(Originally posted at ClobberBlog)
On May 2, 1998, Rachel Joy Scott recorded in her journal:
This will be my last year Lord. I have gotten what I can. Thank you.
On Tuesday, April 20, 1999, twelve students and one teacher were murdered at Columbine High School by fellow students Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, who later took their own lives. 17-year-old Rachel Joy Scott was among them. Today marks the ten-year anniversary of that tragedy.
I was a junior in high school sitting in the chemistry class which I hated when the news of the shooting was announced over the televisions in the classrooms. I was stunned, and I confess, my initial reaction to it was one of apathy. It just seemed so distant and far away, and I had already been much more personally affected by violent crime, so I had gotten over the fact that “these things” happen.
A few weeks later the “She said YES” sermons began making tracks through evangelical youth groups. We were told all about how Cassie Bernall had been asked by the gunmen whether she believed in God, and they shot her after she replied in the affirmative. Then a similar story evolved around Rachel Joy Scott.
In the interest of truth, I do want to share what likely happened. As things stand, it seems unlikely that either Scott or Bernall were asked whether they believed in God before being fatally shot. That question was asked of a girl named Valeen Schnurr, who was shot and lived. Her story, as told in 2000:
Last fall, Valeen Schnurr packed up her belongings, kissed her parents good‑bye, and headed off to college. For the 18-year-old freshman, university life offered a desperately needed change of scenery: her parents’ house is just two blocks from the home of Eric Harris. Now her days are filled with challenging studies, late night gabfests, and inedible cafeteria food–and she couldn’t be happier. Just a few months ago, she wondered if she’d ever make it to college at all.
Valeen and five classmates were in the library studying when Harris and Klebold came in shooting. “We dove beneath a table,” Valeen recalls, the slight quiver in her voice betraying her usually calm, purposeful demeanor. “My friend Lauren [Townsend] and I grabbed hands, and I began praying, begging God to help us. Lauren kept saying, ‘It’s going to be okay. It’s going to be okay.”‘
As the gunfire drew closer, Valeen felt a searing pain shoot through her. Then the force of the bullets knocked her out from under the table. “Oh God, help me!” she cried, looking up directly into the eyes of one of the gunmen.
“Do you believe in God?” he sneered, pointing his gun at her. Valeen thought about lying to him, but couldn’t. “Yes,” she said.
“Why?” he asked. “Because it’s what my parents taught me,” she replied. “It’s what I believe.”
While he stopped to reload, Valeen crawled back under the table. When the pair left the library, she knew it was her chance to escape. “Lauren,” she whispered to her friend, “we can go now!” Lauren didn’t respond. Valeen nudged her again, but still nothing. Guessing her friend had passed out from shock, and gravely injured herself, Valeen gathered her remaining strength and ran out of the library. She collapsed just outside the school and was eventually rushed to the emergency room.
Three days later, she learned that Lauren, her friend since preschool, had died. “Lauren was such a good person,” Valeen says. “Why did I live while she died? You can’t answer those questions. They’ll just eat you alive. I just try to accept that it happened and focus on what I can do in my own life.”
Her life since has been marked by a grueling routine of operations and physical therapy. The doctors told her parents that she had at least nine shotgun wounds and numerous shrapnel injuries in her chest, arms, and abdomen. “They said divine intervention must have saved my life,” she says.
Determined to attend graduation, Valeen left the hospital in time to walk across the stage to collect her diploma. She’s still facing more plastic and reconstructive surgery to remove the remaining metal fragments and try to smooth the 40 scars that cover her arms and stomach, yet it’s the emotional wounds that have proved hardest to heal. Though Valeen kept a 3.6 grade point average at Columbine, she has been having a tough time focusing on her schoolwork at college.
“I’m not as trusting anymore, and I have some fears,” she says. “I hate balloons popping, cars backfiring, and fire alarms.” A recent prank in her dorm- someone pulled the fire alarm unnecessarily-left her badly shaken. “But I’ve learned how strong I am,” she says. “And I’m much closer to my parents and sisters now.”
I don’t believe that a lie should be spread no matter how faith-promoting and useful it is, and I would hope the evangelical community would recognize by now that while the initial reports of Bernall and Scott having been asked about God before being fatally shot were probably sincere, to continue to use those accounts now that we know how dubious they are would be wrong. Besides, I really can’t say I was ever a big fan of the “SHE SAID YES” t-shirts and books being peddled. The spiritual commercialization of the tragedy at Columbine was always rather sick.
It was years later, when I was a sophomore at BYU, that I had the opportunity to hear a sermon by Darrell Scott, the father of Rachel Joy Scott. The life his daughter lived was amazing—much more amazing than the fake story about her confession of God before her death. Her family describes her as passionately devoted to God. She constantly sought to help others who were less fortunate than herself. She regularly told people that she had a feeling she would not live very long, and they said she was not morbid or melodramatic about it; her journals show that she accurately predicted her own death. Darrell Scott still stands as the best speaker I have ever heard in my life.
If you want a good read about an evangelical Christian teenager that will just blow you away and make you wish you sought God more earnestly than you do, pick up Rachel’s Tears by Beth Nimmo and Darrell Scott.
Pray for the families of those who lost loved ones at Columbine, and pray for the people who survived that tragic day—some of whom sustained permanent debilitating injuries. The list of victims (both living and dead) are included on the Wikipedia page here.