Cassie René Bernall (November 6, 1981 – April 20, 1999) was an American student and the sixth victim killed in the Columbine High School Massacre at the age of 17. Her death caused controversy for a rumor where she was asked if she believed in God and got murdered for defending her belief. However, investigators concluded the person asked about their belief in God was Valeen Schnurr, who survived the shooting.
Cassie was born to Misty and Brad Bernall on November 6, 1981. Along with her brother Chris, she was brought up in a Christian home. According to her parents, Cassie rebelled as a young teenager and began using drugs and alcohol, she started to have suicidal and homicidal thoughts against her own parents. After this, they decided to send her to a new school, Columbine High School. A year and a half before her death (around 1997), Cassie decided to go on a weekend church retreat and restored her faith. Cassie's father Brad said "When she came back from that retreat, she was an entirely different person. We had gotten our daughter back". Cassie was active in church youth programs and Bible study groups. Her parents called her "Bunny Rabbit" and said she loved to go rock climbing in Breckinridge. She had recently visited the United Kingdom and her favorite movie was 'Braveheart'.
Massacre At Columbine High School
Cassie was studying in the library when the shooting started. Like many other people that were there, she hid under the table she was sitting at as a substitute teacher Patti Nielson entered and told everyone to get down. After murdering Steve Curnow and injuring Kacey Ruegsegger, Eric Harris came around the table where Cassie and another girl were hiding. He slapped the top of the table twice with his left hand and said to the two frightened girls: "peek-a-boo!". He then bent down, pointed his sawed-off shotgun under the table and fired once, hitting Cassie Bernall in the right side of the head. She died immediately. Her family was not informed of her death until two days after the massacre.
Controversy surrounding martyrdom claims
Some media publicized the story of Bernall being asked about her belief in God before her death. The story persisted, even 22 years after her death.
Craig Scott (brother of Rachel Scott and fellow student) who was also in the library during the massacre, told investigators that he had heard one of the shooters ask a victim whether or not they believed in God during the shooting, and the victim answered, "Yes." Scott said that he recognized the voice as Bernall's, however, he did not see the exchange happen as he was hiding under the table at the time. Investigators later took Scott back into the library and asked him to point to where he had heard the exchange come from. He did not point to where she had been in the library, but rather pointed to where Valeen Schnurr, another student that had been shot in the massacre, had been hiding. Valeen Schnurr had been shot and was on the floor of the library when one of the shooters, Dylan Klebold approached her. She said, "Oh, my God, oh, my God, don't let me die." Klebold asked her if she believed in God. She said yes, and he asked why. She responded, "Because I believe and my parents brought me up that way." Klebold reloaded but did not shoot her again, and Schnurr ultimately survived the massacre. Some media publicized the story of Bernall being asked about her belief in God before her death. The story persisted even decades later. In 2015, Rick Santorum used the scenario during a Republican presidential debate, saying "16 years ago this country was tremendously inspired by a young woman who faced a gunman in Columbine and was challenged about her faith, and refused to deny God." However, Santorum did not attach a name to the story, and may have been referencing Valeen Schnurr.
In popular culture
Bernall's presentation as a Christian martyr has led to her serving as the inspiration for several songs, including Flyleaf's "Cassie" and Michael W. Smith's "This Is Your Time". The video for "This Is Your Time" includes a short clip at its beginning of Bernall talking about her beliefs.