misty bernall

“P.S. Honestly, I want to live completely for God. It’s hard and scary, but totally worth it.” - Cassie Bernall wrote in a note to her friend the night before the was killed. 

For those of you who don’t know who Cassie is… Cassie was a victim of the Columbine shooting that took place in 1999 at Columbine High in Colorado. She was in the library when the shooting occured. Nobody knows exactly what she was doing, some say she was under the table, some say she remained seated when the gunmen came in the room. But, the two gunmen, Cassie’s classmates, approached her and asked her, “Do you believe in God?” and she firmly responded, “Yes.” The gunmen asked her, “Why?” But shot her in the head before she could answer.

I look up to Cassie, not because she was a Christian, but because she had spine. She knew what would happen if she said yes and she still did. She knew they were going to kill her and she still said yes. I think everyone should look up to Cassie. She didn’t care if she was going to die, she stood up for something. And though it’s gruesome, that is an honorable way to die. 

The Klebolds' letters to the victims' families

The letters that Sue and Tom Klebold wrote to the families of those who had been murdered have been mentioned and quoted in several sources.

The letter to the Bernalls (from Misty Bernall’s book She Said Yes, p. 148-149, and repeated in Dave Cullen’s Columbine, p. 254-255):

Dear Bernall family,

It is with great difficulty and humility that we write to express our profound sorrow over the loss of your beautiful daughter, Cassie. She brought joy and love to the world,and she was taken in a moment of madness. We wish we had had the opportunity to know her and be uplifted by her loving spirit.

We will never understand why this tragedy happened, or what we might have done to prevent it. We apologize for the role our son had in your Cassie’s death. We never saw anger or hatred in Dylan until the last moments of his life when we watched in helpless horror with the rest of the world. The reality that our son shared in the responsibility for this tragedy is still incredibly difficult for us to comprehend.

May God comfort you and your loved ones. May He bring peace and understanding to all of our wounded hearts.

Sue and Tom Klebold

From the letter to Brian Rohrbough (from Jeff Kass’s Columbine, p. 225):

“Our hearts are breaking for you over the loss you’ve experienced,” the Klebolds wrote to Brian Rohrbough, whose son Dan was killed. “Dan was so young, yet so full of selfless courage. He’ll never have the chance to do any of the things he wanted to do because he was taken from you in a moment of madness. We’ll never understand why this tragedy happened, or what we might have done to prevent it. We apologize for the role our son had in your son’s death. We did not see anger or hatred in Dylan until the last moments of his life when we watched in helpless horror with the rest of the world.”

From the letter to the Shoels family (also from Jeff Kass’s Columbine, p. 278):

But now all the Shoels had to depend on were small accounts, like the slightly personalized victim letter they received from the Klebolds. “We read that Isaiah brought so much joy to those who knew him,” according to the three paragraphs that appear handwritten by a female and signed by Tom and Sue. “He was a young man with self-respect, courage and love who was taken from you in a moment of madness.” But they said they still didn’t know why their son killed Isaiah.

The letter sent to the Mauser family (from Tom Mauser’s book, Walking in Daniel’s Shoes p. 305-306):

Within a few weeks of the massacre Linda and I, and apparently all the other Columbine parents, received a sympathy card from the parents of Dylan Klebold, who wrote, “It is with indescribable sorrow and humility that we write to wish you comfort.” The handwritten card asked that God comfort us and our loved ones. They were comforting words, yet we weren’t quite sure how to react to them. It was so soon after the massacre, too early for us to react rationally.

At the time the card seemed to offer little acceptance of responsibility for what had happened, saying Daniel was taken “in a moment of madness” and that they would “never understand why this tragedy happened, or what we might have done to prevent it.” We felt as if the words didn’t come from the heart, but rather were suggested by an attorney. We were dissatisfied with what we received and chose not to respond to it. The card was tossed onto a pile of Columbine-related papers and forgotten.

While uncovering some Columbine papers recently I discovered that card from the Klebolds. I hadn’t seen it for years. I must admit that now, after I’ve read it again, I’m not quite as cynical about it as I was in 1999. Back then I cringed at the statement, “we never saw anger or hatred in Dylan until the last moments of his life,” because I felt the Klebolds were in denial and refused to accept responsibility. But in reading it again, I realized they weren’t quite as unresponsive as I had originally thought. “We apologize for the role our son played in your son’s death.” Their words didn’t seem as hurtful, or contrived or unrepentant as they did in 1999.

