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Columbine 'martyr' fled occult's grip

By Robert Stacy McCain
Cassie Bernall, the 17-year-old who died for her Christian faith at Columbine High School, was once a deeply troubled girl involved in the occult, and such young people are "everywhere" today, her former youth pastor says.
     "There are lot of kids who tell me about the occult," says Dave McPherson, who leads the West Bowles Community Church youth group that Cassie attended in Littleton, Colo. "They like the sense of power that it brings. . . . That is a very typical high school, teen-age-type thing."
     By the time of her death, Cassie had spent nearly three years escaping what she called "the dark side." She was killed by one of two other Littleton teen-agers -- Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold -- who didn't escape.
     In the library at Columbine on April 20, one of the two teen-age killers put a shotgun to Cassie's head and asked, "Do you believe in God?"
     "Yes," Cassie answered.
     "Why?" the gunman asked and, without giving her time to answer, pulled the trigger, killing her instantly.
     The story of Cassie's confession made her an instant hero to thousands of Christian youths. Web sites commemorating her as a modern martyr have proliferated since the Columbine shootings.
     In a new book from Plough Publishing, "She Said Yes: The Unlikely Martyrdom of Cassie Bernall," her mother, Misty Bernall, says that Cassie "would hate to be held up as a shining example or singled out for praise."
     "Cassie was your typical teen-age high school student," Mrs. Bernall says. Her book recalls the struggle she and her husband, Brad, went through in 1996, after discovering letters indicating that Cassie was plotting to kill them.
     Cassie and her best friend at the time -- a girl that Mrs. Bernall calls "Mona" -- had become fascinated by witchcraft, vampires, violence, drugs, self-mutilation and shock-rocker Marilyn Manson. They wrote poems about "the angel of the dark" and "the emptiness of my soul." It was in a letter from Mona to Cassie that Mrs. Bernall read: "We need to murder your parents . . . kill me with your parents, then kill yourself so you don't go to jail."
     The Bernalls called Mona's mother, called the sheriff -- and then called the pastor at West Bowles Community Church. Mr. McPherson suggested they bring Cassie to the church's youth group.
     When he met her, the youth pastor says, "She was gloom and doom. . . . She was sad and just extremely shy and semievasive, didn't want to talk to adults. She was like, 'All adults are idiots.' Kids are like that: 'Parents are out of it; they don't know what's best for me.' "
     Mr. McPherson, who is doing press interviews to promote Mrs. Bernall's book, says he had little hope that Cassie would respond to the youth group. "I remember walking away from that meeting and saying to myself: 'We'll give it our best, but this girl's going to be a hard one. She's gone, unreachable.' "
     At the youth pastor's advice, the Bernalls took away Cassie's phone, pulled her out of the school she was attending, put her in a private Christian school, and forbade her to contact her old friends. Misty Bernall quit her job to spend more time with Cassie and Cassie's younger brother, Chris.
     "I've had 10 parents come in and ask the same thing the Bernalls asked," Mr. McPherson says, "and everytime I tell them the same thing: Cut the phone cords, get them away from their friends, change their school, move if you have to, quit your job. And one out of 10 have done it. That's a heavy price. . . . They did more than any parent."
     What causes so many young people like Cassie to become involved in the occult, drugs and violence? Mr. McPherson says it begins with "a lot of kids who are bored in life, who don't know what their purpose in life is. So they're left up to whatever their friends say is cool.
     "When nothing in life fits, when your family doesn't fit, when your school doesn't fit, when you don't have a boyfriend," Mr. McPherson says, "you just go a little crazy and lose it."
     At the church, Cassie "met kids that smiled, she went to kids' houses who loved their parents."
     When she first began attending the youth group, Cassie "was a little freaked out by the whole thing." One of the group's missions is to help young people who come from broken homes and other troubled backgrounds.
     "We're trying to turn kids back into normal human beings," he says.
     Still, he adds, "it took a long time, maybe six months" before Cassie began responding to the other young people at church.
     "Good kids have a good influence on bad kids. If you go to a church youth group and nobody talks to you, you're not going to come back."
     The pastor says he emphasizes to young people that they have "got to reach out to other people, stop waiting for others to reach out." He pauses, then adds: "Before she died, Cassie was one of our best at that."
     While Cassie began making new friends at the church, though, her old friends began to harass her, driving by and throwing things at her house. In response, the Bernalls sold their house and moved to a new home near Columbine High School, where they decided it would be safe for Cassie to enroll.
     With a new school, new friends and a new faith -- Cassie later wrote that she had "turned my life around" during a March 1997 youth retreat -- Cassie slowly became more and more active as a Christian.
     One reason the Bernalls chose to publish Cassie's story with Plough -- a nonprofit firm run by the Bruderhof, a Christian pacifist movement based in Pennsylvania -- is because Plough had published two books Cassie had been reading before her death: "Discipleship: Living for Christ in the Daily Grind" and "Seeking Peace: Notes and Conversations Along the Way." The publisher's Web site ( also offers a video tribute to Cassie produced by West Bowles Community Church.
     Mr. McPherson says the death of Cassie has been hard on the Bernalls, "but I think, to some degree, they're consoled by the fact that their daughter was so brave and she died for something she believed in."
     And Cassie's death has inspired others, he says.
     "There is an absolute revival taking place, especially among the youth," Mr. McPherson says. "There are thousands and thousands and thousands of kids who have committed themselves to Christ because of Cassie's example."
     A year before her death, Cassie wrote in her notebook: "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 for dying for me."

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Copyright (c) 1999 News World Communications, Inc.
Reprinted with permission from The Washington Times.
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