The Cokeville Elementary School hostage crisis occurred on Friday, May 16, 1986, in Cokeville, Wyoming, United States, when former town marshal David Young, 43, and his wife Doris Young, 47, took 136 children and 18 adults hostage at Cokeville Elementary School.
David Young entered the school with his wife transporting a large gasoline-filled device that appeared to be a bomb. The couple corralled a large group of students and teachers into a single classroom. David Young attached the bomb trigger to his wrist and threatened the group that he might, at any time, move his arm and ignite the bomb.
After a two-and-a-half hour standoff, the children were becoming restless, so the teachers led them in prayer. The praying appeared to make David Young agitated and he decided to leave the room. Before leaving the room, David Young attached the bomb's detonation device to his wife's wrist.
When the children became increasingly loud, Doris Young began begging the teachers to settle the group down. At one point she lifted her arm sharply and the bomb 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 later hospitalized with burns and injuries.
David Young was the only police officer in Cokeville for 6 months in 1979. After being fired for misconduct, he moved to Tucson, Arizona. He returned on May 16, 1986 with his wife Doris. At 1:00 pm, they pulled up to the Cokeville Elementary School and unloaded a gasoline bomb, along with four rifles and nine handguns. Vengeance for having been fired did not seem to have been the motive, but rather a philosophy recorded in journal entries referring to a Brave New World where he wanted to reign over intelligent children. He had been aware of above average achievement scores from Cokeville's education system. Journal entries also indicate that he saw opportunity in the close-knit community where he wrote, "Threaten one and all are at your mercy". David Young went to the school office, handing out a manifesto entitled "ZERO EQUALS INFINITY" and announcing "This is a revolution!". Teachers were confused and baffled by David's nonsensical strange writing and deduced that Young and his wife were mentally ill and delusional. Meanwhile, Doris Young went from classroom to classroom, luring 136 children, 6 faculty, 9 teachers, and 3 other adults, including a job applicant and a UPS driver, into a first-grade classroom for a total of 154 hostages. She lured them by telling them there was either an emergency, a surprise, or an assembly there.
Mr. Young had initially planned to involve longtime friends, Gerald Deppe and Doyle Mendenhall, who had invested money with him in a get-rich scheme that Mr. Young had called "The Biggie." The two men eventually refused to participate in the event. Both men were handcuffed in a van outside the school.
David's youngest daughter from his first marriage, Penny, entered the elementary school with David and Doris Young, but refused to carry out the plan, leaving to report the incident at the town hall.
Penny, Deppe, and Mendenhall were never charged in relation to this crime because of their refusal to participate.
In the classroom, David Young held the gasoline bomb, with the triggering mechanism attached to a shoelace tied around his wrist. He demanded a ransom of two million dollars per hostage and an audience with President Reagan. David Young had also sent a copy of the manifesto to President Ronald Reagan. With permission, teachers brought in books, art supplies and a television to help keep the children occupied. Meanwhile, police and parents gathered out of sight of the school room where hostages were gathered. Doris Young tried numerous times to calm the children by telling them to "think of it as an adventure movie", or that they "would have a great story to tell their grandchildren". Many children showed signs of distress with sobs, complaining of headaches from the smell of gasoline from the bomb, or simply wanting to go home. One hostage observed a birthday on that day and songs were sung in his honor. The hostage takers took part in the singing. The mood did not lift with the singing and teachers quickly negotiated with the hostage takers to get items from the library to help the kids get their minds off of the trauma, and help to pass the time. Prayers were offered in small groups among the children, and presumably individually as well.
About 2 and 1/2 hours into the standoff, David Young transferred the triggering mechanism of the bomb to Doris' wrist, and went to a small bathroom that connected the first and second grade rooms. While he was gone, Doris Young jerked her hand on the triggering mechanism and the bomb exploded, filling the room with black smoke and severely injuring Doris. Immediately following the detonation, the teachers started to shove children through two open windows onto the grass outside the school, causing chaos as panicked parents tried to break through police lines. Following the explosion, the police report states that David Young opened the door from the connecting bathroom, shot and killed his wife, shot and wounded John Miller, a teacher who was trying to flee, and then closed the door to the small bathroom and killed himself.
76 of the hostages suffered injuries, mostly flesh burns and other injuries from the exploding bomb. Several children reported seeing angels in the classroom that day, including many children who claimed to have seen a "beautiful lady" or person all in white who told them to go near the window. Other children reported seeing an angel over each child's head. All of the children who saw angels were shown several photos to identify the beings. Every child responded to the photos of an ancestor saying, "That's her/him!"  Investigators discovered that only two of the bomb's five blasting caps went off, along with the gasoline leaking preventing a larger explosion. And if it had worked properly, the bomb would have blown off the side of the building and many more would have been injured or killed.
The incident was detailed in the book The Cokeville Miracle: When Angels Intervene by Hartt Wixom and his wife Judene, published by Cedar Fort, Inc., 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...
A movie about the incident, The Cokeville Miracle, was released on June 5, 2015. It was made by filmmaker T. C. Christensen.