff lasting two and a half hours, the gasoline bomb the couple had brought into the school went off prematurely, badly burning Doris Young while David Young was out of the room. Returning, David Young shot his wife, then himself. All the hostages escaped, though 79 were hospitalized with burns and injuries. Young was a former Cokeville town marshal who had been living in Arizona for several years.
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.
~ Transcriber Russ Sherwin, Oct. 28, 2010
Wyoming State Archives Interviewer Mark Junge: Today is the 21st of September, 2010. My name is Mark Junge. I'm at the City Hall in Cokeville, in the conference room, talking with Glenna Walker who was an EMT [Emergency Medical Technician] during the Cokeville bombing incident on May 16, 1986. To my left is Sue Castaneda, who is the head of the Wyoming Oral history project that we're working on. Go ahead.
Glenna Walker: Hi. My name is Glenna Walker. I was living in Cokeville on May 16, 1986. I was an EMT and the mother of three children who were in the Cokeville Elementary School. I was getting ready to leave Cokeville just for a quick trip to Kemmerer, Wyo., and my husband came in the front door and told me that the elementary had been taken hostage. He had visited with David Young's daughter, Princess, and she had come to the City Hall. My husband had come in to the City Hall to do something just very quickly before we left for Kemmerer.
[He] talked to Princess, found out that the school was held hostage, came back and told me to lock our home and come to the ambulance barn, to bring blankets and any supplies that I felt would be applicable for this event. I at the time didn't know what to bring, but I came, locked my home. I had one child in junior high, which my concern was for him also, whether to get him out of school. When I got to City Hall, they informed us not to worry about the older children, that they would hold them at the high school and junior high until this problem was resolved.
Mark Junge: Could you go back one step? Were you here when she came in? You weren't here?
Glenna Walker: I was home.
Mark Junge: Okay. So—
Glenna Walker: So I came to the ambulance barn. By then the news was out and people were gathering a little on Main Street, and one of the main concerns was to control the crowd. Crowd control in the city. So we pulled the ambulance out and pulled it onto Main Street, but they told us to stay back. At that time, SWAT teams were arriving from other areas. My husband, Kevin, had told me that he would see me later. He was going to go make phone calls because our local law enforcement officer was out of town.
So at this point Kevin came to the City Hall and I was with the ambulance. We went onto Main Street and first main concern was, was this a mock accident. And I decided that very moment—that was my first call as an EMT. I'd just got my certification and I thought at that moment that if that was how they were going to test us I didn't know if I wanted to be involved with the EMT service. But my husband kept telling me that it wasn't a mock drill, that it was real. It was just too overwhelming to even think of it being real.
We sat on Main Street and several of the local people in our community came, and there were several fathers who decided they were going to go in from other entrances in the school and try to do what they could do to help the situation or to get their children out.
Mark Junge: Did they have guns?
Glenna Walker: They did have guns. I remember walking across the street, and one man was parked on the side of the road and he had a rifle and was ready to go in. We told him that our instruction was to keep everybody back, that they had people ready, and sharpshooters in the garages and stuff surrounding the elementary, and our job was to keep people back.
I can almost remember the feeling of that day. It was warm, and there was just a slight, slight breeze, and some days I think of that feeling. It was just a spring day in May and very peaceful. Just a few clouds in the sky and it was just a beautiful spring day.
Mark Junge: So it' s like déjà vu for you at certain times?
Glenna Walker: Sometimes I can almost feel that feeling. We stood for two and a half hours, about, and they had lined up the fire trucks ahead of us and we started seeing other fire trucks and ambulances coming from the nearby communities. They were coming in to town and lining [up] on the east side of Main Street from where you would turn to go to the elementary. I was actually on the west entrance of the elementary on Main Street.
So we had waited, and I remember opening the side door of the ambulance and we heard kind of a muffled explosion. It almost sounded like you would be in a pickup and hear a gun fire. Very muffled and very, kind of boooff! Just kind of, you could tell it was muffled. I remember jumping in the ambulance, jumping out, jumping in, jumping out. And that was about as far as I could tell time passing, and then children came and started running towards us.