In the documentary 13 Families, Lauren Townsend’s stepfather, Bruce Beck, says much the same thing about his opinion of the Klebolds’ letter (from 1:13:00 - 1:13:45).

You know, Klebold’s parents sent us a card that basically had been written by their lawyer–you know, no compassion in it–basically, you know, saying they’re quote-unquote “sorry,” but “sorry” really didn’t come through in the words.  The Harrises–we sat across the table from them, and not once did they say “We’re sorry that you lost your daughter,” you know.  They didn’t say it because they know they own some responsibility in this.  They know they own some responsibility in it, and it’s one of those things that, you know, will drive me crazy for the rest of my life.

The letter to the Curnows (from the “Afterword” to the paperback edition of Dave Cullen’s Columbine, p. 365which is not in the e-book, by the way):

Sue Klebold wrote letters to the Thirteen the first spring, but Bob did not receive his.  It went to his ex-wife.  He heard about the letter and asked for a copy.  She provided one.  Then he asked for the envelope.  He received a copy of the backside.  At first it ticked him off, but then he noticed something.  Sue had written her home address on the flap.  He smiled.  He sent a letter back.  He sent another through the Harris attorney.  For years, he got no response.  That wasn’t so important.  He knew he had been heard.  Meetings came, in time…[he meets with both families and keeps in touch with the Klebolds].

The Harris family also sent letters to families of the victims, but they (foolishly, as it turned out) trusted them to the Jeffco Sheriff’s Office where they basically sat on them instead of delivering them to their intended recipients!

One letter, to injured victim Mark Taylor, read, “Please accept our heartfelt wishes for a full and speedy recovery from your injuries. There are no words to express the tragic events of that day. We would have given our lives to prevent them.

“May you have the strength and the support to continue your healing process.”

It was signed, “Sincerely, Wayne, Kathy and Kevin Harris.”

Jeff Kass, Columbine, p. 244.

When God doesn’t want me to do something, I definitely know it. When He wants me to do something, even if it means going outside my comfort zone, I know that too. I feel pushed in the direction I need to go…I try to stand up for my faith at 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.
—  Cassie Bernall

It was twenty-two hours later, on Thursday, around two o'clock in the morning, that my defenses finally collapsed.  The phone rang, and a woman from the coroner’s office told us what we had been dreading, though expecting, to hear.  They had Cassie’s body.  Now there was nothing to do but admit that our daughter was really gone forever, that she would never come home to me again.  But how can a mother do that?  I wept again, as I had never wept before.
From what I have since been told, it must have been about eleven-fifteen that morning when Cassie walked into the high school library, backpack on her shoulder, to do her latest homework assignment.  Another installment of Macbeth for -English class.  Crystal, a close friend, was in the library too.   Sara, Seth, and I had just gone over to the library to study, like any other day.  We had been there maybe five minutes, when a teacher came running in, yelling that there were kids with guns in the hall.  At first we were like, “It’s a joke, a senior prank.”  Seth said, “Relax, it’s just paint balls.”  Then we heard shots, first down the hall, then coming closer and closer.  Mrs. Nielsen was yelling at us to get under the tables, but no one listened.  Then a kid came in and dropped to the floor.  There was blood all over his shoulder.  We got under our table, fast.  Mrs. Nielsen was at the phone by now, calling 911.  Seth was holding me in his arms, with his hand on my head, because I was shaking so badly, and Sara was huddled under there with us too, holding on to my legs.
Then Eric and Dylan came into the library, shooting and saying things like, “We’ve been waiting to do this our whole lives,” and cheering after each shot.   I had no idea who they were.  I only found out their names afterward, but their voices sounded scary, evil.  At the same time they seemed so happy, like they were playing a game and getting a good kick out of it.  Then they came up to our table and knocked a chair over.  It hit my arm, and then it hit Sara on the head.  They were right above us.  I could hardly breathe, I was so scared.  Then they suddenly left the room, probably to reload.  It seemed like they had run out of ammunition.  that’s when we ran for it.  We dashed out a side door of the library, an emergency exit, and made it just before they came back in.
Crystal lost track of Cassie once the shooters entered the room, and there are conflicting versions of what she was doing.  One student remembers seeing her under a table, hands clasped in prayer.  Another says she remained seated.  Josh, a sophomore who spoke with me a few weeks after the incident, did not see her at all, but he says he will never forget what he heard as he crouched under a desk about twenty-five feet away.   I couldn’t see anything when those guys came up to Cassie, but I could recognize her voice.  I could hear everything like it was right next to me.  One of them asked her if she believed in God.  She paused, like she didn’t know what she was going to answer, and then she said yes.  She must have been scared, but her voice didn’t sound shaky.  It was strong.  Then they asked her why, though they didn’t give her a chance to respond.  They just blew her away.   Josh says that the way the boys questioned Cassie made him wonder whether she was visibly praying.   I don’t understand why they’d pop that question on someone who wasn’t.  She could’ve been talking to them, it’s hard to tell.  I know they were talking the whole time they were in the library.  They went over to Isaiah and taunted him.  They called him a nigger before they killed him.  Then they started laughing and cheering.  It was like a big game for them.  Then they left the room, so I got up, grabbed my friend Brittany by the hand and started to run.  The next thing I remember is pushing her through the door and flying out after her.
One of the first officials on the scene the next day was Gary, a member of our church and an investigator from the Jefferson County sheriff’s department.   When we got to the school they divided us up into seven teams of investigators.  All of the victims who had been killed had been left in place overnight, because the investigators wanted to make sure that everything was documented before they collected the evidence.   As soon as I entered the library I saw Cassie.  I knew it was her immediately.  She was lying under a table close to another girl.  Cassie had been shot in the head at very close range.  In fact, the bullet wound indicated that the muzzle was touching her skin.  She may have put a hand up to protect herself, because the tip of one finger was blown away, but she couldn’t have had time to do more.  That blast took her instantly.
The gap between April 20 and the present grows a little wider with every passing day, but the details refuse to fade.  Sometimes the images surface so vividly, it seems like it all happened yesterday.  Doctors say the brain forgets pain, and that may be so.  I am not sure the heart forgets.  If there is any reassurance to be found in the recesses of the mind, it may be in those happy, simple things that held us together as a family during the last week of Cassie’s life.  Though uneventful in themselves, they are strangely satisfying to hang on to, and comforting to replay.

