April 20, 1999, was a day that shocked the United States and brought the nation to its knees in disbelief. Two students entered Columbine High School and went on a shooting spree. They murdered twelve students, one teacher, and injured another twenty-four before taking their own lives. This became the largest high school shooting in United States history. A record held for nineteen years until surpassed by the Stonemann Douglas High School shooting on February 14, 2018 in Parkland, Florida. While Columbine was not the first school shooting in America, it is the one that became the start of more deadly and similar ones in nature. It was also during a time when the cell phone era was on the rise.
One of the twelve students murdered that day was a seventeen year old girl by the name of Rachel Joy Scott. One year after her death, her parents Beth Nimmo and Darrell Scott co-authored the book Rachels Tears. At the time this book was released, I was struggling with the existence of God and had no relationship with Jesus. In fact I had no desire to pursue a faith in God. I read this book because Rachel's writings and drawings displayed her unwavering love for God in a way that seemed implausible. While she struggled with her faith at times, and eerily predicted her life would end soon, she remained faithful to God. How could a girl of her age not be afraid to die for her faith? People do not die for what they know is a lie. That would be illogical. But she was certain God existed, and loved Him in a wholehearted way that was crazy and supernatural. This audacious faith of hers was too real for me to ignore. If God was in fact real in the way Rachel believed so, this would make all the difference.
I have now read this book again nineteen years later. This time I am reading the ten year anniversary edition released in February 2009. Other than the cover art, an added foreword, and an interview with Nimmo and Scott, this book remains unchanged. On the twenty year anniversary of this tragedy, I could not think of a better time to re-explore this title.
They call this the book they didnt want to write. That was until Nimmo and Scott discovered the many writings and drawings of Rachels journal. This journal was in her possession when she was shot. You can actually see the bullet hole that went through some of her journal entries. Her writings provided her parents insight to the closest details of her soul. From her difficulty in hearing God or believing if he exists, to her unwavering love for Him. The reason for the title is because of Rachels last journal entry which is a picture of eyes crying thirteen tears. This was fascinating to Nimmo and Scott as thirteen people were murdered that day. With that, they wanted to share the life of their daughter through her journal writings. There is little information given about Nimmo and Scott. They are parents of five children. Three girls, two boys, with Rachel being the middle child. Page 36 first mentions of their divorce. Page 54 mentions it was a separation that later ended in a divorce when Rachel was seven years old. They do not mention how or why they got divorced, but that Scott claims responsibility. The fact that they came together to write this book shows there has been forgiveness and healing. They are both remarried to new spouses.
Looking back twenty years later there are two interesting observations about this tragedy. First is that despite the major national and international attention Columbine received, this was two years before the deadliest terror attack on September 11, 2001. The other is that the death-toll was suppose to be much higher. The reason is because Columbine was suppose to be a school bombing. The shooters by the names of Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold were trying to plant several explosives including two twenty pound propane tanks. Their original plan was to have these bombs go off. This was to not only murder anyone inside, but to have students flee outside where they would be shot. Had their plan worked, hundreds would have likely died that day. But for some reason their bombs did not detonate. This resulted in them creating their own killing spree with an assault rifle and pump-action shotgun. Before entering Columbine, Harris saw Rachel sitting outside having lunch with her friend Richard Castaldo.
Rachel was the first person murdered by Harris. Her brother Craig was in the library where Harris and Klebold entered. He miraculously survived the shooting by pretending to be dead while sandwiched between the two dead bodies of his friends. The book starts off with both Scott and Nimmos separate accounts of that fateful day. This then transitions to their discovery of Rachels journals. These journal entries provided wisdom that was beyond her own years. Whether it be personal issues, prayers, poetry, or premonitions of her death. Or her love for God and aspirations of either being an actress or a missionary. Throughout the book, Nimmo and Scott provide context to these words of wisdom that are often scattered. They also describe her funeral along with what the people closest to Rachel spoke about her. There is a small section that describes the background of Harris and Klebold.
The most gripping part of Rachels Tears is actually the beginning where Nimmo and Scott both describe what they saw and felt that day. Also, her brother Craig provides some bone chilling accounts of what he saw inside the school. Throughout the book Nimmo and Scott interchange commentary. While some may not like this style as they feel the story gets disjointed, I don't see it that way. I actually like the two perspectives as they compliment each other to fill in missing details one of them may have missed. Although the drawback is the often repetition of details. Details such as how many children they had, their joint custody with their children, Rachel working at Subway, Harris and Klebold playing violent video games, and those related to Rachel. This to a certain degree can be forgivable as they are not accomplished authors. But I am a little surprised the proof reading did not catch this.
