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September 24, 1999
Column #943

POWERS OF EVIL AND GOODNESS IN KIDS

     A mother concerned about her daughter, went to her room to look for a ''teen'' Bible, for tips. What she found was a sickening stack of letters from the girl's best friend. One concluded:  ''Kill your parents! Murder is the answer to all of your problems. Make those scumbags pay for your suffering.''

     Another was illustrated with ''grisly drawings of a couple (''Ma'' and ''Pa'') strung up by their intestines, daggers hanging from their hearts.'' Later the mom learned that her daughter had written similar murderous fantasies, sadly concluding, ''Despite the best efforts of parents and relatives, teachers and friends a good kid will go bad ways.''

     Who was the girl? Cassie Bernall, the most famous martyr of Littleton!

     Cassie was asked by a killer, who put a gun to her head, ''Do you believe in God?'' As a student recalls, ''She paused, like she didn't know what she was going to say, and then she said, 'Yes.' She must have been scared but her voice didn't sound shaky. It was strong. Then they asked her, `Why?' though they didn't give her a chance to respond. They just blew her away.''

     A powerful new book, ''she said YES: the unlikely martyrdom of cassie bernall'' by her mother, Misty Bernall, is must reading by teens and their parents particularly those kids caught in the power of evil and their parents who must develop the courage to stand up to it.

     ''When a person is gripped by an evil idea, it doesn't matter whether she's merely a troubled teenager or a dangerous adult, that evil has a power of its own,'' Misty wrote. Partly out of a personal fear of her and partly from a fear for her, ''heading toward a cliff edge,'' they contacted the sheriff's office with the letters, and copies for the parents of Cassie's friend, ''Mona.''

     Cassie was furious, claiming she would never kill her parents, who were blowing ''the whole thing way out of proportion.'' Day after day, week after week, Cassie would erupt in fits of anger and despair, yelling, ''I'm going to kill myself! Do you want to watch me? I'll do it, just watch. I'll kill myself. I'll put a knife right here, through my chest.''

     Her parents felt like slapping her, but put their arms around her, saying ''I love you.''  Cassie later wrote, ''Thoughts of suicide obsessed me for days but I was too frightened to actually do it, so I ''compromised'' by scratching my hands and wrist with a sharp metal file until I bled.''

     Her parents took her out of her high school and put her in a private Christian school.  They began regular searches of her room and backpack, forbade any contact with Mona, monitored her phone use with even a voice-activated tape recorder. Cassie had been good at ''playing straight,'' telling her parents that she was saying after school to pull up her art grade, not telling them there was no supervision, pot smoking and drinking. They could not trust her anymore. So she had only one freedom going to a church youth group.

     Their youth pastor told the Bernalls, ''In almost every case I've seen where parents take a strong stand, it's worked. It opens up a brand-new relationship. At first, it's a war, because the kid's going to fight back, but deep inside his heart he's saying, `I like this. I like it that my mother's begun talking with me. I like it that my father's coming home early to see me.''

     At the private school, she met Jamie, a bleached blond with big chains and metal beads who befriended her. Jamie recalls Cassie said nobody liked her. ''She was just really bitter and wallowed in hopelessness. A few times we talked about God but she told me that she had give her soul to Satan through one of her friends. She said, `There's no way I can love God.'''

     Jamie invited her to a youth retreat. The Bernalls thought it was an enormous risk. What if she ran away? But they let her go. The theme of the weekend was overcoming the temptations of evil and breaking out of the selfish life. The singing moved some kids to bring drug paraphernalia to the altar. Cassie poured out all the things she felt bad about and wanted to give up. Later with Jamie and three boys, Cassie stood outside in the mountains looking at the stars ''totally in awe of God.''

     She came home, hugged her mother saying, ''Mom, I've changed. I've totally changed.''

     Her father recalls, ''When she left she had still been this gloomy, head-down, say-nothing girl. But the day she came back, she was bouncy and excited about what happened to her.''

     She was transformed. A friend recalled, ''When I think of Cassie I always think of what Saint Francis said about how you shouldn't seek to be loved as much as you should just love. That was like embedded in her.''

     A week before dying Cassie said, "Mom, I'm not afraid to die because I will be in heaven."  After her death, Misty found a scrap of paper marked ''1998'' on which Cassie had written: ''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 dying for me.''

     Nor was Cassie unique. The killers also asked Rachel Scott and Val Schnurr if they believed in God. Both said YES and were shot. Rachel died and Val was shot twice but survived.

     Already, their example has inspired tens of thousands of teens to commit lives to Christ.

Copyright 1999 Michael J. McManus.

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