The past few weeks and the terrible bombing that happened in Boston, got me thinking about the time I was threatened with a bomb. It turned out to be nothing even remotely close to what happened in Boston, but at the time, I feared for my life.
It was Sunday, February 7th 1993.
I was a student at BYU, married for almost a year. This Sunday we were up for a treat. There was a school sponsored devotional, and the speaker was to be the most senior Apostle, President Howard W. Hunter. The Apostles always bring in a crowd, President Hunter would pull in a big one.
As it was a Sunday devotional, and given by a General Authority, we were dressed in our church clothes, prepared to listen to President Hunter discuss church things.
The Marriott Center was all the way on the other side of campus, and it was winter. So, we drove. I remember parking a few blocks away and walking toward the Marriott Center. As we did so, a VW bug crossed our path, driving a little racy. It had a hand done paint job, skull and crossbones. Wacky. We were in college and college kids did stoopid things, so I didn’t think too much of it once it passed us by.
We were late enough and the crowd was large enough that we were relegated to the top tier seats. Turns out about 17,000 people showed to see President Hunter. Since the Marriott Center only holds about 20,000 it was pretty packed. So, off to the top we headed.
The crowd was large and noisy. We saw Jodi’s best friend, Laura, and she came and sat by us.
When the Prophet, or one of the Twelve Apostles walks into a room, it is customary for the congregation to stand – I imagine this is to honor the individual. I’ve never read anywhere that this has to happen, it just does. Everyone stands and is silent as the Elder makes his way to the stand. It wasn’t any different for President Hunter, only I remember him being frail and it taking some time.
There were a number of dignitaries sitting on the stand, a group of about twenty people, in addition to the small group that came in with him. After he made it to his seat, the meeting got going; we sang a hymn, said a prayer and someone introduced President Hunter.
That’s when things began to fall apart.
Shortly after President Hunter stood a man in a bright suit ran from the audience toward the pulpit. He had a briefcase in one hand and was holding something boxy and black in the other. He was yelling and screaming. The only word I understood was ‘bomb.’
Everyone went silent. The man was making jarring movements, and yelling. We were so high though, I couldn’t catch all he was saying. President Hunter just stood at the pulpit, not saying anything.
The man shoved some papers at President Hunter. President Hunter just shook his head. The man continued to yell, and as he did the crowd did what crowds do. To the man’s threats and scary gestures there was the occasional ‘Ahh!’ and ‘Ohh!’ It was incredibly frightening. I kept thinking, ‘I can’t believe this is happening.’
Then the crowd began to sing, We Thank Thee Oh God For A Prophet. My heart swelled as the Spirit filled me. I had an overwhelming witness that President Hunter was an Apostle of God, and that God’s plan would move forward – whether this man’s bomb went off or not.
The thought of the bomb brought me around. The entire congregation was being held hostage by this guy, threatening to kill us if his demands weren’t met.
Everyone was frozen. This wasn’t New York City, or Los Angeles, this was Provo, Utah. I couldn’t believe this was happening. I was having difficulty putting it all together. I stood up, like many people around us. I’m not sure why, probably to get a better look at what was happening. Mostly I think it was because that’s the posture you take when about to take action. I was ready, just not sure for what.
Then it dawned on me. We could all be blown up at any moment.
I looked around and people were starting to move. I thought this could get hairy. I grabbed my wife’s hand and said, ‘Let’s go.’ We were far enough away that the man couldn’t do anything about us leaving. We were seated next to an aisle that was just steps away from a large exit. We got up and walked out. Just as we did, the floor of the center turned into a mosh pit. People began yelling and screaming. Men began to pile on top of the guy in the suit. I knew it was over, one way or another. With my wife’s hand in mine, we hurried out.
We ran into the hallway and heard the commotion – alone. No one else followed us out. I honestly expected to hear a loud explosion. After a few minutes of standing there nothing happened. We looked at each other and decided to stick our heads back in to see what was going on.
It appeared they had apprehended the guy and taken him away. The crowd had started singing hymns again.
Eventually President Hunter started his speech. He began to read his talk, just as if nothing had happened, and his opening line was something akin to, ‘Sometimes, life presents us with challenges.’ It got quite a laugh.
At the end of the devotional, we walked out into the parking lot of the Marriott Center and we passed that VW bug again. It was parked all askew. Turns out it was the suit man’s car. His name was Cody Judy. He was pretty messed up, and from the looks of it, he’s gotten out of jail but is still a bit off.
The next day I heard from a friend that was watching the devotional live, over satellite, at BYU Idaho. They said at the beginning of the devotional they heard a commotion, then the broadcast went dead. Just black. They weren’t sure what happened, but feared the worst.
Their congregation too began to sing We Thank Thee Oh God For A Prophet, and I Am A Child Of God – just like we had. I was initially surprised when I heard this, that they had started to sing the same songs as we did. But then as I thought about it I was more comforted that we all came together the same way.
The school newspaper, The Daily Universe, quoted one of the college students who piled on the man in the suit, as saying, “Don’t mess with the Elders of Israel!’
Being held hostage at a large event with thousands of people like that was incredibly frightening. Fortunately nothing bad happened.
I will never forget that day.