How Do We Find The Truth?
Was Cassie Bernall shot for her faith in God? This possibility originated from the revised testimony of Craig Scott and has been questioned and examined by thousands of people over the years. While we weren’t there to witness the events in the library, we’ve analyzed the testimony of those who were.
The reality is there is no credible evidence that Cassie was asked if she believed in God and was shot for saying, “yes.” The testimony of Craig Scott actually proves she never said, “yes.” Later in this section we examine why Craig Scott thought he heard Cassie Bernall say, “yes.”
Dave Cullen and Wendy Zoba
Perhaps the most controversial topic regarding the Columbine High School shooting is the supposed martyrdom of Cassie Bernall. Bernall was allegedly killed for giving a positive answer to the question, “do you believe in God?” Many have attempted to provide what they claim to be an objective analysis of this issue, including well-known and respected journalists Dave Cullen from Salon.com and Wendy Murray Zoba from Christianity Today.
Unfortunately, both Dave Cullen and Wendy Zoba have fallen short when it comes to presenting the facts.
When Cullen’s September 30, 1999 article, “Who said, ‘Yes’?” concluded through compelling evidence that Bernall was never asked about her belief in God, Zoba came to an entirely different conclusion. In her article, “Cassie Said Yes, They Said No,” published November 1, 1999, Zoba provided equally compelling evidence that Cullen’s conclusion was wrong and Cassie had indeed been asked if she believed in God, answered yes, and was subsequently killed for her answer.
Cullen and Zoba are popular, well-respected journalists who have been ingrained in the subject of Columbine since day one. With access to the same plethora of evidence including original eyewitness testimony and official documents, both claim to have analyzed Cassie’s supposed martyrdom with pure objectivity, devoid of any personal agenda. How, then, is it possible for them to have reached completely opposite conclusions? Is there any way to determine the truth amid the contradiction?
According to Cullen’s article, there are several reasons he believes the God-conversation never took place between Cassie Bernall and her killer, Eric Harris.
Cullen’s first assertion is that “[Emily] Wyant is the only living person who actually witnessed Bernall’s death.” Emily Wyant – who was under table #18 just a few feet from Cassie Bernall when she was shot – stated in her interview with police that while she did in fact hear Cassie praying to God, she did not hear any conversation about God take place between Harris and Bernall. And Wyant would know if such a conversation took place- she was, after all, next to Bernall the whole time. Cullen also reminds us of a Rocky Mountain News article which affirmed that Wyant heard Bernall’s killer say, “peek-a-boo” before killing her. Cullen says, “Wyant’s mother confirmed that the Rocky Mountain News correctly reported the details of her daughter’s account.”
Cullen’s second assertion is that the only conversation about God that took place in the library was between Dylan Klebold and Valeen Schnurr, after Valeen had already been shot multiple times. According to Schnurr’s testimony, Klebold asked her if she believed in God. She hesitated and at first said no, then yes. When Klebold asked her why, Schnurr stated, “because I believe and my parents brought me up that way.” Klebold then reloaded and walked away. Shnurr survived.
The final assertion made by Cullen that contradicts the claim of Cassie’s martyrdom involves the conflicting testimony of Craig Scott. According to Cullen’s article, “[Scott] told investigators he heard the “Yes” comment and recognized the voice as Cassie Bernall’s,” the News reported. “He did not actually see the individuals involved … Investigators said Scott was asked to point out where the gunmen were at the time, and he indicated a table where Valeen Schnurr — not Bernall was hiding.”
Summary of Cullen’s Article
Cullen shows that Cassie was never asked about her belief in God by presenting two major pieces of information: Testimony from Emily Wyant, who was next to Cassie when she died but did not hear the God-conversation take place – and testimony from Craig Scott, who, while on the West side of the library at the table directly next to Bernall, heard the God-conversation take place at Valeen Schnurr’s table on the East side of the library. Cullen shows that Craig Scott correctly identified the location of the God-conversation but mistakenly thought the voice he heard belonged to Cassie.
Since Craig Scott accurately identified the location of the God-conversation between Schnurr and Klebold from the complete opposite side of the library, it stands to reason that he was simply mistaken regarding whose voice it was. With the information presented by Cullen, it seems like an open and shut case – but to journalist Wendy Zoba the case is far from closed.
Zoba Rebukes Cullen’s Claims
According to Zoba, Cullen’s article was nothing more than “flimsy debunking,” and accuses him of “incomplete reporting.”
