Beliefnet

LITTLETON, Colo. (AP) - For 13-year-old Sara Evans, the story of Cassie Bernall professing her belief in God shortly before she was killed at Columbine High School was the defining moment that led to her faith.

``After we attended a memorial service (for Columbine victims), I turned my life around,'' said Evans, a volunteer at Trinity Christian Center, where funerals were held for four of the 13 victims.

Heather Johnson, another 13-year-old volunteer, said the affirmation is ``an inspiration.''

``It makes me want to strive to live better,'' she said. ``I'd want to have enough strength to say `yes' for God.''

Witnesses had said 17-year-old Bernall closed her eyes and clasped her hands in prayer when one of the gunmen pointed a shotgun at her and asked if she believed in God.

Yes, she said - and he killed her.

The story turned Bernall into a martyr who had found God after falling in with the wrong crowd, dabbling in the occult and experimenting with drugs.

But eight months after the April 20 shooting attack, the picture has become muddied. Authorities now say it was survivor Valeen Schnurr who professed her belief to gunmen Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold. A similar story has also emerged about Rachel Scott, another of those who died.

Among Christians, however, some say the question is irrelevant.

``It doesn't matter who said it or if no one said it,'' Evans said. ``But if people believe in God, that's what's important.''

Doug Clark, director of field ministries of San Diego-based National Network of Youth Ministries, said he encourages other students to follow the teens' example of boldness.

``Mincing words over what was said in the library is a minor part,'' Clark said. ``The greater part is how they lived their lives, and it's not going to change anything.''

Religious experts said attempts to clarify the confusion surrounding the stories of Christian faith actually could help embed the story in religious circles.

``This rethinking can be chalked up to media scrutiny, which I think the faithful would dismiss as a cynical attempt to debunk the story,''' said Randall Balmer, professor of American religious studies at Barnard College. ``In some ways, it may make the faithful dig in a little bit deeper and resist those attempts.''

Jefferson County sheriff's spokesman Steve Davis said the story shifted because witnesses were confused in the terror of running, hiding or playing dead to avoid Harris and Klebold.

Scott was shot outside the school, while Bernall and Schnurr were in the second-floor library when the gunmen stormed in and opened fire. In all, 12 students and a teacher were killed, and the teen-age gunmen killed themselves.

Schnurr said she was blown out from underneath a table by a shotgun blast.

``Oh my God, oh my God, don't let me die,'' she said.

One of the gunmen asked her if she believed in God and she answered ``yes,'' crawling away as he reloaded.

Schnurr suffered 34 wounds, but has recovered to go on to college.

Darrell Scott, father of Rachel, told a story of his daughter professing her faith shortly before dying as part of his ministry, Columbine Redemption. But he stopped when one witness later said he could not remember what happened.

Plough Publishing Co. also discussed conflicting accounts from witnesses in its book ``She Said Yes: The Unlikely Martyrdom of Cassie Bernall,'' written by her mother, Misty Bernall.

``Had we known how big the controversy would become, I'm sure we would have given it more space,'' said editor Chris Zimmerman.

A more detailed picture of Harris and Klebold emerged earlier this month when Time magazine published a story on videotapes the two made before the shooting spree.

Among other things, the tapes captured their disdain for Christians.

``What would Jesus do?,'' Klebold said, mocking a phrase popular among religious youths. He made a face at the camera and then yelled, ``What would I do? Boooosh!'' as he mimicked a shotgun blast at the camera.

Regardless of who affirmed their faith to the Columbine gunmen, clergymen say stories of Christians professing their faith shortly before being killed have helped explain the massacre for many.

``Did it happen for a reason?'' asked Clark. ``For those who have had contact with God in their lives, it has happened for a reason.''




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