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 their minds.

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? materials, including:

?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 drugs.

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 time:

??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?