The children came out of the elementary and it was just total mayhem! When I think of a war zone, or a country that bombs have detonated and people running, that's what I see.
The children came running from the elementary. They cleared the fences just in one leap. Everybody started moving forward. All the fire trucks, all the ambulances, everybody just started moving forward. It was total, total hysterics.
Parents started running up the streets. The children, when they'd come to us—one came to me, and I grabbed this boy and asked him if I could help him and he said, "No, I have to get to my grandmother. He's going to come after us." And this is what they'd been told in the classroom is that if they escaped, he [David Young] would come after them. So his fear was, he needed to get to his grandma. And then some of them would grab us because they knew that somebody would love us and just cry, and one girl came to me and she said that she was still on fire. I looked at her and I said, "Honey, you're fine! There's no fire on you now." But as we took her to the ambulance we looked at her in the back of the ambulance so she had some privacy, and she was trying to get her pants off. And she pulled them down and skin came with them from the extensive heat.
I had three children. I didn't know where they were at. And I can remember, we turned the hoses on in the nearby lawns of people's, and started cooling their burns. As an EMT I'd been trained [for] that. The three degrees of burns: first, second, third degree. But I hadn't seen a third degree burn. And some of the children as they came out, their little skin was white, and their ears, and on their face was white. So we were cooling them with water, and we were trying to triage the children to see where we should send them and how we could keep record of what hospital they'd gone to, to tell parents. So the ambulances started loading and filling and started leaving. We kept wondering how we were going to keep track of everyone.
At that point, I was walking and I saw my youngest daughter Katy and she was on the ground with her legs crossed, sitting Indian-style, and she had her arms wrapped around herself and was rocking and she told me that the people had helped her out of the building. And I asked her where her brother and other sister was and she did not know. And at that point, someone came out of the Sieff Taylor home and said that she was in the house and would I give permission for them to start an IV, that she'd been burned and that she needed to be transported at that time. I gathered my children as quickly as I could so that I could leave with that ambulance.
So I ran to her and found her, and at that point someone brought my son Travis to us and we got into an ambulance. There was about five or six children in that ambulance. Rachel was in the top bunk, and she was the one that was burned. I held Katy and Travis on my lap in the front passenger seat of the ambulance, because the back was so full of EMTs and children, some that were very severely burned and screaming and crying all the way.
I can remember that was the longest trip to Montpelier [Idaho] in my life. As we arrived at Bear Lake Memorial Hospital in Montpelier, one of the city police officers there had been raised in Cokeville and he came and asked me if our children was okay. I can just remember saying, "I don't know. Rachel is on IVs and we're going to find out." So we went into the hospital and CNN news was there then, and all of the Salt Lake [Salt Lake City, Utah] stations. All of these people were there and they were trying to interview us in the hallway, and of course, that was not our concern. We wanted to get through to the medical help.
Rachel was hospitalized at that point, and our family members came to the hospital and visited with us there. I remember my father was in World War II and captured and was in a concentration camp, and so for him to think of a bomb exploding, he could not fathom that those children were able to get out. He just kept saying, "The bomb went off?" and we said, "Yes." And in his mind, he just could not fathom that those children were out.
It was interesting: they kept the children there just for a few hours and those who were not so extremely burned, they let them go to grandparents or something in the Bear Valley. And because my parents were there, we went and stayed that night there. Then we were to report back to the hospital in the morning for more treatment and bandaging and treatment of the wounds there.
So then we started into our summer of healing. And it was interesting how the healing took place with the children. Our son that was in there, Travis, was very upset that he didn't do more to help with the children getting out of the bombing. He felt that he should have stood right by his sisters. And he had! He had taken them to the window right before the bomb went off and told them to stay there. And then some one of his friends had called him and he walked back across the room. When the bomb detonated it knocked him actually into the hallway from the force of the bomb. And he went back three times to try to get his sisters and they just kept turning him around and sending him out and they couldn't figure out why he kept coming back.
Mark Junge: He was a hero!