••• Misty Bernall, Cassie’s Mom


“I Asked, God answered - A Columbine Miracle”
- By Mark Taylor

“Surviving Columbine: How Faith Helps Us Find Peace When Tragedy Strikes”
- By Liz Carlston

“Walking in Daniel’s Shoes”
- By Tom Mauser

“No Easy Answers: The Truth Behind Death at Columbine High School”
- By Brooks Brown

“A Mother’s Reckoning: Living in the Aftermath of Tragedy”
- By Sue Klebold

“Rachel’s Tears: 10th Anniversary Edition: The Spiritual Journey of Columbine Martyr Rachel Scott”
- By Beth Nimmo & Darrell Scot

“She Said Yes: The Unlikely Martyrdom of Cassie Bernall”
- By Misty Bernall

“The Journals of Rachel Scott: A Journey of Faith at Columbine High (Real Diary of Faith)”
- By Beth Nimmo

“Chain Reaction A Call To Compassionate Revolution”
- By Darrell Scot

- By Dave Cullen

“Columbine: A True Crime Story”
- By Jeff Kass

“This Is Your Time: Make Every Moment Count”
- By Michael W. Smith

“After Columbine, A Schoolplace Violence Prevention Manual… Written by an Expert Who Was There”
- By Kelly Zinna

“Ceremonial Violence: Understanding Columbine and Other School Rampage Shootings”
- By Johnathan Fast

“A Columbine Survivor’s Story”
- By Peggy Lindholm

“The Columbine High School Massacre: Murder in the Classroom”
- By Katie Marsico

On "Columbiners" and the TCC

Let’s go back to 1999. I was in sixth grade. My sister was in highschool. She was a prep. She wasn’t an athlete, or a cheerleader, but she was popular. She was blonde, busty, wore pastels and khakis and puka shells and boys white ballcaps. She was popular.

On 4/20/1999 I was 11 years old. For days and weeks following, on the TV, in the papers, on the lips of people everywhere, Columbine. My sister, who’d been attending school several towns over was fighting to transfer back home. She was suddenly wearing my clothes, baggy pants, black shirts. She gave up on makeup, gave up on pretty and preppy. She was afraid of being a target. She was afraid of being seen as another popular-bitch-bully-cause-of-the-devastation. She wanted to be back with me, her baby sister, as I got ready to enter junior high. She wanted us together, and I did, too. I was fucking terrified. THIS was what I had to look forward to? On top of my already overwhelming social anxieties thanks to sexual abuse from a family friend and psychological abuse from my mother, now I was going to have to fear for my fucking life every time I walked onto campus?
I’d auditioned and been accepted into a charter arts school, so my sister auditioned, too. It was 7th-12th, no sports, no jocks, and we were together.

