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Like Cassie Bernall, she strayed, then found help from her parents

SHELBYVILLE, Ky. (BP)–“She Said Yes,” a first-person account by the mother of Columbine High School shooting victim Cassie Bernall, became an instant best-seller after its release last September.

In it, Misty Bernall wrote of her daughter’s descent into witchcraft and other unhealthy behavior. That led her parents to put severe restrictions on her to draw her away from the wrong crowd — which ultimately led to her Christian conversion.

Heidi Johnson, who survived the tragedy at the Littleton, Colo., school, took a similar path during her freshman and halfway into her sophomore year of high school. She told of her backsliding episode April 29 at First Baptist Church of Shelbyville, Ky.

Although raised in a Christian home and accepting Jesus as her Lord and Savior at a young age, the 17-year-old junior told of turning her back on God in the ninth grade.

“I did things I would call pagan,” she said during a question-and-answer session. “I rededicated my life to God two months before Columbine. He prepared me for what was going to happen.”

Her father, Barry, said the time came when he and his wife had to put their foot down.

“We had to … be a parent, not a friend,” he said. “I believe that’s what saved her life. You need to be a parent first and a friend second. You have got to draw the line sometimes and reel these kids in.”

Afterwards, he said that while Heidi wasn’t involved with “bad stuff,” the people she was associating with were headed in the wrong direction.

Finally, the Johnsons — who have two other daughters — prohibited her from associating with those friends, he said. A month later, she rededicated her life to Christ.

“If my wife or I weren’t involved, she couldn’t do it,” he said, explaining that their close relationship made it possible to set boundaries without sparking rebellion. “When she got away from it long enough, she saw how destructive [her friends] were.”

The family’s pastor, Billy Epperhart, said one of the most important lessons of Columbine is that parents must enforce discipline.

“One of the greatest problems we have is immature parents,” said Epperhart, of Littleton’s Trinity Christian Center. “They’re afraid to set boundaries in their [children’s] lives and step in when they need to say ‘no.’

“Parents have not learned how to bond,” he added. “Adults aren’t connecting emotionally with their children. It’s absolutely imperative parents spend time with their children and know what’s going on in their lives.”

The forces young people face today are not the same as they were 25 years ago, Epperhart said.

“Columbine woke everyone up, including the non-Christian education community,” he said. “The heart of man has to be changed, and it can only be done through Jesus Christ.”

Epperhart outlined what he believes are the primary lessons of the 1999 tragedy:

— The importance of adult role models in children’s lives.

— The need for a check on evil influences in society.

— The need to teach children respect for teachers, police officers and other authority figures.

— The need for parents to set boundaries.

— The seriousness of godlessness in society and the spiritual vacuum created when God is removed from the public square.

    About the Author

  • Ken Walker