Glenna Walker: He wanted to save his sisters. So as he got out he walked around the building to see if he could see them and that's why he was so late coming to me to get into the ambulance, because he had actually tried to find them there by the school. The children talked about people who had got them out and how they had went through the small window. Now it wasn't hard for the children to get out that small push-out window, but it was very difficult for some of the adults to get through that window. But they were able to get out and some of them ran around the other way.
I remember on a Sunday they asked us to come back and take the children into the room as quickly as possible so they could be re-exposed to that room. So of course, we went with real trepidation. We didn't know if we wanted to take them in yet, or if it was the right thing to do. But I can remember walking in from the south entrance and we got about half way up the ramp, handicap ramp there, and our little girls stopped and started crying and said they weren't going to go in. Then we visited with them and talked to them and after about 20 minutes they decided they would go in with their mom and dad and so we went in.
Mark Junge: Was that a good thing?
Glenna Walker: You know, it was a good thing. It was an incredible experience to go back into that room.
Sue Castaneda: Just two days later!
Glenna Walker: And so we did go in with them and then these people were there then and took pictures of them. But after we'd gone in, they had not cleaned it up a lot. So there was still smoke in the room and debris everywhere. They kept saying, this is where I stood. This is where Travis was; this is where Katy was.
Mark Junge: Glenna, can you talk about your son Travis's—what he saw? ’Cause I think it's very interesting.
Glenna Walker: Yes. Travis tells us even then, after we had gone to some counseling for adults, the parents kept saying that—they were all coming in saying their children were talking about things. So one particular evening they talked about their children, how they were talking about people who had helped them out, and how they had been told where to go and stand, and specific places that they should be. And like we said, Travis had heard a voice or a feeling and this voice told him to go get his sisters and place them by the window. And so he had walked across, went around the “magic square”—they called it the magic square in the middle of the room—and he walked around the perimeter and went and placed them by the window, and told them that if they stayed by the window they would be okay, and to stay there.
And he was standing there until his friend until one of his friends called him back over. So he said he never saw anything, but he had a very strong feeling and in his mind he knew that they needed to be by the window. He told them they would be okay as long as they stood there. And as soon as he went to the other side is when the bomb detonated. And that was part of his guilt is that he felt that he had left them by the window.
Mark Junge: But he saw a woman, right?
Glenna Walker: No, he did not. That needs to be clarified. He did not. He had a feeling. The girls saw the woman. He did not see the woman.
Mark Junge: The girls—your two girls saw the woman.
Glenna Walker: The two girls saw a helper.
Mark Junge: What did they see?
Glenna Walker: And they said that they knew this woman—well, that night when we talked to Travis and he said he'd had a feeling, he'd heard this voice, the girls said, "And we had a woman who stood by us." As we talked to them we asked them questions, and we tried to trick them, and we said was she wearing shorts, and a hat, or a raincoat, or did she have sandals on, or what did she have on. They said no, she just had little white slippers and that she loved them. The two girls said, "We knew she loved us." And she promised them that if they would listen to her and do what she said, that they would be safe and that she would always help them, and that she loved them very, very much.
The girls just kept talking to me and then they said—I said, "Did she have glasses? Did she have sunglasses?" and they said, no, she didn't have glasses on. And they'd just keep repeating, "But we knew she loved us!" So we got some family pictures out and showed them some family pictures and they told me that—they touched my hair and said, "Her hair was the same color as ours." And—I had curlier hair—and they said, "Her hair was just like you."
My mother had died when I was 15. They had described her to me. They showed her hair color and her stature and many, many personal things, that we knew that that's who they'd seen. And they were very excited now to know that we knew who she was. They were very excited! Because everyone—as they would say that people helped them out they would say, "Oh. Could it have been your teacher?" "No, it wasn't them." And as they would describe them they were very frustrated. And that was a very frustrating thing for their healing is that no one realized who they were.
Mark Junge: Both girls saw the same person?
Glenna Walker: Both girls. And they described her exactly the same.
Mark Junge: And they had never seen her before? Her picture before?
Glenna Walker: No. My mother died when I was 15.
Mark Junge: I mean, they hadn't seen her in the album?
