Daily Universe covers fireside threat on Pres. Hunter

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    The Daily Universe celebrates 50 years


    By ALICIA BARNEY

    On Sunday, Feb. 7, 1993, BYU sophomore Rebecca Reeves was sitting in the center of the second row in a fireside in the Marriott Center with a tape recorder and notebook in hand. She was on assignment from The Daily Universe, her first in a beginning reporting class, to cover the fireside given by President Howard W. Hunter.

    Reeves saw what was usually considered a routine assignment instantly transform into an important news story as a man got up, jumped the security barrier and ran onto the stage brandishing a black object and announcing that he had a bomb.

    The man, 27-year-old Cody Judy, demanded that President Hunter, then the President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, read a three-page statement to the audience. The man was eventually apprehended by police and students after threatening President Hunter and the 17,000 onlookers.

    It was later found that what Judy claimed was a detonator was actually a phone receiver wrapped in black tape and his suitcase contained only books and a radio.

    Reeves wrote a story about the content of President Hunter’s talk, which resumed after the threat had passed, as part of extensive coverage published in The Daily Universe the next day. The award-winning package was praised as an example of excellent student journalism.

    Important decisions had to be made in a hurry as Daily Universe staff gathered to vastly revise the next day’s paper.

    Monday’s paper had already been laid out as a Valentine’s Day issue and contracts had been signed with advertisers for the front page to cover Valentines stories.

    Tad Walch, editor in chief of The Daily Universe in 1993, arrived in the newsroom as soon as he heard about the incident and started dealing with the advertising conflict.

    “The contracts meant putting the whole [President Hunter] story inside, which caused me quite a bit of heartburn,” said Walch, now Utah County Bureau chief for the Deseret Morning News. “Our adviser agreed to adding four extra pages to the paper, allowing us to use all of our resources for big blowout coverage of what went on.”

    The headline “Terrorist interrupts fireside” spanned the top of Monday’s front page above a large picture of Judy holding his fake detonator near President Hunter’s head. A story on the incident took up the top half of the page, with the header bearing The Daily Universe’s name placed in the middle of the page ? complete with its “Sweetheart Edition” title for Valentine’s Day.

    A note was also placed on the front page, directing readers to page 20 for “exclusive and comprehensive” coverage of the fireside ? a full two page package.

    Walch said there was an electric energy in the newsroom as staff put together the paper.

    “There was a sense of shock, people were very concerned about what had happened and the danger to President Hunter,” he said. “And it was intense because we were trying to figure out how to get the coverage in, assigning stories, writing stories. New info was coming in all the time. It was a very fluid situation.”

    While reporters from The Daily Universe and the Deseret News were at the fireside, the only photographer present was freshman Nathan Sieter, a Daily Universe assistant photo editor. His photos were used on television stations around Utah and in newspapers around the country, including USA Today.

    Sieter, who now works for IBM in Tucson, said he remembers Universe staff immediately focusing on the pictures.

    “As soon as I walked in, the adviser pulled me aside and said ‘I hope you got some pictures of that,'” Sieter said. “From the beginning it was clear that an important part of the coverage of the event was the pictures.”

    Jeff Call, a Daily Universe assistant sports editor at the time, was in the newsroom during the fireside working at his desk for the next day’s paper. When the television monitor went black, Call and other staff members listened to the police scanner for information on what was happening.

    The quiet newsroom quickly became alive with activity as news of the incident spread, said Call, now a sports writer for the Deseret Morning News.

    “Hordes of Universe reporters and editors showed up and started to get to work trying to figure out what happened, gathering eyewitness accounts and discussing how they were going to play the story,” Call said. “It was unlike any other night at the Universe, there was a lot of adrenaline and excitement. It was obviously a huge story, and we knew it would be national.”

    Two days after the incident, on Tuesday, Feb. 9, five of the six stories on the front page involved the incident or developments in Judy’s case. There were also several follow-up stories on inside pages, including an interview with President Hunter’s bodyguard and two editorials on the opinion page, one criticizing the hasty students that attempted to attack Judy and another that praised President Hunter for staying calm.

    After that point, fewer stories were written about the event and only major developments in the case were covered.

    Reeves, whose married name is Rebecca Richards, now stays at home with her three children. She said she remembers being proud of being the only non-staff member to be part of the package and enjoying the whirl of the newsroom that night.

    “It was really scary being in [the Marriott Center], but once I got back to newsroom, the newsroom was just energy,” Reeves said. “Over the next week or so, there was just a charge to the newsroom ? a buzz ? as the investigation unfolded.”

    Judy was convicted and served eight years in prison. In 2002 he ran for the U.S. House of Representatives, but did not win the seat.

    President Hunter became the president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in June of 1994 and died in March of 1995.