My first day of seventh grade, I wore a studded collar, my blonde hair was dip dyed in fire engine red, my clothes were black. Not exactly uncommon or remarkable at an arts school, but still different enough to get attention from teachers and administration. My sister was back in her pastels and khakis.

In eighth grade my English teacher assigned us a book report- it could be on ANY book. I chose “She Said Yes” by Misty Bernall. My sister and I had read it together the year before, when she’d done a report on it and got an A. So I thought, “fuck it, everyone knows the story, I don’t have to read anything new, easy A.”
Not so much.
Part of the report was to include an illustration of a part of the book that really stuck with you. In lieu of drawing something extremely dark and gory, I drew the yellow smiley face balloon with the sharpied bullet hole between it’s eyes.
Parent/teacher/principal/superintendent/counselor conference went something like this:
“I mean, you know what happened, I thought this was the most tasteful option while still having an impact”
“You should have just picked a different book. Why would you want to read something like this, huh? What does that say about your interests?”
“My sister did a report on this last year and didn’t get questioned at all.”
“Yeah well your sister dresses and acts like a well adjusted teenager.”
And there it was. I was different. Different is scary. Different is threatening. Didn’t matter that I got straight A’s, never had behavioral issues, participated in extra curriculars, volunteered… I looked different.

Let me fucking tell you, it’s a strange feeling knowing you’re considered “different” at an arts school. Literally an entire school of nothing but the people who are considered nerds and weirdos at regular highschools and you’re STILL an outcast.

From that point on, I was looked at like I may be seconds from snapping, like I may try to bring the whole place down.

Junior year I was a teacher’s assistant for the newest class of seventh graders.
This kid, we’ll call him Harry, was a problem, and no one else saw it.
Harry was popular.
But in secret, Harry drew gore in his books. Harry was quick to anger, breaking things, punching walls, screaming and crying at the same time. Harry found excuses to include guns (and violence, and death) in all the movies he made for class. Harry cut himself (but very few saw it, clever placement.)
I warned administration to keep a keen eye. After years of being treated like the enemy, I’d made a point of learning what the ACTUAL warning signs were. I studied that shit. Red flag after red flag, Harry was it.
What’d administration do? NOTHING.
“He’s an alright kid. We’ve never noticed those things you’re talking about. The gun videos? Boys like action films. Are you sure you’re not just jealous because he’s popular?”
They did nothing, that is, until he threw a desk at a classmate.
Then they confiscated his bag.
Then they found the recipes for homemade weapons, the hit list.
(And who was on that list? In big bold letters, yours truly.)

You see, it blows my mind when people are shocked and disgusted by any interest in true crime, any desire to understand these types of crimes, these types of criminals.
(And don’t get me wrong. I understand that hybristophilia is uncomfortable. I understand that talking about the killers in terms of “what could have been” and “where they went wrong” and “how they could have been saved” can seem wrong. I know that focusing on them in any way can seem disrespectful to victims and their families. I really do, but that’s not what I’m talking about.)

An interest in Columbine, in true crime in general, is not itself a warning sign. It’s not proof of a dangerous or unstable mind. And it’s not (always) unhealthy. It’s not about glorifying the perpetrators or condoning their crimes.

Maybe Harry would have never done a thing. Maybe he would have grown out of it. But what if he didn’t? What if they hadn’t used the knowledge from my warning to search him when he exhibited anger and violence publicly for the first time? What if he’d been better about bottling it up and never gave them reason to trust me? What if I’d never seen the warning signs? What if I’d never learned the warning signs to look for?
The world may be short him, myself, the 23 other names on that list, and however many other innocents got in his way.

Val Schnurr must also grieve the murder of a friend she’s had since preschool. Fight through lapses in her ability to concentrate. Awaken each morning to a body riddled with 40 scars. And pray for moral guidance as the terror she experienced in the Columbine High School library continues to haunt her in different ways. Please do not refer to her, she asked, as the other girl who might have said “yes.” She said she knows what she said that day, bleeding as she crouched on her hands and knees. The rest of the world knows Cassie Bernall as the girl killed after affirming her faith. It’s now unclear if she did. Val, who was shot before she answered yes to believing in God, doesn’t know. And that is why she hasn’t said much more.