Glenna Walker: No. They had not seen her. The thing that's interesting too, is I had a small locket. I showed her a picture, I had a little wallet-sized picture, and then I have a small round locket. I opened the locket, and it's small. It would be maybe an inch across, and that is the one that they recognized the most, and that was in her later years right before she passed away.
Can I share one more thing? I don't know if I want this part in the thing, but when my mother passed away, it was a very sudden death. Her brother had had a heart attack and they called us and said that they wanted us to come and see him. If we were going to see him alive we needed to come to Salt Lake City. So we—they'd called our home, and my mother had told my older sister who was married, she said, "I don't want to go!" She said, "I don't really feel well, and I don't really want to go. But I know that if I don't go I'll never forgive myself if something was to happen to him."
So, as we got to Salt Lake and we went to my brother's home, and he'd left a key outside for us to go into his home and call the hospital. So we went in and she called the hospital and they said that he'd had two heart attacks in the night and that he wasn't—they couldn't do anything. They just didn't know if they'd be able to save him. So anyway, as she went to hang up the phone, she screamed and she went to the floor. We ran to her and called an ambulance and she'd had a cerebral hemorrhage.
We took her up to Holy Cross—that's where my uncle was—and put her in the hospital and we went home about 10:30, 11 o'clock at night, 11:30, and the doctor said, "She's fine, I think she's going to be fine. Tomorrow we'll see what we can do for some other things." Well, about 2 in the morning they called and asked us to come to the hospital and she'd already slipped into a coma. And there was nothing they could do. And she died probably 10 or 15 minutes after we got to the hospital.
I was only 15 then. My father I was not that close to. He'd been a prisoner of war and he came home very much military and I was not close to him. I was close to my mother. I dreamed and dreamed and dreamed, and I would get very, very frustrated and very scared of death as a 15-year-old teenager. And one night I dreamt about her, and she had told me that I needed to let her go, that she needed to progress on, and that she would always, always be by my side. And I think that happened. I just believe that that happened. I know that the girls described everything about her as she was and they knew that she loved [them]. She told them too that she would always, always be with them. So that one statement rang true and I knew that that was her.
But it was a time of healing and these children—there was so many of them—talking about people. One of my youngest daughter’s friends had said that there was a woman at night that came when she had her dreams and would rock her and would hold her and rock her. It was an incredible time. There was a high school teacher that came years later when our girls were in high school and she said, "It's incredible that you can see the people who were in the bombing together. There's just a bond." You know, other children had come and moved in and went into the school, but she said you could see this bond.
And I always think this is a story of love and help from beyond any earthly thing we ever know. It's just a story of love. And knowing that there's more there that take care of us and those parents and grandparents still love us.
Mark Junge: So that's what you've learned from the incident?
Glenna Walker: That's what I've learned. And I've also learned that human nature is—that humans are incredible people. That no matter if they know those children or if they're in a small community like this who know those children who they've grown with, or if they're from anywhere in the state or anywhere in the United States, they love children, and we are prone to help those children in any way we can. There is so much good in our world.
Mark Junge: Okay—
Sue Castaneda: Did you get outside cards and letters of encouragement?
Glenna Walker: Oh, incredible! Incredible support and love from all over the nation. It was just incredible. And they received cards and gifts and monetary help just from all over the United States. The funds were incredible! Incredible! Just amazing, and the medical bills were paid and gifts were sent. I can remember working several years after that, and I was working in a See’s Store and a man came in and it was right after the bombing, the Oklahoma bombing in Oklahoma City, and he was on a motorcycle and had come in to get gas, but he said, "I just had to leave. I had to get out of the chaos. I don't know how we will ever, ever go on."
And I looked at him and I said, "You know what? I can tell you how you'll go on.
You will pick yourself up, you will have so much love and support from everyone around you that you will just go on." Because even with the natural disaster, or a disaster such as the Oklahoma City bombing, there are people who are concerned, who love and want to help. And it's just an incredible, incredible gift to us that people are so giving and so loving.
Mark Junge: So, this was—in a way, this was a positive thing in your life? It's hard for me to say that, but—
Glenna Walker: It takes years and much time for you to see a positive experience out of this.