Zoba agrees with Cullen on one point by acknowledging the veracity of the conversation that took place between Klebold and Schnurr. “There has never been any dispute about Schnurr being asked the question and answering yes. She survived.” But Zoba introduces evidence that Cullen has seemingly left out. She writes, “several independent witnesses remain convinced that they heard the exchange between Cassie and her killer, including Craig Scott, despite his subsequent disorientation in the library.”
If several independent witnesses remain convinced that Cassie had the God-conversation with her killer, who are they, and why were they not mentioned by Cullen? According to Zoba, these additional witnesses are Joshua Lapp and Evan Todd.
The testimony presented by Zoba indicates that both Evan Todd and Joshua Lapp heard not one, but two conversations about God in the library that day.
Zoba recalls a past cover story for Christianity Today (Oct. 4, 1999, p. 32), in which Joshua Lapp told her he “stands by his account that he heard the killer ask Cassie if she believed in God, that she paused and then said a decisive yes, and that the gunman asked her why and then shot her. He also maintains he heard the same question posed a second time, to Val Schnurr.”
Zoba additionally cites Evan Todd saying, “I heard a voice from a part of the room where I later heard Cassie was. She was talking to the gunmen. She was praying out loud and they asked her if she believed in God and she said yes. Then they shot her. I did hear another young lady that I later found out was Val Schnurr.”
It seems as though Zoba has presented compelling evidence left out by those who wish to debunk the martyrdom of Cassie Bernall – evidence that two eyewitnesses heard two conversations about God. But what about the conflicting testimony of Craig Scott, who pointed to Valeen Schnurr’s table when asked where the God-conversation took place?
Citing Dee Dee McDermott, director of Eagle View Counseling Centers in Wheat Ridge and Littleton, Zoba tells us, in her opinion, why Craig Scott pointed to Schnurr’s table. According to McDermott, Scott was so traumatized that he did “not have the capacity to process all the information.” McDermott also implied that the mere presence of the investigator would be enough to further traumatize Scott, and “if he is firm on what he heard, I don’t think it’s [significant] what direction it was coming from.”
Zoba’s article concludes by underlining an important point, “the account that circulated immediately after the event attests to Cassie’s confession, and early testimony is generally accepted as being more reliable than later, revised versions.”
Zoba is correct about one thing. It’s a proven fact that early testimony is more reliable than later, revised testimony. Experts on the subject of eyewitness testimony acknowledge the importance of early testimony, as people are often influenced by other people and the media as time goes on. Sometimes people develop what is called a “false memory” – a situation where someone is unaware that some of the details they later recall never actually happened, but were created and influenced by outside influences.
From her rebuttal, Zoba brings to the table compelling evidence that Cullen’s investigation was, indeed, incomplete. One has to wonder why Cullen makes no mention of the testimony of Evan Todd and Joshua Lapp. At first glance It is a bit disconcerting that Cullen would choose to omit information, even if that information is easily refuted. But a closer look at Zoba’s reporting uncovers a startling revelation that illuminates the manipulative nature of journalism.
Houston, we have a problem The evidence Zoba presents in favor of Cassie’s martyrdom consists of statements made by three library witnesses: Evan Todd, Joshua Lapp and Craig Scott.
Zoba acknowledges the unarguable truth that “early testimony is generally accepted as being more reliable than later, revised versions.” Given that she quotes statements made by these three witnesses, one is led to believe that she is, in fact, quoting their early testimony. This is, however, not true. Additionally, she manipulates the reader into believing that the original and early testimony of Scott, Lapp and Todd all identify Cassie Bernall as the girl who said yes. Unfortunately for Zoba, none of them actually identify Bernall in their early testimony.
Zoba’s assertion that “the account that circulated immediately after the event attests to Cassie’s confession” is misleading. The account that circulated immediately after the event does attest to Cassie’s confession, however, what circulated wasn’t testimony – it was hearsay based on revised testimony.
Contrary to popular belief, not a single library witness identified Cassie as the girl who said “yes” in their early testimony. It is only in later, revised versions of their testimony that Cassie is named.
According to early testimony, Craig Scott did not name the girl he heard involved in a conversation about God. According to early testimony, Joshua Lapp could not provide a name for investigators when recounting the single conversation about God he heard between an unknown girl and one of the shooters. And finally, according to early testimony, Evan Todd heard only one conversation about God and admitted to investigators that the only reason he offered Cassie’s name was because he heard it on the news. In reality, Todd did not know whose voice he heard.
