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Cassie Bernall’s death ‘not a waste, but a triumph,’ moth

LITTLETON, Colo. (BP)–Cassie Bernall’s mother believes her daughter’s life proclaims it is better to die for what you believe in than to live a lie.
In “She Said Yes: The Unlikely Martyrdom of Cassie Bernall,” Misty Bernall writes that she still struggles with the question of why anyone would kill her daughter. “The pain is no less,” Bernall writes in her book, released Sept. 10 by Plough Publishing. “It will always remain deep and raw. Even so, I know that her death was not a waste, but a triumph of honesty and courage.”
Cassie Bernall is the 17-year-old student who died at Columbine High School last April 20 when two young men ignited a wave of shootings and bombings. Fifteen died in the violence, including the killers.
Cassie became known worldwide for courageously affirming her faith as she faced death. The book, which incorporates comments from Bernall’s husband, Brad, Cassie’s friends and others, relays additional details on her final moments, including this account from a student who was hiding under a desk in the library, where most of the victims died:
“I couldn’t see anything when those guys came up to Cassie, but I could recognize her voice,” he said. “One of them asked her if she believed in God. She paused, like she didn’t know what she was going to answer, and then she said yes.
“She must have been scared, but her voice didn’t sound shaky. It was strong. Then they asked her why, though they didn’t give her a chance to respond. They just blew her away.”
A sheriff’s department investigator who attends the Bernalls’ church later found Cassie lying under a table. She had been shot in the head at close range, he said, the bullet wound indicating that the muzzle was touching her skin.
“She may have put a hand up to protect herself, because the tip of one finger was blown away,” he said, “but she couldn’t have had time to do more. That blast took her instantly.”
Despite her daughter’s sudden fame, her mother writes that people are off-track if they think she was a righteous, holy person who read her Bible all the time. Cassie was as real as anybody else.
Referring to the flood of Internet sites, stories, T-shirts and other paraphernalia celebrating her daughter, Bernall guesses that her daughter would be “flipping out.”
“She’s probably up there in heaven rolling her eyes at it all and going oh-my-gosh,” Bernall writes. “Because she’d want to tell everyone who admires her so much that she wasn’t really so different from anybody else.”
Bernall candidly spells out those flaws. For example, the last night of her life Cassie stayed up late to get homework done after playing all weekend. Her mother also remembers sitting with her in the kitchen, likely nagging her for not doing her chores.
People talk about her smile, ability to listen, selflessness and caring character, but Bernall also points out her stubborn daughter was equally capable of selfishness and behaving like a spoiled 2-year-old.
“Sure, she was long over the worst stage of adolescent rebellion, but I was still waiting for that final emergence every mother waits for, when a daughter reaches true adulthood and becomes a companion and a friend,” Bernall writes.
“She Said Yes” includes two chapters about that rebellion. It led the Bernalls to take extraordinary steps to rescue her from the influence of negative friends, including moving to a new neighborhood.
The one activity they permitted during these restrictions was attending youth group meetings at West Bowles Community Church. It took her a long time for Cassie to fit in, and she was still adapting at her death, her youth pastor Dave McPherson recounted.
But a key change in her life occurred in March 1997 after a friend from the Christian school she was then attending invited her to a mountain retreat.
Cassie accepted Christ as her Lord and Savior that weekend. A friend said he could see the change immediately in her face. Even though she was still shy, her eyes seemed more hopeful and there was something new about her, McPherson said.
Another friend later talked about how much she had changed. Her character was transformed, the girl said, even though Cassie didn’t understand religious terms like being saved or born again.
“But she did know that she had found something that was going to fulfill her in a way that nothing else had until then,” said the friend, named Shauna. “If I think about it, the thing that showed it most was her smile. She began to smile.”
Naturally, her parents are comforted by the thought of her being in heaven. But her mother writes that they don’t have many lessons to pass on to others. Instead, Cassie’s death has landed them in a never-ending jungle of conflicting emotions. Some days they make headway, and on others they get tangled or fall down, she writes.
“Brad keeps saying that if there is one thing that makes all of this bearable, it’s the fact that Cassie is in heaven,” Bernall writes. “It’s a comforting thought, sure, but it doesn’t lessen the pain of missing her. That still cuts me like a fresh wound every time I go and sit on her bed and realize she’ll never walk into the room again.”
The book, which will be featured on at least two national TV broadcasts, is being stocked by bookstores nationwide. A portion of the proceeds from the $17 hardback will be given to a charitable foundation established in the victim’s name.
Plough Publishing is also marketing a 25-minute video about Cassie’s life. Produced by her church, it can be ordered by calling 1-800-521-8011. The cost is $20.

    About the Author

  • Ken Walker