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Cassie Bernall’s parents recount efforts to achieve accuracy in book

LITTLETON, Colo. (BP)–The parents of Cassie Bernall have recounted their efforts to achieve accuracy in a book about their teenage daughter who was internationally called a martyr after being killed at Columbine High School.
The book by Cassie’s mother, Misty Bernall — “She Said Yes: The Unlikely Martyrdom of Cassie Bernall” — was challenged in several media accounts in late September suggesting that another Columbine student, Valeen Schnurr, had actually voiced the now-famous “Yes” to a student-gunman’s taunt of whether she believed in God.
Chris Zimmerman, an editor with Plough Publishing House which released the book Sept. 10, said in a Sept. 25 news release: “Misty Bernall’s description as printed in ‘She Said Yes’ is based on interviews with numerous survivors of the library [at Columbine, a prime scene of carnage in the April 20 tragedy] and takes into account their varying recollections.”
Schnurr, 18, who survived a shotgun blast in the library where 17-year-old Cassie also was slain, was interviewed twice for the book while it was being developed, Zimmerman said, and indeed her story is different from Cassie’s.
“We interviewed teens who heard both conversations,” Zimmerman said, noting that Schnurr’s story is included in the book.
Misty Bernall, in the news release, said she was well into writing the book when notified of differing accounts of her daughter’s death.
“At that point we stopped work and reinterviewed several witnesses,” Misty Bernall said. “We strove to tell our daughter’s story as honestly as we possibly could.”
The Bernalls, in a statement quoted in the Denver Post, recounted similarly, “It was five or six weeks after Cassie’s death and well into the book when we were notified of the differing accounts. At that point, we stopped work [and] reinterviewed witnesses, and upon their reconfirmation, added in the book’s front a note from the publisher acknowledging the differing accounts and then continued our work.”
The Bernalls added in their statement to the Post: “April 20 was a small part of the book. Our intent was to share Cassie’s story in an effort to encourage parents and teenagers … . If any of our actions have hurt or offended anyone, we sincerely apologize.”
Zimmerman, in the Plough news release, stated: “Questions about the particulars of what transpired in the library do not detract from the crux of [Misty] Bernall’s book, which is Cassie’s transformation from a troubled teen who at one time entertained murderous fantasies to a young woman ready to face both life and death with confidence.” The book recounts various tough-love steps the Bernalls took to rescue their daughter from drugs, alcohol use, witchcraft and similarly wayward peers in Littleton, a Denver suburb. The Bernalls’ actions helped Cassie find faith in Jesus Christ as her Lord and Savior during a youth retreat sponsored by Littleton’s West Bowles Community Church.
Schnurr, in an Associated Press report Sept. 28, meanwhile, said she has no idea whether Bernall was asked the same question she (Schnurr) had been asked about whether she believed in God.
“I don’t want to be famous or deemed anything,” Schnurr, now a college student, was quoted as saying. “I said I believed in God out of respect for myself and respect for God. That’s it.” Schnurr was active at Littleton’s St. Francis Cabrini Catholic Church.
According to the AP account, Schnurr, after being struck by a shotgun blast by one of the two student gunmen, pleaded, “Oh my God, oh my God, don’t let me die,” and was then prodded by one of the gunmen whether she believed in God, and she said yes. Schnurr said she crawled away as the gunman reloaded and was not shot again.
The AP additionally reported that police have recounted that a student who aided authorities in retracing the chaos in the library became sick when he realized it was Miss Schnurr’s table, not Miss Bernall’s, that he was pointing out in describing the exchange between the gunman and the victim.
“We have conflicting witness statements from several kids who were in the library,” sheriff’s spokesman Steve Davis was quoted by the AP as saying. “But this is not something we’re out to prove or disprove. It’s not really a part of the investigation we’re doing.”
The varied and changing accounts from teenagers who witnessed the library carnage are not surprising, Davis told the Denver Post. “That’s why we do more than one interview,” he said. “They remember things one way right after, and a different way later on. We just try to corroborate what we can and piece it all together.”
Columbine student Emily Wyant, for example, who was said to be hiding near where Bernall was gunned down, was interviewed for Misty Bernall’s book and never disputed the original accounts of Cassie’s death, the Plough news release recounted. Now, however, Wyant has said she doesn’t believe Cassie ever exchanged words with her killer.
“We are surprised by Emily’s new account,” Brad Bernall, Cassie’s father, said in the Plough release. “It is inconsistent with the one we received from her and her parents earlier.” Because of the trauma from the carnage and chaos in the library, Zimmerman added, “It doesn’t surprise me that she [Wyant] doesn’t remember any conversation.”
Wyant’s mother, Cindie, told the Denver Post, meanwhile, “That’s her memory. That’s her truth. She doesn’t want to stir anything up, but that’s how she remembers it.”
Joshua Lapp, another of the students in the library, has not changed his account of Bernall’s witness for her faith, according to a report in the Denver Rocky Mountain News carried by Reuters news service.
Cassie Bernall and 11 other students and a teacher were killed April 20 at Columbine when two gun- and bomb-wielding classmates, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, staged their siege before taking their own lives, also in the library.
The Bernalls were among the speakers at the Southern Baptist Convention last year during the report of the North American Mission Board.
NAMB President Robert E. Reccord told Baptist Press Sept. 29, “Regardless of who said yes [to the gunman query about faith in God], two things are true. The first is that some young person under terrifying circumstances testified to their faith. Praise God for that. Secondly, whether it was Cassie Bernall or not, Cassie’s life and words prior to the shooting testified to the change in her life that came from knowing Jesus Christ.”
Plough Publishing House operates an Internet website focusing on Cassie at www.cassiebernall.org. An archive of Columbine-related Denver Post articles can be found at www.denverpost.com.