Latter-day Saint woman injured in cabin explosion candidly shares how she was spiritually and physically prepared to survive

Lori Walker had no premonition that she would be seriously injured in a cabin explosion.

There was never an inclination or a prompting or even a gut feeling that her life would change forever, literally in a flash, on Feb. 15, 2019.

But that doesn’t mean Walker wasn’t prepared.

The wife, mother, athlete and lover of all things Primary was physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually ready when she stepped into that cabin that exploded seconds later.

“I feel like our family was uniquely prepared for this,” she told the Church News.

Almost a year has passed since the explosion at the family’s cabin in Timber Lakes, just east of Heber City, Utah. Walker remembers smelling gas when she arrived at the cabin site. She told her children to stay in the car and stepped inside to investigate.

The scene on Saturday, Feb. 16, 2019, of a home explosion that occurred the night before in a gated community on Lake Pines Drive in Timber Lakes, which is just east of Heber City, Utah.
The scene on Saturday, Feb. 16, 2019, of a home explosion that occurred the night before in a gated community on Lake Pines Drive in Timber Lakes, which is just east of Heber City, Utah. Credit: John Perry, Deseret News

The explosion happened almost immediately, trapping Walker under fallen beams. She was broken and burned — but she was alive. Fortuitously, three men were in the immediate vicinity when the leaking gas ignited. They followed her cries for help, bravely ran into the burning cabin, pulled off the beams and carried her outside to safety.

Walker would endure several surgeries. More operations await. But with each passing day and each new milestone — she’s driving again and recently vacationed with her family in the Caribbean — she recognizes the many ways that she had been preparing for the unexpected.

Physical, mental, emotional and spiritual readiness

For starters, Lori Walker was in good shape.

A fitness buff, she typically exercised for at least an hour a day, five or six days a week.  “I’ve been told by my doctors many times that my lungs were strong enough that I could scream and endure being in a smoke-filled house for 35 minutes.”

Later on, her well-conditioned muscles proved invaluable to her recovery. Her motivation to exercise and “be at my physical peak” prior to the explosion proved to be a blessing after the accident.

Mental preparation, meanwhile, came from deciding long ago how she would respond to difficult things.

“Growing up, I always tried to put myself in other people’s shoes who were experiencing hard things. I’d imagine situations like, say, being a pioneer crossing the plains or other difficult things in the news.”

The scene on Saturday, Feb. 16, 2019, of a home explosion that occurred the night before in a gated community on Lake Pines Drive in Timber Lakes, which is just east of Heber City, Utah.
The scene on Saturday, Feb. 16, 2019, of a home explosion that occurred the night before in a gated community on Lake Pines Drive in Timber Lakes, which is just east of Heber City, Utah. Credit: John Perry, Deseret News

She decided early in life that when hard times arrived, she would respond with positivity —  “even though I had not done anything like that before.”

Next, Walker credits her family, close friends and fellow Latter-day Saints for emotionally preparing her for the explosion and its ongoing aftermath. She knew she was never alone.

“I had built a good support system around me with good family relationships and solid friendships. … Our whole community was incredible,” she said.

But it was her spiritual preparation that proved most valuable.

Before the explosion, Lori and her husband, Kelly, and their four children — Alyssa, 15, Brianne, 13, Gavin, 11, and Leah, 7 —  had built a “family scripture study streak” that extended beyond 1,500 days. For the Walkers, connecting with the Lord each day was as elemental as eating and sleeping. So when the family was disrupted because of the explosion, they endured and remained unified by falling back on time-tested, gospel-centered habits.

“When I was in the hospital and my husband was with me and my kids were sort of on their own and hopping between houses, they were able to keep up their scripture study streak and remembered to say family prayers together.”

The Walkers also remained committed to their four “family themes”: You are loved. It’s not all about you. What does the Spirit feel like to you? And, choose to be happy.

Lori Walker has relied upon her husband, Kelly, and her children (Alyssa, 15, Leah, 7, Gavin, 11, and Brianne, 13, after being seriously injured in a cabin explosion in February 2019.
Lori Walker has relied upon her husband, Kelly, and her children (Alyssa, 15, Leah, 7, Gavin, 11, and Brianne, 13, after being seriously injured in a cabin explosion in February 2019. Credit: Photo courtesy of Lori Walker

 The presence of the Holy Ghost, she said, has been the divine byproduct of such spiritual readiness.

 “When it came time to go through something like the explosion, being able to recognize the Holy Ghost was such a comfort.”

Kelly Walker said his wife was a happy person before the explosion — and a happy person after the explosion. Despite a painful and entirely unexpected setback, her gospel-anchored outlook on life was unalterable.

“Lori is an optimist,” he said. “She has never let her family get down.”

A Primary gift

Walker also found peace in the love and prayers of Primary children.

She was serving as the Primary music leader in the Hobble Creek 11th Ward in Springville, Utah, when the explosion occurred. Her calling enriched her love of music and the Primary children — and her connection to both became a source of perhaps unexpected strength during her long recovery.

Following the cabin explosion, Walker was placed in a medically induced coma for five days. After awakening, she was unable to speak because her shattered jaw had been wired shut. Using a small whiteboard, she began scribbling questions:

First, were her children OK? Second, who had pulled her from the cabin?

 “And the third thing I asked was what day it was because I was supposed to do singing time in Primary.”

She had often told the Primary children that she loved them and prayed for them. During her long recovery, she discovered her love was reciprocated.

“Being able to recognize the Holy Ghost was such a comfort.”

 “I wanted to get back to those kids so badly,” she said. “I knew that they were worried about me, and I wanted them to know that their prayers had helped me.”

Tara Mickelsen, a Primary general board member, was attending Walker’s ward on the Sunday she returned to her music duties. She fought emotion when Walker entered the Primary room for the first time since her accident.

“Lori was being pushed in a wheelchair and had multiple braces and bandages due to her injuries,” recalled Mickelsen. “Even though it was clearly difficult for her to stand and lead, she insisted on coming to be with the children and fulfill her calling as music leader.

 “She never complained once but was so joyful and happy to be there. It was apparent from the minute she came into the room that the children loved her and were so excited to have her back.”

Walker won’t forget the power of that moment. She worried the children might be a bit frightened. Her head was shaved and her face still revealed the violence of the blast. “I was broken in a lot of different ways,” she said.

But she was welcomed back with love and acceptance. “The children were singing as if they sang well enough, that I would be healed.”

Walker didn’t know that the Primary children also had a special gift for their music leader.

During her recovery, she co-wrote a song with composer Blake Gillette entitled “I Feel God’s Light Shining in Me.” The song captures Walker’s certainty that the Holy Ghost was guiding her through her ordeal. She had intended to share the song with the Primary when she returned. But the kids were a step ahead of her — they mastered the song while their leader was in the hospital.

“I came back expecting to show them the song for the first time,” she said, “and instead, they sang it to me. That was very emotional for me.”

The ward Primary performed “I Feel God’s Light Shining in Me” in its recent sacrament meeting program and the Walker children participated in a music video featuring the song.

The past eight months have reminded the Walkers that no one knows what tomorrow brings. But as the scripture promises: “If ye are prepared ye shall not fear” (Doctrine and Covenants 38:30).

Mickelsen remains inspired by Walker’s grace and grit.

“As I thought about the effort it took for Lori to be in Primary that day, I realized how little any of us have to complain about the things we are asked to do to help build the Lord’s kingdom,” said Mickelsen. “Lori truly is an example of what it means to consecrate your time and talents to the Lord.”

(The Walkers maintain a website documenting Lori’s ongoing recovery at courageandkindness.org.)