Was Cassie Bernall a martyr?

[Please note: This post was written and scheduled to post on October 4, many weeks before the date.  It is pure coincidence that this posted around the same time as rumors have proliferated about Christian martyrs in the Oregon shooting last Thursday.  When I read about the rumors, I thought, “Oh, no, not again.” 

Because of the persistence of the Bernall myth, I decided to wait for verification of the new rumors.  For a response to those rumors, see “Did the Oregon Shooter Target Christians? That Doesn’t Appear to be the Case” by Bo Gardiner, who reviewed the victims’ social media to find out if they were even Christians.  One was Pagan! 

Also see Before you claim the UCC shooting was about Christian Persecution, consider all the evidence.  This blogger goes into the available evidence to show that it was actually a guy obsessed with violence, and another member of the bitter “beta uprising” group which blames women for not sleeping with them.

One of the survivors also refutes the rumors, saying, “Obviously he was asking what religion, but he wasn’t really just targeting. He was kind of just saying, ‘Oh, since you have a God, you’ll be joining him in a little bit.’  It wasn’t really like, ‘I’m targeting you and I’m going to kill you.’” —Source]

In 2001 and possibly 2000 or 2002, I sent letters to the editor to two prominent Christian magazines (CCM and Today’s Christian Woman), complaining about stories which spoke of Bernall’s supposed martyrdom as fact rather than myth.

Neither magazine published my letters, even though they published all sorts of different letters, even (in CCM) some rather vicious attacks on Amy Grant in the aftermath of her divorce.

I feared that the world would see Christians as a laughingstock for propagating the story of a martyrdom which everyone now knew never happened, that we would be derided for gullibility.

While God’s opinion is, of course, more important than man’s, we shouldn’t give the world new reasons to say we just believe in myths and create them ourselves when we need one.

After all, this was shortly after beliefs in a Year 2000 Rapture were proven wrong.

When I wrote the e-mails, I assumed that I had to educate them, that they hadn’t yet heard of the Salon.com article by Dave Cullen which exposed the myth as probably false in the results of a full investigation.

But now I discover that Christianity Today, at the end of 1999, ridiculed Cullen’s article and turned his exposé, as well as the responses by the “secular” media, into an example of some sort of persecution of Christians.

(For more of the article, go to Clinton’s Rogues Gallery and search for “Christianity Today 11/99 Wendy Zoba.”  For Cullen’s response, see Columbine Summary, The Columbine Book and: “My disclosure that police believed Cassie Bernall never told the killers she believed in God provoked a bitter controversy in Evangelical Christian circles, and many of them insist to this day that Cassie did speak” (Dave Cullen, All-in-1 Stories).)

I now find that all these years later, the myth continues, and has even been put in the song Cassie by Flyleaf–as late as 2006:

–Wikipedia article–which some have disparaged just for being on Wikipedia, but it gives the same information as Salon and other news sources

Thread discussing the meaning of Flyleaf’s “Cassie”–and arguing back and forth over whether or not she really said “yes,” starting in 2006 and still continuing in May of 2008, almost 9 years after the myth was debunked

Thread from April 2008 in which nearly everyone says the story is true

Now, so all can finally read it, this is my letter to Today’s Christian Woman, “Re: March/April Issue, ‘Our Picks,” e-mailed on 2/28/01:

Regarding the video included in the ‘Our Picks’ column for March/April, “Whatever It Takes” [Michael W. Smith]:

It’s great to celebrate Cassie Bernall’s life.  She had a marvelous testimony.

However, the front of the package says, “The ‘She Said Yes’ Video Tribute,” leading me to believe that the video perpetuates the myth in Christian circles that she was martyred for her faith.

In late September of 1999, it was revealed that several stories about the Columbine shooting were inaccurate, and that it was Valeen Schnurr, not Cassie, who said “yes.”

In fact, after she said it, the gunman reloaded but did not shoot her.  She has since graduated and gone on to college.

A witness who was right next to Cassie remembered no words being exchanged between her and her killer.

I feel this myth should be recognized as myth, because the facts are verifiable, having been published in such places as Salon News, The Rocky Mountain News, The Denver Post, and the March [2000] issue of Redbook magazine (which gives Valeen’s story).  [Redbook Magazine incorrectly labeled the article as “March 1999” on one of its pages.]

If I ever find the other e-mail, I’ll post it here.  It’s hard to find when I don’t remember when it was sent.

My fears have proven to be on good grounds.  This myth has given people new reasons to ridicule Christians:

The “martyrdom” story is a falsehood being spread to further the agenda of the Christian religion and to stereotype and stigmatize Christianity’s critics. –Cliff Walker, Cassie Bernall Martyrdom Hoax: A Christian Haunted House Theme!?