If this early testimony is more reliable, as Zoba admittedly states, why does she ignore it while misleading people to believe she is quoting it?
Clearly Zoba has chosen to omit evidence that does not support her beliefs. However, there are equally disturbing omissions in Cullen’s article.
Cullen leads his readers to believe that Emily Wyant heard Eric Harris slap the table and say, “peek-a-boo” before Cassie was killed. This forces the reader to agree with Cullen that an exchange about God was not possible since Wyant would have heard it. But in her testimony, Wyant stated that she did not hear any verbal exchange between Cassie and her killer. That Wyant did not hear an exchange take place between Cassie and her killer does not mean an exchange of sorts did not take place. We know from multiple credible witnesses that Eric did slap the table and say, “peek-a-boo” before killing Cassie.
Wyant’s testimony simply cannot be used to prove nor disprove Cassie’s martyrdom. She did not hear anything.
Additional Information and Further Analysis
Why did Craig think the voice he heard was Cassie’s?
In order to answer this question, it is essential that we determine what exactly Craig Scott was firm on having heard. Was Scott firm on having heard Cassie’s voice, or a conversation about God? At first glance, it appears to be both, but analyzing his testimony reveals the answer.
While Cullen tells us Craig Scott was simply mistaken regarding the voice he heard, Zoba believes Craig was disoriented and was mistaken regarding the location of the voice. What neither Cullen nor Zoba mention is that in his first interview, Craig Scott told investigators that he saw Cassie Bernall on the East side of the library. At the time of his interview, he made no connection between the girl who said, “yes” and Cassie Bernall. Because Scott was firm on the conversation taking place on the East side of the library and not the identity of the person, it is extremely likely that Scott later believed the voice he heard was Cassie’s based on his previous perception of Cassie being on that side of the library. Scott did not know Bernall had moved to the table right next to him.
In addition to that, one more problem arises from Lapp’s testimony. He heard multiple shots fired immediately following the unidentified girl saying, “yes.” Cassie was shot once with a shotgun.
It is fairly obvious that Scott, Lapp and Todd have all revised their testimony to account for two conversations about God since they really only witnessed one and refuse to admit they made a mistake.
The truth is, the available evidence falls short of proving that any conversation about God took place between Cassie Bernall and Eric Harris.
Take a look at this map of the library that shows where key witnesses were positioned:
(click image to enlarge)
If you believe that Cassie Bernall was shot for admitting her belief in God, you have chosen to believe Scott’s later, revised testimony that contradicts that of twenty-one others – including his own original testimony. Remember, Craig Scott could not identify the girl who said “yes” but he accurately pointed to Valeen’s table ALL THE WAY ACROSS THE LIBRARY!
Take a look at the map and you will see how cut and dry this really is. Craig was sitting a few feet away from Cassie while she was killed, yet he somehow managed to accurately identify Val’s table as where he heard the God conversation take place, unable to identify the girl in his original testimony. Suddenly, later he claims it was Cassie’s voice and then suddenly Lapp’s testimony changed and he claimed he heard two conversations take place about God.
Craig is right when he so adamantly said, “They can throw this all around, but I was there. Reporters or investigators can’t tell me how it went. I was there. I heard what I heard.” Scott did, in fact hear a conversation about God take place on the East side of the library. It just didn’t involve Bernall.
In the end, people will believe what they want to believe. Cassie’s supposed martyrdom is a fantastic story of bravery that has inspired millions of people, and it is often seen as monstrous to even suggest that the account may not have taken place. Supposedly those who do are just mean, bitter atheists who hate God and deny the evidence. But I don’t de-construct it because I hate God – I de-construct it because it’s a lie.
I can’t offer an explanation for Zoba’s manipulative reporting nor Cullen’s incomplete analysis save for the possibility that he chose to use later, revised testimony – just like Zoba – in place of early, reliable testimony to support his beliefs. But I can offer a simple explanation for the lack of objective journalism regarding Columbine:
Everyone has an agenda.
Reasons to believe it:
There is no reliable evidence to support this theory.
Reasons to question it:
Craig Scott couldn’t identify the girl he heard say “yes” in his original testimony.
Craig Scott was at the table next to Cassie, yet when asked to point to the table he heard the “yes” come from he pointed to Valeen’s table. It is undebatable that Valeen said “yes” but was not shot for her faith. Craig wasn’t mistaken about WHAT he heard, or WHERE he heard it… he was only mistaken about WHOSE VOICE he heard.