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Cassie Bernall: A Modern Day Martyr
Jamie Tuneberg English 9 Mr. Moore October 20, 2008
Tuneberg 2 Cassie Bernall A Modern Day Martyr Thesis: Cassie Bernall is a hero because she sacrificed herself, made an extraordinary choice, she lived all out for God, and only 3 years earlier she was exactly like her killers. I. II. Introduction Traits of a Hero A. Sacrifice B. Strength 1. Mental 2.Spiritual C. Overcoming Obstacles D. Being a Martyr Sacrifice A. Background of Columbine B. Why She died, What the Shooters Asked her C. Why she said yes D. How others Benefitted Strength A. Mental 1.Over Coming depression 2. Staying strong throughout “moving” B. Spiritual 1.Revival (Jamie CFS) 2.Re-Born, Retreat C. Why she wanted to switch schools Overcoming Obstacles A. “Letters” 1.Content of Letters 2. Confrontation About Letters B. Restraining Order C. Constant Bother D. What Her Killers Were Like E. How Cassie was like her Killers How She’s a Martyr and Hero A. Definition of Martyr, How it relates to Cassie
B. Definition of Hero, How it relates to Cassie VII. Conclusion Tuneberg 3 Jamie Tuneberg English 9 Mr.Moore October 20, 2008 Cassie Bernall A Modern Day Martyr Cassie Rene Bernall was born November 6, 1981. Her youthful teenage years came to a halt on April 20, 1999 (Bernal, 19). On April 20, 1999, Cassie died as a martyr and a hero to many. Cassie Bernall is a hero because she sacrificed herself, made an extraordinary decision, she lived all out for God, and only 3 years earlier she was exactly like her killers. First what makes a hero? A Hero must sacrifice something of their own. They must also maintain a certain amount of strength. Mental strength is key for making good decisions and staying away from bad situations. Also spiritual strength, keeping that close knit relationship with God is a major aspect in being a hero. The final trait of a hero is being a martyr. A hero must be ready at any time to take the fall, especially if you are expressing your faith. On April 20, 1999, two seniors from Columbine High School rampaged throughout the school armed and dangerous. The two (Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold) had a history of causing trouble. Although this day they had planned revenge against the school that had mercilessly made fun of them throughout their high school career (Murphy 227). The shooting began at 11:29am and ended at 11:49am (Murphy 234). During that time 15 people were killed including
the two shooters (Murphy 245). The two shooters were said to have shot themselves at around 12:08 pm, while the SWAT teams and police men tried to breach the building (Murphy 245). Most of the 15 killed were shot to death in the school’s library. Although many in the library survived one in particular did not, Cassie Bernall. They do not have proof of which shooter was talking to Cassie, but one of them asked her “Do you believe in God?” A friend of Cassi e’s named Crystal says: “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.”(Bernall 11-12) Billy Graham said “Cassie and Rachel (another girl who was killed), were faced with the ultimate peer pressure: the barrel of a gun. (Watson 32).” He goes on to say that Cassie would lose her life so that others might gain theirs (33). When he says this he is referring to the Christian life of faith. Cassie’s public testimony of faith has inspired others to either stand up for their own, or come to Christ as an act of solitude and reverence. Teenage revivals where survivors of Columbine speak, girls storm the stage begging for forgiveness just at the mention of Cassie’s name (33). Her act of faith also inspired people to write songs like “This is Your Time” written and sung by Michael W. Smith (37). Cassie Bernall died a death so archetypal, it is almost and adolescent’s fantasy of martyrdom (42).Ben a 15 year-old told the New York Times, “She’s definitely a hero. If I was ever faced with a situation like that I’d hope, I could do
what she did (42). An 11 year-old girl posts on the internet “I automatically wanted to grow up and be like her. She is a girls dream role model” (42). A person could definitely see Cassie as a Hero/Martyr. Many have benefitted from her bravery. Cassie is also a hero because she showed an immense amount of strength. She first showed mental strength when she told her killers yes without shuddering or shaking. She was absolutely sure of what she was saying. Also not too long before hand she had struggled with an insane amount of depression (Bernall 73). Cassie had written the following in a notebook she had kept under her bed: “...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 a 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, it stung very badly, which I thought I deserved anyway. I still have scars.”(50) She got through this, she didn’t commit suicide, she stayed strong. She also stayed strong throughout changing schools twice and moving to a new home (66). She also showed an extreme amount of spiritual faith. At one point she had completely drawn away from God and she had “sold her soul to the devil” through a friend (63). When she had first transferred to CFS (Christian Fellowship School) she had no friends and was convinced everyone hated her (68). Until she met Jamie, Jamie had short bleach blonde hair, big chains, and metal beads around her
