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Teen martyr’s mother counsels, ‘make time … just for your

LITTLETON, Colo. (BP)–Cassie Bernall began slipping away from her parents’ Christian values around age 12. Her mother blames the influence of friends, including one who wrote Cassie letters as a teen, discussing drug use and witchcraft.
Misty Bernall, in her book, “She Said Yes: The Unlikely Martyrdom of Cassie Bernall,” includes two chapters about her daughter’s descent into negative behavior and the steps she and her husband, Brad, took to rescue her. The book was released Sept. 10 by Plough Publishing.
Cassie was one of the 13 killed at Columbine High School last April 20 by two gun-and-bomb-wielding students who then took their own lives. She became known worldwide as a martyr for affirming her faith in God before one of the attackers shot her.
However, the book details how 17-year-old Cassie had been anything but a saint as a younger teen. It includes surprising accounts including Cassie drinking and smoking marijuana at school.
Cassie also stayed for after-school art sessions that lacked adult supervision. When her father went to pick her up once, he noticed occult symbols decorating most objects students were making.
Things got so bad the Bernalls withdrew Cassie from that public school. They also contacted the sheriff’s office about the letters from her friend, Mona, which included threats against their lives.
However, when they arranged a meeting with Cassie, Mona and her parents, and a juvenile detective, the other parents became hostile, Bernall writes. They remained silent during the meeting, except when Mona’s mother complained it was cruel to break up a five-year friendship.
“[She] admitted that the letters were not ‘appropriate’ and that their contents made her ‘unhappy,’“ Bernall writes. “But she could not understand why we had felt the need to bring them to the attention of the law, or to involve her husband in the matter.”
Despite those objections, the Bernalls sought a restraining order to bar Cassie’s friend from further contact with her. The sheriff’s deputy backed them, saying the letters were the worst he had seen in more than a decade in juvenile crime.
Besides withdrawing their daughter from that public school, the Bernalls refused to allow her to participate in extra-curricular activities, have visitors or take phone calls. They got a voice-activated recorder to listen to calls she made when they ran errands, and they regularly searched her room.
Finally, after Cassie’s friends continually harassed them — including throwing eggs and soda cans at their house — they moved to a new neighborhood.
Despite their daughter’s intense anger over the crackdown, Bernall is confident they were not too harsh. She mentions two child-on-parent murders in the Denver area in 1997, and a son’s attempt to kill his father. In the latter case, satanic carvings and Gothic trappings were discovered in the boy’s bedroom.
“In a time when supposedly peaceful middle-class suburbs like ours are breeding children capable of such things, you begin to realize that talk is never just talk,” Bernall writes.
“In Cassie’s case, for example, it was the result of an enormous gulf of miscommunication and hostility between us — a gulf that only time, love and attention would bridge. Even if she had really never intended to do us in, we could hardly ignore her remarks to that effect.”
The book includes an endorsement of such parental stands by Dave McPherson, youth pastor at West Bowles Community Church.
McPherson said strong action typically creates a brand-new relationship. Most kids fight back, but deep inside they are thinking, “I like this,” McPherson said.
Taking a child out of school and finding a new one, grounding or doing whatever else is needed to curtail destructive activities may seem harsh, he said, but in fact, it is giving the child the possibility of a new life.
“I’ve told that to so many parents,” McPherson said. “Many just disconnect. They say, ‘Well, she’s already had sex five or six times’ or ‘I know he’s in with a bad crowd, but you can’t stop a kid from seeing his only friends.’
“They’re worried, but they can’t conceive of doing anything that will demand a sacrifice, so they pretend it isn’t really bad.”
Besides stronger discipline, the Bernalls also worked on their relationship with their daughter. Among the steps they took:
— Holding their tongues when they were tempted to snap back at her.
— Instead of nagging, encouraging her through positive incentives and setting goals.
— Working on building her character, teaching her responsibility, respect and self-respect.
Gradually, they discerned their own failures, Bernall writes. Whenever Cassie had been rebellious, they tried harder to win her friendship. That simply led to catering to her whims, she recounts.
A close friend helped them correct the error.
“Stop trying so hard to be Cassie’s friend,” she told Bernall. “You don’t have to have Cassie’s approval for everything you do. She’ll just end up thinking that the world revolves around her, and that she can do whatever she wants, because you’ll still love her.”
Still, parental guidance involves more than discipline, Bernall writes. Now that her daughter is gone, the suburban Denver mother realizes the significance of every minute spent with a child. That may be a cliche, but it still has a ring of truth, she writes.
“When the kitchen’s a mess, the telephone’s ringing, and the kids are getting in the way, it’s easy to snap or get impatient or get upset,” Bernall writes. “Those moments are unavoidable, but you’ve got to make time in between, just for your kids.”
Priced at $17, the book is available at bookstores nationwide. A 25-minute video about Cassie’s life, which costs $20, is available by calling 1-800-521-8011.

    About the Author

  • Ken Walker