30 years later: The Marriott Center bomb threat
February 7, 1993. President Howard W. Hunter, then president of the Quorum of the Twelve of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, comes to Brigham Young University to give an evening fireside.
President Hunter walks to the podium in the Marriott Center. There are more than 18,000 students in the audience.
“It is a wonderful privilege for me to be with you,” he begins.
That’s when 27-year-old Cody Judy marches up to the podium, yelling threats and claiming to have a bomb.
That’s when the screaming starts.
That’s when, if you’re watching the broadcast from home, the television goes dark.
In 1993, Lt. Jeff Long had been working for BYU Police for just over two years and had seen little action in his career so far.
“We all said, ‘Oh, nothing ever happens at BYU,’ and I believed that,” Long said. “I don’t even know if I’d made an arrest up to that point.”
Complaints had been made to BYU Police that having too many armed guards and policemen covering devotionals made audience members uneasy and decreased the spirituality of the events. Because of this, Long was one of only two officers on duty at President Hunter’s fireside.
“Uniforms were scary to people,” Long said. “The police department was understaffed by choice because at the time, it didn’t seem like there was a need for police officers. And so obviously, we were not prepared for this event, security-wise.”
Jim Monsen was working as an usher during the fireside. When the floor seating filled, he put up a rope so people in the stands knew not to enter the floor.
Then, Judy stood up behind Monsen and jumped over the rope.
“I stepped forward to stop him and he held up whatever it was that he had in his hand, that fake detonator, and he just told me to back off,” Monsen said.
Judy, carrying a briefcase in one hand and what looked like a bomb detonator in the other, told everyone on the stand to leave.
“I’ve got dynamite!” Judy yelled, his voice echoing throughout the Marriott Center.
Long had been told to stay out of sight, so he was positioned at the top of Portal K, far from the stage. From high in the stands, Long radioed for backup, alerting other BYU and Provo police officers of the bomb threat.
To get down to Judy, Long said he “basically body-surfed” over students to get to the floor.
Christy Oyler, an 18-year-old freshman, was sitting near the front of the Marriott Center.
“I think a lot of us thought at first, ‘This is some weird object lesson, like, this is part of his talk that he has someone run in, and then he’s going to make a point about it,’” Oyler said.
Judy handed President Hunter a letter to read calling for Judy to be the Church’s new prophet. President Hunter refused to read the letter.
Rex Jackson, an elderly man in the audience, approached the podium to try to talk to Judy, and Judy shoved him to the ground. Long said people became alarmed as they realized the violent potential of the situation.
“That was the moment when we realized, ‘Oh, wait, this isn’t something that was planned,’” Oyler recalled. “I wasn’t really anxious. I was just stunned.”
As an usher, Monsen was trained to let BYU Police and Church security handle the situation. His job was controlling the crowd. He started steering people toward the exit. A few students in the audience left, but the majority remained.
“I thought maybe we should leave, but no one else was leaving, so it seemed like we should stay and see what happened,” Oyler said. “Today, with mass shootings and things like that constantly on our minds, I wonder if we would have reacted differently. But you didn’t expect that. Not at a fireside.”
A young man in the crowd rushed forward with a can of mace. He sprayed Judy, then tackled President Hunter.
Monsen said he heard the man yell, “I’m ROTC, and I’m not getting off until you’re safe.”
From behind her in the stands, Oyler began hearing students spontaneously singing, “We Thank Thee, O God, for a Prophet.” Soon the whole Marriott Center was filled with people singing the hymn, followed by “I Am a Child of God.”
A crowd of 75-100 young men rushed the stage. Fists were thrown.
“Now I’m concerned that this crowd is going to kill this guy,” Long recalls. “Everybody wanted a piece of him. It was very violent.”
Monsen tried to hold them back, saying the police had it handled, and began peeling men off the dogpile.
“If they would have been left to their means, they would have beaten him to death,” Monsen said. “I was blown away by how far some of these guys who had come for a spiritual fireside had lost it to the point that they were just completely violent and lost control of themselves.”
Long’s partner made his way to the stage as well and the two handcuffed Judy before escorting him to the state hospital.
BYU Police discovered that the briefcase Judy carried only contained books and a radio, and that the device he held was just a cordless phone wrapped in black tape.
When everyone had settled down, President Hunter was asked whether he wanted to continue with the event. He proceeded to give his talk as planned, titled “An Anchor to the Souls of Men.”
Later, Long said Judy escaped from the hospital by jumping from a third-story window. He was on the lam for more than three days, according to Deseret News, before he showed up at KSL Broadcast House in Salt Lake City on March 26, asking to give a statement to the news. He was taken to jail, found guilty at trial and sentenced to up to 15 years in prison.
