she said yes: the unlikely martyrdom of cassie bernall


“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

Fact vs. Fiction - Who Said Yes? Part 1 in a Series of Debunking Columbine Myths

After the massacre, the media immediately began telling the story of one of the library victims who, upon being questioned on whether or not she’d believed in God by Eric Harris, said she did, and was subsequently shot and killed, Cassie Bernall. While some are aware that it was not Cassie who said “yes” that day, many still don’t know that.

Cassie’s story spread like wildfire, and was fueled by library survivors - particularly Craig Scott, brother of victim Rachel Scott - that swore they’d heard it, too. Many in the Christian community likened her to a present-day Jesus Christ, killed for what she believed in. Her family said they couldn’t imagine a more honorable way for their daughter to die, and her mother, Misty, later wrote a book - “She Said Yes: The Unlikely Martyrdom of Cassie Bernall.”

In the midst of it all, library survivor Valeen Schnurr told her mother it was her who said yes. She had cried out “Oh my God!” while Eric and Dylan were shooting people under the table she was in, injuring her, Lisa Kreutz and killing Lauren Townsend. They came over in response to her cries. They, while reloading, asked her if she believed in God. She at first said no, and then yes, not wanting to give them an answer they wouldn’t like. When they asked her why, she said it was because it’s what her family believed.

Library survivors who had been near either Valeen or Cassie confirmed this, and when police brought Craig Scott into the library and asked him to point where he thought Cassie had been sitting when she said “yes,” he pointed to Valeen’s table.

It was difficult for people to believe Val’s story - many called her a copycat and accused her of wanting attention. 

After listening to the 911 tapes, police could confirm that it was indeed Valeen who had the conversation with the killers. Cassie had been praying underneath her table, and was shot by Eric after he pounded the tabletop twice, crouched down, said “Peek-a-boo!” when he shot her.

While it wasn’t Cassie who’d said yes that day, many people - including her family - prefer to think of her that 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.