Bernall, a troubled and rebellious youth who became a born-again Christian after being sent by her parents to a disciplinary religious camp, was quickly transformed into a ‘Martyr” for her beliefs.

Despite compelling evidence that such an event [never] even occurred as claimed, religious publications, spokespersons, web sites and media programs were quickly reporting on the “martyrdom of Cassie Bernall.”

The Bernall “martyrdom” was even mentioned on the floor of the U.S. Congress, as representatives passed a flurry of religion-friendly bills relating to school prayer, display of the Ten Commandments, and involving faith-based groups in the welfare system.  —Leak on Columbine Report: Killers Didn’t Target Christians

Surprise, xians lie to exploit a tragedy….But the reality will never be accepted. 100 years from now she will still be being praised as a true Christian hero…

The lie is more comfortable than the truth. Easy rationalization really, that is the basis of religion. –http://www.opennntp.com/Atheism/surprise-xians-lie-to-exploit-a-tragedy-731066875.html, site no longer extant

And the following, which is exactly what I feared back in 2000 or 2001:

It must be said, however, that Cassie’s mother did not hide the fact that there were different accounts of what happened, and her book’s focus was almost entirely on her daughter’s transformation, not her murder.

Nevertheless, several still refuse to believe it isn’t true. One of those who reported the exchange originally, Joshua Lapp, although also not an eye-witness, still insists upon his account: “She said it, plain and simple.”

It clearly does not take much to make someone into a confirmed believer in an inspiring story, even one that isn’t true.

The irony should not be lost on us that this kind of distortion and denial of the evidence could very well have been instrumental in the rise of the Christian faith, as inspiring, and perhaps not entirely true accounts of the death of Jesus were circulated. –Richard C. Carrier, Belief, Truth, and the Columbine Tragedy

More articles:

The Official FBI Report on Columbine

Internet Monk: Columbine: A Word for Evangelicals Ten Years Later

USA Today article, 10 years later, the real story behind Columbine (Greg Toppo)

CNN article, Debunking the myths of Columbine, 10 years later (Stephanie Chen)

The Truth About Columbine (Robert VerBruggen)

The loss of Cassie’s life is no less tragic because she was not a martyr.  Same for all the other kids who lost their lives that day.

And covering up the true story takes attention away from the courage of the girl who really did say yes to these sociopathic killers–yet survived.

Written in 2008

Index to my theology/church opinion pages:

Page 1:

End Times and Christian Zionism 
God’s Purpose/Supremacy of God Doctrine 
Cat and Dog Theology 
Raising One’s Hands in Worship 
Christian Music 
On the “still, small voice” and Charismatic sign gifts
On church buildings 
The Message Bible 
The Purpose-Driven Life 
The Relevance Doctrine, i.e. Marketing Churches to Seekers 
Republican Party 
Abortion Protests 
The idea that God has someone in mind for you 
Literalism in Biblical interpretation

Page 2:

Name it and Claim It Doctrine, Prosperity Doctrine, Faith-Formula Theology, Word-Faith Theology,  Positive Confession Theology, Health and Wealth Gospel, and whatever else they call it
More about Pat Robertson
Dr. Richard Eby and others who claim to have been to Heaven
Women in Marriage/the Church
Spiritual Abuse 
Other Resources 

Page 3:

Why do bad things happen?
Should we criticize our brethren’s artistic or evangelistic attempts?  Or, how should we evangelize, then?
Angels: Is “This Present Darkness” by Frank Peretti a divine revelation or fiction?
Halloween: Not the Devil’s Holiday!
Hell and the Nature of God 
Is Christmas/Easter a Pagan Holiday? 
Is everybody going to Hell except Christians?
How could a loving God who prohibits murder, command the genocide of the Canaanite peoples? 
What about predestination?
Musings on Sin, Salvation and Discipleship 
An Ancient View which is in the Bible, yet new to the west–Uncreated Energies of God

Page 4:

The Didache 
Technical Virginity–i.e., how far should a Christian single go? 
Are Spiritual Marriages “real”?  (also in “Life” section, where it’s more likely to be updated) 
Does the Pill cause abortions, or is that just another weird Internet or extremist right-wing rumor?
What about Missional Churches, Simple Churches, Fluid Churches, Organic Churches, House Churches or Neighborhood Churches?
Is Wine from the Devil–or a Gift from God?
What is Worship? 
Evangelistic Trips to Already Christianized Countries
Fraternities, Sororities, Masonic Lodge 
Was Cassie Bernall a Martyr?
Some Awesome Things heard in the Lamentations Service (Good Friday evening) during Holy Week

Conversion Story

Phariseeism in the Church