Judy was incarcerated for six years until Aug. 2, 1999. He was arrested again after violating a protective order during his parole. According to Judy’s blog, he spent a total of 3018 days, or just over eight years in prison.
Lt. Jeff Long called the Marriott Center bomb threat “a perfect storm.”
“You had somebody who was disgruntled with the Church, you had Church security that wasn’t prepared and you had a BYU Police department that was not prepared,” Long said. “Judy was right next to President Hunter. He could have killed the prophet of the Church.”
Cody Judy today
Since being released from prison, Judy has run for U.S. president in 2008, 2012 and 2016 as an independent write-in candidate, as well as running for U.S. Senate in 2018.
In a February 2015 blog post, Judy denied pleading guilty to the bomb threat, said that God told him to do it, and called his prosecution and negative public image a “hate crime.”
“I cannot bear the fault for relaying a message from God, and that’s all I did,” he wrote. “This is a hate crime against me based upon my religion and the word of God to me.”
Judy told The Daily Universe in August 1999 that he was treated rudely by Church leaders at Temple Square a week prior to the bomb threat. He said he thought, “If you treat me rudely, I’ll treat you rudely.”
On Feb. 6, the night before he charged the podium in the Marriott Center, Judy said he saw an announcement for the fireside in a newspaper, sparking his idea for the bomb threat.
“To anybody who is scared out there I would like to tell them I’m sorry and that this won’t happen again, for sure,” Judy told The Daily Universe following his release.
Lessons 30 years later
Thirty years later, the event still holds lessons for BYU Police and Church security officers.
“It was an eye-opener for a lot of people on how we deal with events like that,” Long said. “It made me a better officer at those events because it’s easy for people to get complacent. Somebody could jump to the floor at any time with a gun, and I’ve got to react to that.”
Long retired from BYU Police in May 2022 and now works for the Utah Valley University Police.
“The whole idea of not having police officers during the event was asinine,” Long said. As a young cop in 1993, it wasn’t his job to make decisions. “But looking back 30 years later, that was not safe not to have proper law enforcement at an event like that.”
In March 1993, a month after the bomb threat, President Thomas S. Monson, then second counselor in the First Presidency, came to speak at BYU. Long said the protocol was much different for President Monson, who later became the 16th president of the Church, than at President Hunter’s address.
“It was all-hands-on-deck,” Long said. “Everybody acted differently — suddenly it wasn’t scary to have a cop inside of a fireside.”
Jim Monsen said ushers would typically step back into the tunnel once an event started so they weren’t a distraction. After the bomb threat, ushers were told to face the crowd during all events.
“We watched for suspicious behavior more than we ever had before,” Monsen said.
BYU Police Lt. George Besendorfer compared the lack of security at the 1993 incident to the heightened security used when President Dallin H. Oaks gave a BYU campus devotional on Sept. 13, 2022.
“We had over a dozen police and security people at the Marriott Center, and we had people set up so that no one could even get close to him without going through us,” Besendorfer said.
He compared current BYU security to an onion, with “layers of security,” including surveillance cameras and alarms that get set off if anything unusual happens.
Besendorfer also said BYU Police update their protocol to match national trends, not just local concerns.
“Something we’re doing all the time is evolving with what seems to be taking place, not just at BYU but around the country,” he said. “As things happen, we have to be vigilant and evolve with what the current trends are.”
Jeff Jourdan, who worked as a Church security officer in the Protective Operations Unit from January 2021 to February 2022, agreed that the presence of security is now one of the most important parts of keeping people safe at an event.
“Just being there, being seen, having a presence, interacting with people and just keeping an eye out for things that are out of the ordinary—that’s what’s important,” Jourdan said.
To protect Church security operations, Jourdan refrained from sharing specific details about what protocol officers operate under. But he said they are trained in everything from deescalation to how to actually handle a bomb or other threat.
“Over the years, they have increased their amount and level of training,” Jourdan said. “They’ve gone more in depth in a lot of their training so that they can be prepared for anything that comes.”
Jourdan said every event Church security is involved in, including the Marriott Center bomb threat, plays a role in how they change their trainings to prepare for future events. He also cited the 1999 Family History Library shooting in Salt Lake City, as an example of how security officers have had to change their protocol.
“Because of incidents like that, they go through a bunch of scenarios to try to be prepared for anything that might come,” Jourdan said. “They’ve come a long way and they’re trying their best to do what they need to do and keep everyone safe.”