|She Said "Yes": The
Martyrdom of Cassie Bernall
|By Misty Bernall
?Mom, I?m not afraid to die because I?ll be in heaven? you?d
know I was in a better place.??What Columbine High School victim
Cassie Bernall told her mother approximately a week before the shootings.
On the morning of April 20, 1999, Cassie Bernall, a seventeen-year-old
junior at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado, was a typical
teen-ager having a typical day. What neither she nor anyone else knew was
that by the end of it, she would be one of thirteen victims killed by two
fellow classmates who had stormed the school, guns blazing, with murder on
It has now been almost six months since this senseless tragedy left our
nation searching for answers. Amidst all the news coverage and speculation
about why this horrible event occurred, one story that has emerged as a
glimmer of hope for today?s youth is that of Cassie Bernall who admitted
when asked, that she believed in God, and paid the ultimate price. Much
has since been said and written about Cassie ? she has been labeled a
martyr, even a modern-day Joan of Arc, yet few people truly know the young
woman behind those famous last words. That is, until new.
In She Said Yes: The Unlikely
Martyrdom of Cassie Bernall (Plough
Publishing House; September 1999; $17.00 hardcover), Cassie?s mother,
Mistry Bernall, tells the story of her daughter?s complex life up to
that last decisive moment. Beginning with a moving foreword written by
bestselling young adult novelist Madeleine L?Engle, the book is a story
of growing up in the nineties, of peer pressure, adolescent turmoil, and
the tough choices parents make. It is also the story of maternal loss ?
of nightmares and fears, and of dreams and hopes dashed by the cruel
realities of death at an early age.
?When death strikes as close as it did to us, it?s almost
impossible to go on without it changing the way you look at your life,?
Misty Bernall writes. ?If the tragedy at Columbine did anything, I?m
confident it did at least that. It was like a jolt that stopped us in our
tracks and forced us to look up from the pettiness of our daily lives.?
In She Said Yes,
Misty Bernall reveals how her daughter was headed down a troubled path
similar to that of her killers, but managed to turn her life around with
the help of her family, peers, and faith in God. Misty hopes her daughter?s
story will offer comfort and hope for the other parents and teens
struggling with the same issues she and Cassie had to confront as they
attempted to mend their broken relationship. The book is a poignant and
unflinchingly honest account that will move and, at times, shock readers.
But Cassie?s story is ultimately one of redemption more enduring than
the massacre that cut her life short.
She Said Yes shares many intimate details of Cassie?s troubled
teen-age years, her rocky relationship with her parents during this time,
and the pivotal chain of events that enabled Cassie to discover her faith
as a means to put her life back on track. The book contains ?never-before-seen?
?letters, essays, and personal notes written by Cassie which reveal,
in her own words, the joys and pains of the last years of her life
?disturbing correspondence between Cassie and her ?friends?
during a rebellious phase that led to an ugly three-month family drama,
and Cassie?s eventual enrollment at Columbine High
?a letter sent to the Bernalls by the Klebolds, parents of Columbine
killer Dylan Klebold, about a month after the shootings.
In the most revelatory chapter of She
Said Yes, ?Murder, She Wrote,? Misty
Bernall explains how, at about the fifth or sixth grade, Cassie began to
change from a bright, trusting child to a withdrawn, sulking stranger, and
Misty gradually came to see that Cassie?s attitude change was more than
just typical teen-age angst. Then on December 20, 1996, when Cassie was a
freshman at Beaver High School, Misty made a discovery that would change
their lives forever.
While looking in Cassie?s room for a teen bible that she hoped would
hold advice to help her win back her increasingly estranged daughter,
Misty came across a stack of letters, most of them written by Cassie?s
friend ?Mona? (not her real name), which conveyed the girls? desire
to kill a teacher at their high school, to injure themselves, and, most
startlingly, to kill Cassie?s parents. Cassie, it soon became clear, had
written similar letters back to Mona.
Filled with dark rhymes and lyrics, and decorated with lurid images of
vampires, drugs, and mutilated bodies, including grisly drawings of a
couple labeled ?Ma and Pa? strung up by their intestines with daggers
hanging from their hearts, the letters indicated that Cassie and her ?friends?
were experimenting with witchcraft, satanism, self-mutilation, alcohol and
This unexpected discovery threw the Bernalls into a ugly drama that
would last the next three months. Enlisting the help of George and Dave,
two of their church pastors, the Bernalls put a ?tough love? plan into
motion. They pulled Cassie out of Beaver High School and enrolled her at a
private Christian school, began regular searches of Cassie?s room and
belongings, monitored her phone calls, and forbade her to have any contact
with her friends. As she reflects back on her actions at this time, Misty
writes, ?If there was anything I felt certain of at that moment, it was
that we were dealing with more than a bunch of rebellious teen-agers.
Unfashionable as it might be to suggest it, I felt that we were engaged in
a spiritual battle.? Cassie reacted with fits of anger and despair,
threats of running away and killing herself, and repeated attempts to
contact her friends. Shortly after her death, the Bernalls found what
appeared to be an unsent letter written by Cassie that they reveal for the
first time in She Said Yes.
In it, Cassie explains in her own words the pain she was feeling at this
??I cannot explain in words how much I hurt. I didn?t know how to
deal with this hurt, so I physically hurt myself. Maybe it was my way of
expressing my sadness, anger and depression?I would lock myself in the
bathroom and hit my head on the counters. I also did this on the walls of
my bedroom. Thoughts of suicide obsessed me for days, but I was too
frightened to actually do it, so I ?compromised? by scratching my
hands and wrists with a sharp metal file until I bled. It only hurt for
the first couple minutes, then I went numb. Afterwards, however, I stung
very badly, which I thought I deserved anyway.?
The Bernalls survived what they say became an ?all-out war? with
Cassie over the next few months. At times they second-guessed their own
strict parenting methods, but they soon felt reassured that enrolling
Cassie at Christian school and supporting her involvement in their church?s
youth group was the right route to go. Then on March 8, 1997, a day Cassie
would refer to as her second birthday, the walls she kept around her
finally broke down.
Ironically, Cassie?s positive change and desire to start a new life
for herself led to her enrolling at Columbine High School, where she would
be killed a little over a year later. In her book, Misty Bernall admits
struggling with all of the ?what if? questions that have plagued her
since her daughter?s death: What if she?d never found Cassie?s
letters? What if they hadn?t pulled Cassie out of Beaver High School?
Etc. The hundreds of letters of support and admiration for Cassie that
Misty continues to receive from people around the world offer a measure of
comfort. But in trying to come to terms with her daughter?s death, Misty
writes, ?the real issue is not what Cassie said to her killers, but the
faith that enabled her to face them as she did.? This faith is best
expressed by Cassie herself in a letter she wrote to her friend Cassandra
just a year before her death:
?I wonder what God is going to do with my life. Like my purpose. Some
people become missionaries and things, but what about me? What does God
have in store for me? Where do my talents and gifts lie? For now, I?ll
just take it day by day. I?m confident that I?ll know someday. Maybe I?ll
look back at my life and think ?Oh, so that was it!? Isn?t it
amazing, this plan we?re part of?