neck (72). Jamie ended up inviting Cassie to her church retreat (79). At that retreat Cassie poured out her heart and surrendered to God (82). Her mom remembers: “...When Cassie got out of the car she came straight over to me. She hugged me, then looked me in the eye and said, “Mom I’ve changed. I’ve totally changed. I know you are not going to believe it, but I’ll prove it to you.”...You’re doing great Cass, I’d say to myself, but you’ve got to keep proving you’re not going to slide back...”(82-85) After this Cassie had told her mother that it would be easier for her to go to public schools so she could witness to more people because at a Christian school they didn’t need to be converted (93). Before it was stated that Cassie struggled with depression. Her parents discovered this after her mother had found a cache of letters in her room (Watson 43). These letters discussed: sex, drugs, Marilyn Manson lyrics, self-mutilation, the occult, vampirism, satanic ritual and the vicious murder of teachers and parents (43). Her parents confronted her the day they found the disturbing letters. She had breezed in from school, when they had stopped her so they could talk. After she had found out that they knew about the letters she tried to play it off by saying they didn’t mean anything bad (Bernall 46). Then once she realized they weren’t letting her off the hook she started in a screaming rampage saying that they were over reacting and violated her rights to privacy (46). Although these letter weren’t all her doing. She had a friend “Mona” (an alias) who had been writing back and forth with her. In one letter from “Mona” she had written, “I believe I am a vampire... I feel like burning myself. Nothing can hurt me for I am a vampire (40).” In the end of it all Cassie’s parents filed for a restraining order against “Mona” and her family (50-51). The day they found those letters was the day school had started vacation for Christmas break (53). Cassie’s parents, decided that she would no longer be attending Beaver
High. For that was where “Mona” went to school. So they enrolled her at CFS (66). At CFS she encountered a spiritual break through and changed schools again so she could attend public school. They had just moved houses, so the public school she would be enrolled in would be Columbine High School. Columbine High School is also where Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold were enrolled (Murphy 227). Eric and Dylan were Cassie’s killers (227). Cassie was much like her killers when she was in her slump. Her favorite band and their favorite band both happened to be Marilyn Manson (Bernall 45). But her killers had also been relentlessly teased throughout high school (Murphy 227).The day of the tragedy Dylan and Eric wore black trench coats and black wraparound sunglasses (206). They were infamously called the “Trench Coat Mafia” (226). After all one of the main reasons they killed all those people is so they could be cruel and famous (Larkin 175). The series of events that happened that day started with either Eric or Dylan scream “Go! Go Go!”, at that moment the attack was on. In the beginning of the attack one of the two had said “This is what we’ve always wanted to do! This is awesome!” (Murphy 208). Although people joked that one day they would snap, they never believed it would actually happen (218). Something had taken a hold of Eric and Dylan, for when they shot people they would start laughing (225). When they were in the library making their final round they would peek under the tables and say peek-a-boo and then shoot them (225). People who survived the library shootings remember hearing the two laugh, hear someone screaming, hear a gun shot, then dead silence (226). When they were finishing up in the library a friend of Dylan’s asked what they were doing, Dylan replied nonchalantly saying “oh just killing people” (229). This day of events would have certainly been different if only two years earlier Cassie had denied that
invitation to that church retreat. Cassie would not be a world-renown martyr if she had not seen the grace of God that night, during the retreat. In Greek the word “martyria” means witness and refers to someone who refuses, in the face of terror and torture, to deny his/her faith (Bernall 115). On April 20, 1999, Cassie fulfilled that definition of “martyria”. She refused to deny God even when she could have lived. Reverend Dave McPherson said, “Jesus fed 5,000 with five loaves of bread and two fish, but Cassie fed the world with one word “yes” (Watson 30). The definition of “martyr” according to Webster’s New Collegiate Dictionary, is “to put to death for adhering to a belief, faith, or profession; to inflict torture” (Webster 705). The definition for “hero” is “one that shows great courage” (536). Cassie lived out both of those definitions the day she died. Cassie Bernall showed her heroism through sacrificing herself, making an extraordinary decision, living all out for God, and only 3 years earlier she was exactly like her killers. I strongly agree with Billy Graham when he said, “The gunman took her like, and I believe that Cassie went immediately into the presence of Almighty God” (Watson 39). Misty Bernall, her mother, says, “I’m not saying she prepared herself for a terrible end...Yet when the tragedy strikes her out of the blue she was ready to go, why? Because she died to self (45).” Throughout the hero’s in the world Cassie will always be known as the “Martyr of Littleton” (Carlston 28).
Works Cited Bernall, Misty. She Said Yes: The Unlikely Martyrdom of Cassie Bernall. North Farmington: Plough Publishing House, 1999. Carlston, Liz. Surviving Columbine: How Faith Helps Us Find Peace When Tragedy Strikes. Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 2004. Larkin, Ralph W. Comprehending Columbine. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2008. Murphy, John F. Jr.. Day of Reckoning: The Massacre at Columbine High School. United States of America: John F. Murphy Jr., 2001. “hero”, “martyr”. Webster’s New Collegiate Dictionary. 1st ed. United States of America, 1977.