“I don’t have anything to clear up,” Val said in her living room over Columbine’s homecoming weekend. “I don’t want to be famous or deemed anything. I said I believed in God out of respect for myself and respect for God. That’s it.”

After considering her response silently for a few moments, “frustrated” is how 18-year-old Val describes her reaction to the legend of Cassie’s last moments. In the days following the shooting, Cassie’s story was repeated around the world, the label “martyr” soon a part of it.

During those same days, Val lay in a hospital bed, ravaged by sawed-off shotgun pellets that had entered and exited her body 34 times. Mark and Shari Schnurr held vigil by their daughter’s bedside, and she told them what had happened. How she and Lauren Townsend and three other friends were studying before AP English. How she saw the boots and heard the voices of two boys who pointed weapons under the library tables and fired. How she’d been praying silently when a blast hit her, propelling her out from under the table. How she was saying “Oh, my God, oh, my God, don’t let me die” when one of the shooters asked her if she believed in God.

Val said yes. He asked her why. She said, “Because I believe and my parents brought me up that way.” She said she crawled away as he reloaded.

Investigators say Val’s account has remained consistent and was corroborated by others. Investigators told Mark Schnurr that a student who helped authorities retrace the events in the library got physically sick when he realized it was Val’s table, not Cassie’s, that he was pointing out to authorities. “In the end it doesn’t really matter who said what,” Mark Schnurr said. “What matters to me is my daughter.”

Complex emotions

A father’s simple declaration belies the complex emotions and decisions that have faced the Schnurrs for months.

The Bernalls, though told by investigators of the conflicting accounts, wrote a book titled “She Said Yes: The Unlikely Martyrdom of Cassie Bernall.” Shari Schnurr said she asked the book’s editor not to rush the publication and to wait for more details.

But Misty Bernall was eager to share Cassie’s other story, her transformation from a troubled teenager who threatened suicide to a Christ-loving girl eager to share her faith. Editor Chris Zimmerman said he had resolved any inconsistencies to their satisfaction. And so less than five months after the shooting, the book - with an introductory acknowledgement that the “exact details of Cassie’s death may never be known” - was released, marketed and titled on the premise that Cassie was shot after affirming her faith.

“Plough gets an A in marketing, an F in research,” said Mark Schnurr. “Cassie’s story (of transformation) would have been wonderful on its own.”

The book is a best-seller. A copy sent to the Schnurrs remains in its wrapper. They don’t plan to read it because they know well Val’s own account of the massacre.

Like several students affected by the nation’s worst school shooting, Val has been asked to speak about her ordeal and has felt compelled to do so. But because her experiences have been less publicized than Cassie’s, Val said she’s been accused of being a copycat and her “real” relationship with God has been challenged, once at a evangelical youth rally honoring Cassie and shooting victim Rachel Scott. That’s where her frustration was born.

“It’s hard to know what I experienced, to know what I know is real and then have it questioned - that’s hurtful,’’ Val said. "But you just give it up to God. You move on.

"The reason I’m saying anything about it now is that it’s hard to keep quiet when everyone is talking. So one last time, this is what happened to me. … I just don’t want anything I say to hurt the Bernalls.”

“Sincerely apologize’

On Saturday the Bernalls released a statement saying that "if any of our actions have hurt or offended anyone, we sincerely apologize.”

Mark and Shari Schnurr, knowing more details of the investigation than Val and having heard the 911 tape of the library carnage, have their own hurdles. They are proud of a brave, strong, God-loving child. They don’t want her to feel victimized yet again. “We thank God every day we still have her,” said Shari Schnurr, who still wears a Columbine ribbon. “Val should be able to tell her story without people doubting her. The issue shouldn’t be about who said what, it should be about kids and their faith.”

The Schnurrs discussed their concerns for Val and the Bernalls with close friends and clergy.

“Staying quiet isn’t taking the high road, it’s the right road,” said Mark Schnurr. “It keeps our focus on our family.”

The book is not foremost on Val’s mind. But the shooting, and childhood friend Lauren Townsend, who she tried to wake by rubbing her cheek, rarely leave her thoughts. She was too weak from her own wounds to carry Lauren out of the library.

“I feel survivor’s guilt every day,” she said. “It could have been me. She was a good person. … There’s got to be something to why I’m still here. … So I’m looking for it.”

Her eyes appear moist, but she does not cry. Val is too overwhelmed to say much more about her friend’s death. She e-mails and talks to the Townsend family regularly.