Cassie Bernall is being compared to third-century Christian martyrs, and it is predicted by pastors and noted religious scholars that she will become “the first officially designated Protestant martyr since the sixteenth century.” Their daughter’s story brings Brad and Misty Bernall “tremendous relief”—years ago, The Enemy had nearly taken their little girl.
The tales of Cassie Bernall’s martyrdom provide her parents with a refuge in the wake of having had to witness their daughter’s life being taken away by senseless violence.
Misty believes her daughter had been possessed by Satan three years earlier. Cassie had disturbing letters in her possession, written by a friend but “suggest[ing] a receptive audience,” describing an unknown peer’s encouragement of Cassie to murder her teachers and her own parents. The pages were filled with “hard-core sex talk and magic spells” and featured drawings of the Bernalls’ graves. When Brad and Misty confronted Cassie about the letters, she threatened to kill herself, cutting her wrists and bashing her head against the bathroom sink. One night, three months after the discovery of the letters, Cassie was “saved” at youth group, and promised her parents that she had changed. Cassie then leaned full-tilt into Evangelism.
Cassie was a disturbed child, and herself harbored fantasies of violence, murder, and deviant behavior. The story of Cassie having been “saved” at youth group is another cornerstone of the Bernalls’ faith—an example of the power of religion to heal, change, and convert pain into happiness.
Two other martyr stories surface in the wake of the massacre. Val Schnurr was shot and remained conscious—she began to pray to God for her life. The killers overheard her, and Dylan asked her whether or not she believed in God—she answered yes, and Dylan began to reload his gun, but “something distracted him,” and he walked away from her, leaving her alive. Val’s story, like Cassie’s, emerged the day of the attack, but took longer to gain traction in the press. She was seen as a “usurper,” and as Cassie’s fame grew, Val was shunned.
Val’s story was shut down—even though it was true—because it came second. The grief and need for answers that emerged after the shooting made some stories seem more valuable than others, and as is the case in too many tragedies, some survivors have suffered and been silenced even after having endured terrible violence.
As Cassie’s story continues to “mushroom” and Brad and Misty are hailed as “blessed parents of the martyr,” another student, Emily Wyant, knows the truth of Cassie’s story. Emily had been in the library during the attack, under the same table as Cassie. She watched as Cassie was shot without saying a word to her killer. Another girl, Bree Pasquale, corroborates Emily’s story. Both girls give detailed accounts to investigators, and 911 audio supports their claims. The girls wait for the truth to emerge.
Many witnesses who know the truth about Cassie’s story have kept silent as it unfolds. Because the situation is so delicate, they do not want to hurt or offend the Bernalls, and so wait patiently for the misinformation to come to light without making a formal accusation.
Emily Wyant is saddened by the moral dilemma she faces: she does not want to hurt Cassie’s parents or embarrass herself, but can’t help feeling that the story of Cassie’s martyrdom is a lie. Emily is contacted by the Rocky Mountain News, and tells them the truth. The paper holds onto the story, waiting for the right time to release it.
Emily confesses the truth to the press, who are determined to bring it to light.
Telling Cassie’s story makes the loss of her daughter more “bearable” for Misty Bernall, and someone suggests she writes a book. Misty agrees, and a small Christian press plans to publish the account, titled She Said Yes: The Unlikely Martyrdom of Cassie Bernall. The press plans a printing of 100,000 copies, and expects it to be a hit.
Meanwhile, Misty Bernall has used the story as a shield between herself and the horror of her daughter’s death. An opportunistic religious publisher then plans to spread the story, not knowing it to be false.
On May 25th, the school library is opened to victims of the library massacre and their families. As Craig Scott walks through with family members and retells Cassie’s story, he gets the details wrong, pointing in the direction of the table where Val Schnurr, not Cassie, had been hidden. When detectives point out the inaccuracy, Craig gets sick and exits the library, refusing to go back inside.
Craig realizes that his memory has failed him—as Cullen has written many times in this text, eyewitness memory is not always reliable, particularly during traumatic events.
Investigators get word of Misty Bernall’s book deal, and decide to alert her to the truth. Misty claims they told her not to stop writing the book, but alerted her that varying accounts of what transpired in the library were coming to light. Kate Battan suggested Misty take the story of Cassie’s martyrdom out of the manuscript, but continue with the account of Cassie’s life and transformation. Val Schnurr’s family and Emily Wyant’s family both separately attend dinner with the Bernalls, and both families recognize that the book is Misty’s way of healing. The Schnurrs, however, contact the publisher and tell them to slow down—there is “a lot of conflicting information out there,” they warn, but the publisher declines to delay publication.
Despite investigators’ attempts to intervene and to spare Misty from the ramifications of putting a false story out into the world, she proceeds with her manuscript and with her belief in Cassie’s story. Everyone tiptoes around the Bernalls, afraid to hurt or disappoint them—including their publisher, even after being made aware of the “conflicting” stories.