September 29, 1999

Cassie's mom calls teen girl unlikely martyr
___By Kevin Eckstrom
___Religion News Service
___LITTLETON, Colo. (RNS)--In the pantheon of Christian heroes and heroines, few would expect to find a 17-year-old high school junior who had dabbled in Satanic ritual and teamed with her friends on how best to kill her parents.
___But in the wake of the killings at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colo., on April 20, Cassie Bernall emerged a modern martyr. When gunmen Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris stormed into the school library, they reportedly pointed a gun at Bernall's head and

asked her if she believed in God.
___She is said to have replied with a simple "yes." Moments later, she was dead.
___When the world learned of Bernall's murder, the otherwise ordinary teen was elevated into a martyr who had died for her faith and became in death much larger than she ever had been in life. Her death resonated with an entire generation of evangelical youths who already felt besieged by their peers, if not by guns.
___Chances are, though, Cassie Bernall would have been the last to assume the martyr's mantle. Her faith, while well-known, was private, and she frequently questioned her own devotion and yearned to be closer to God. Sometimes she was tempted to return to her old lifestyle, which was easier, more comfortable.
___Her mother, Misty, details why Cassie's near deification was so unexpected in her new book released this month, "She Said Yes: The Unlikely Martyrdom of Cassie Bernall."
___"To make Cassie into a saint would be all too easy, especially now that she isn't here to make any more mistakes," Bernall writes in the short, breezy book. "People talk about her smile, her ability to listen, her selflessness and her caring character. All of those qualities were there. But it is important to add that the daughter I knew was equally capable of being selfish and stubborn, and that sometimes she behaved like a spoiled 2-year-old."
___For years before Cassie's life turned around, the selfish, stubborn side of Cassie is practically all her parents saw of her. She dealt with all the harsh realities of teen angst, but a series of letters between Cassie and some friends sent the Bernall family on a roller coaster ride of mistrust for months.
___The gory letters were decorated with dead bodies and satanic symbols, and one featured a drawing of Misty and her husband, Brad, strung up by their intestines. When Misty found them in Cassie's bedroom, the parents decided to place Cassie in a private school, cut her off from her friends and institute a "tough love" policy.
___As Misty recalls in the book, it was three months of near-hell.
___Cassie grudgingly attended a Christian youth group at West Bowles Community Church but remained isolated and angry. Then on a Christian youth retreat in 1997, Cassie's life changed when she became a Christian.
___"It was only then that I was really able to see where I had gone astray," Cassie later wrote in an essay. "I had made bad choices, and there was nobody to blame but myself--something I had denied constantly throughout my suffering."
___After she had convinced her parents she was on the straight and narrow, Cassie left the private Christian school and enrolled at Columbine High School, where she flourished. She was, like most students, worried about math tests and boyfriends and who she would take to the prom.
___But Cassie's life became unlike her peers on April 20 when she was gunned down for her faith. She went into the Columbine library like any other student but left an icon.
___Cassie's mother still doesn't know what to make of all the martyrdom hype. Yes, she says, her daughter died for her faith. But more than anything, she was just like any other teenager. The remarkable thing about Cassie is not her answer to Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris, but the faith that told her which answer to give.
___"To lift Cassie up as a martyr, then, is unnecessary," Misty Bernall writes. "It won't change the facts of her life. For Brad and me it is enough to know that, whatever the reason, Cassie stood up for what she believed. It is enough to know that at an age when image means everything, she was not ashamed to make a stand or afraid to say what she thought."
___Perhaps Cassie put it best on a scrap of paper her parents found in her room after her death: "I try to stand up for faith at my school. ... It can be discouraging, but it can also be rewarding ... I will die for my God. I will die for my faith. It's the least I can do for Christ dying for me."


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