And even though, sometimes when you know it was such a positive, wonderful experience, those deep hurts and those fears still surface.
Mark Junge: Do they?
Glenna Walker: They really do still surface. Like I said, our son Travis will call his sisters and say, "I just had a feeling. I needed to make sure you were okay." It's taken years for them to heal. The counselors told us—they were so young, especially the younger children—that it would take years for them to realize the whole dynamics of it. That it would take them years to realize the whole story line even. You know, they were there, they were so following, they would just follow. And another thing that was incredible is, they had had a fire drill just a week before, and so when those alarms and everything went off, those children walked out those side doors and would line up in a straight line—some of the littler ones. So it made me always believe that children do what they're taught, even in a time of crisis. They do what they're taught. It was amazing. They kept saying, "No, we'll find your moms, keep going." But they would line up. It made me realize too, that some people don't know how to help but they have to do something.
Mark Junge: Yeah. Did you have a conflict in your mind because you were an EMT and then you also had three kids in school?
Glenna Walker: A huge conflict! Now I think of that and I think all of my three children was there and my daughter had to go I went in that ambulance. And I told someone else, "I'm leaving with this ambulance." But I didn't say, "Can I go?" Or, "Is it okay?" I just said, "I'm going with this ambulance. My children are in here."
And I always think of the triage that we tried to do, and there was no one there to write down, you know, the Smith family went to Kemmerer, or the Thompson family went—there was no one to record that and for a few hours there it was really hard. So I always think—I don't know how we could have changed that. I even think now, would we just have somebody try to remember the ambulances and write who was in them. It was hard.
Mark Junge: Well, somebody was smart enough to number the kids, to mark on their hands and give them a number and then write down who that kid was, right? In the hospital?
Glenna Walker: Oh, yes. They got names. And see, we all knew their names. So we were able to say, well this is—
Mark Junge: But the other people wouldn't know that, so they had to put a marker on the kids’ hands.
Glenna Walker: Well there was—yeah, there would have been some ambulances like from the surrounding towns who responded who would not maybe have known all of the names. But another thing that was incredible, and I still think about it, is the homes that were opened up. All up and down Main Street those homes, and when you'd go in there, when I was trying to find my children at one point, I went into a couple of the homes and children were in beds. People—there were EMTs with them, and they had actually laid them down until there was an ambulance available.
Mark Junge: To keep them out of shock.
Glenna Walker: Yes. And to keep them warm and stuff. Because they used the water, but then they had to keep them warm. So it was—aaahh! But it takes years to look back on that and realize the amazing thing that happened there.
Mark Junge: You don't dream about this?
Glenna Walker: Yes, I had! For years, I did. And my husband's view was totally different than mine. Because he was at the front of the line with the fire trucks. And so when they heard it, and those children started flying out those windows and running, he was—there was never a happier moment in his life. But, to me, when they'd come screaming, crying, "Mrs. Walker, help me! Mrs. Walker, I'm on fire!" That was very, very traumatic!
So we looked at it from two different perspectives. He was so grateful and so happy to see them running, and I was grateful, but it was terrifying. And we did have children who were burned and it was like, okay let me help them.
Mark Junge: Well, you were a fresh EMT! What a break-in experience!
Glenna Walker: Oh, yeah!
Mark Junge: What's your background? Are you from Cokeville?
Glenna Walker: No, I married my husband. I was raised in Bear Lake—the Bear Lake area.
About 45 miles from here. So I married my husband and we moved here.
Mark Junge: Because he had a job here?
Glenna Walker: Yes, yes.
Mark Junge: And why did you decide to go into EMT work?
Glenna Walker: My husband was a fireman and he wanted EMTs and he knew that was something we could do together. He just said we need to serve in the community and do EMTs and fireman together. And I said, "But I still have three young children!" The thing was we saw Kathy Davison and she was so reassuring, but then that almost made me feel like maybe a mock, because we had a lot of officials from the county here and I was thinking, "Oh, that would be a perfect opportunity for them to see if us EMTs really earned our certificates or not."
Mark Junge: How long did it take you to wake up to the fact that it wasn't?
