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Correcting Columbine (with Half the Truth)

John on April 20, 2009 at 12:19 am

Today is the 10th anniversary of the Columbine shootings. Dozens of major papers and news magazines are publishing retrospective stories and/or book reviews, all of which aim to set the record straight about what happened on this day one decade ago.

For instance, Harris and Klebold were not part of a “trenchcoat mafia”, they did not target jocks, they had not been bullied at school. And one of the myths that most outlets seek to correct is the so-called myth of martydom. Here’s how the NY Times explains it:

A boy who witnessed the murders in the school library told people afterward that a slain student, a fellow evangelical named Cas­sie Bernall, was asked by one of the killers if she believed in God. “Yes, I believe in God,” he said she replied. Two other witnesses, both sitting near Cassie, heard no such thing, and Cullen goes on to say that a 911 tape from that day “proved conclusively” that she hadn’t uttered these words. It didn’t matter. The story caught the imagination of the evangelical world, and Cassie’s mother, Misty Bernall, wrote a book, “She Said Yes,” that has since sold more than one million ­copies.

The NY Review of books takes the same route:

The famed story of Cassie Bernall, the “She said yes” martyr supposedly killed because she professed her faith in God, was quickly debunked, but that didn’t stop publishers—who knew about problems with the story long before publication—from rushing a book by Bernall’s mom into production. (It sold over a million copies.)

And that’s where the Times leaves it. Fox News is no better:

[T]he gunmen did not target anyone and never fatally shot a student in the head who professed her faith in God, as was widely reported.

The Wall Street Journal gets a bit closer to the truth:

The Columbine student Cassie Bernall was not shot for answering “yes” when asked if she believed in God; she was never asked, and the girl who was asked and who did say “yes,” Valeen Schnurr, survived.

But still, this makes it sound as if the killers gave her a pass. You have to travel across the Atlantic and read the Guardian to get the real story:

Across the room, Valeen Schnurr, who had turned 18 six days before, was cowering beneath another table with her best friend Lauren. They had just been preparing an English presentation on the American Civil War novel Cold Mountain and their pencil cases were still on the desk above their heads. Valeen remembers Lauren holding her hand tightly. Then, without understanding why, Valeen felt her body jerk forcefully. She noticed she was bleeding and would find out subsequently that she had been shot nine times at close range. “The force of the bullets pushed me out from under the table,” says Valeen, now 27. “I was in excruciating pain. It feels like fire running through your body. I was saying ‘Oh my God, oh my God’ and one of them [Klebold] asked me if I believed in God. I said yes. He asked why. I said ‘My parents brought me up that way’.”

Then she held her breath and closed her eyes, hoping he would leave her to die. The gunman walked away. “I didn’t see his face,” Valeen says. “But their voices… it was like they were happy. To them it was like playing a game.” It was only afterwards, when she nudged her friend so they could make their escape, that she realised Lauren was dead. The ninth bullet had sliced through Valeen’s shoulder and killed her.

Valeen stumbled outside and collapsed. Her doctors later told her it was a “miracle” she hadn’t died. She has undergone years of physical therapy and a dozen surgeries to correct damage done that day.

When they’re supposedly correcting the record, it would be nice if some of these domestic news outlets could finally get it right.

Update: ABC almost gets it. CNN nails it.

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Category: Crime & the Law |

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