Glenna Walker: Well, we sat down there for two and a half hours you know, you think, oh no, this isn't real. I mean, this is real. And people started lining up. That was hard, too. Because they wanted to take hold of the situation themselves.
Mark Junge: I was wondering: did you fall in love with Cokeville right off the bat when you came here?
Glenna Walker: No.
Mark Junge: Didn't you? Why?
Glenna Walker: No, where I was raised I had lots and lots of family. He had his parents here and stuff, but I always wanted to live in the beautiful Bear Lake Valley. It's beautiful over there.
Mark Junge: Did you come to love this place?
Glenna Walker: Oh, I absolutely love Wyoming and Cokeville. And it's just like a gold mine in the desert to me now. Because—or a drink of water in the desert. Because it is just the most incredibly loving, safe place to be. I love the land, now. I love the people here, I love Wyoming. I love being here.
Mark Junge: That's a nice statement.
Glenna Walker: It's incredible to be here. I went to—they had their 100th celebration this year, and my children all came home and it was incredible to see our 100th year here, celebration. And then I went back to Bear Lake for their 100th celebration, to my little community. And as I would visit with people I would say, I would catch myself saying, there's no better people in the whole wide world than in Cokeville. And I would stop, and I thought, "This is my turning point!" I love the people of Cokeville!
Mark Junge: It took a while, though!
Glenna Walker: Yes, it has!
Mark Junge: Is Cokeville smaller than Bear Lake?
Glenna Walker: The community that I grew up in is smaller, actually. So it's just about—mine was like maybe 400; there's 500 here. It was just a little more convenient sometimes like I told you the isolation that I feel, and the convenience, you know, you drive—
Mark Junge: You eventually retired from that job, right?
Glenna Walker: I did. We worked about seven years.
Mark Junge: So what do you do now?
Glenna Walker: I teach pre-school.
Mark Junge: (laughs)
Glenna Walker: I know! I teach pre-school and I love it. I have it in my home and it's just the joy of my life. It's the love of my life. I do it here—I try to keep it as inexpensive for people as I can. My accountant tells me every year that I'm going in the hole. You can only take so many years of a non-profit business, you know. I say, well then I guess then I'll have to quit. I'd just would rather have it free and have everybody be able to go to it. So it's still the involvement with the children.
Mark Junge: Yeah. You've got a great heart!
Glenna Walker: I have 17 grandchildren that I just dearly love.
Mark Junge: Really?
Glenna Walker: Yeah, twins—I know! I'm telling you! You just ought to be at our Christmas parties with 17 grandchildren! It's amazing.
Mark Junge: Well, would you—I know this is an unfair question, but I'm going to ask it anyway, 'cause I think you've done a good job and I think you can handle it, but would you do this over again? I mean, if the whole incident could happen again, from start, would you rather wipe it out of your memory—
Glenna Walker: No.
Mark Junge: You wouldn't?
Glenna Walker: No. Because we've learned so many things from it. If I had lost a child maybe I would have said I couldn't do that. But they learned so much too. And it's just—they learned too that there's powers from above that help us and that we just need to rely on that power sometimes. And they've learned also that people around them love them and support them.
Mark Junge: You've turned a negative into a positive.
Glenna Walker: You know, I've never been asked that, but that's just an incredible thought! I would not probably change that because it is what's made us who we are today. And I have so much more empathy for other people when they go through tragedies or—like when the Oklahoma City bombing, or the Twin Towers, you know. You just have so much empathy for those people. But you still know, just like I told that gentleman, you can go on. We are resilient. People will bounce back and we will go on.
Mark Junge: Are you a courageous person?
Glenna Walker: Thank you so much.
Sue Castaneda: Maybe, you guys ever consider when those things happen sending out—
Glenna Walker: (Unintelligible)
Mark Junge: You happy the way your kids turned out?
Glenna Walker: Absolutely! They're the greatest people on this earth! They're just incredible.
- Recording and transcription by Wyoming State Archives. Used with permission and thanks.
- The photo of Glenna Walker is by Wyoming State Archives. Used with thanks.
- This oral history collection is titled “Survivor Is My Name” and features remembrances of the Cokeville, Wyo., 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.