A major appreciation of reading this book again was being reminded of details in regards to Rachels life. I am reminded of the two young people murdered at the same Subway shop Rachel worked at. These murders happened ten months after the Columbine shooting. Had Rachel survived, there was a high likelihood she would have worked that night. I am reminded the mistakes Rachel made in her life. Mistakes like smoking to be part of an in-crowd, receiving a speeding ticket, and not helping a homeless woman. These reminders were helpful for context of Rachels personality and her environment. It is crazy to think that had Rachel did not quit smoking, there was a chance she would have been at the smokers pit instead of where she was murdered.
Its hard to find God through these halls, doubt is a part of every mans journey, but dont lose faith. - page 83
I am not going to apologize for speaking the name of Jesus, I am not going to justify my faith to them, and I am not going to hide the light that God has put into me. If I have to sacrifice everything...I will. - page 97
There was controversy over whether Rachel actually died as a martyr. This actually stemmed from another controversy from another victim named Cassie Bernall. Cassie was allegedly killed for refusing to renounce God. Many believed that she was asked if she believed in God. After she said yes, she was shot dead. Viewed as a martyr, this spawned a published book titled, She Said Yes. But this belief was later clarified as being false. The witness who at first reported that account mistaken Cassie with another girl. In reality, Harris shot Cassie right away with no dialogue. The actual girl who said yes was Valeen Schnurr, but the order was in reverse. She was shot first and then later asked if she believed in God and why. After her answers, for some reason, Klebold did not murder her. She survived despite receiving many gunshot wounds.
So where does this leave Rachel? Is she a martyr? Her final moments have also been contested and are unclear. The closest witness to her that survived was her friend Richard Castaldo who was shot alongside with her outside. He suffered gunshot wounds that has left him paralyzed below the chest. The original recollection was Harris returning to both of them after they were shot. Harris asked Rachel if she believed in God. Rachel responded, You know I do. To which Harris said, Then go be with him. before she was shot in the head. Castaldo survived by pretending to be dead. But that recollection has changed years later. In another interview, Castaldo shares how when Harris returned, he was also asked if he believed in God. He said no and was not murdered. As for Rachel, Castaldo is now not sure what she said to Harris. He does assume that because of her devout faith, it was likely that she did say yes. What he does know is that Harris returned to Rachel and said something to her before shooting her dead.
Since there is no accurate account of Harris asking Rachel if she believed in God let alone her own answer, It is not certain that specific discussion took place. But, that does not take away the strong likelihood that Rachel still died a martyr for her faith. The 'basement videos' Harris and Klebold recorded provides evidence for this. In those personal home videos, Harris and Klebold talk about their hatred towards the Christian faith. Klebold mentions the names Jen and Rachel as Godly little whores. While it is possible that it may have been a different Rachel, this seems unlikely due to Rachels strong love for God and that Klebold knew Rachel since kindergarten. In the tapes, Harris and Klebold continue to mock Christianity by criticising the WWJD? (What Would Jesus Do?) slogan. They cheer on the Romans for killing Jesus. There was also an apparent hit list created by Harris, but it was never released to the public. But even if there was no hit list, the majority of the victims both murdered and injured happened to be Christian. And even if Castaldos first account is not accurate, his second account of being asked if he believes in God shows the likelihood of Rachel receiving that same question. While it is not proven that Rachel died as a martyr by a direct question, there is an overwhelming amount of evidence to suggest that she died a martyr because of Harris and Klebolds hatred towards Christianity.
Twenty years since the Columbine shooting has given us answers on how, but not answers as to why this tragedy happened. Despite hundreds of conflicting reports, theories, testimonies, and investigations, we may never know what exactly drove Harris and Klebold to their actions. Twenty years later, we are still left to our own imagination and confusion on how we can prevent mass shootings like this. The Columbine shooting will always leave us with more questions than answers. But one question Rachel would challenge us all to answer is will we go out of our way to show compassion? She had this theory that if one person showed compassion, it would start a chain-reaction of the same. Well her theory has come true. Because what twenty years has given us are the millions of lives touched or saved by Rachels story. All through a non-profit organization called Rachels Challenge. She challenged others to create a chain-reaction of kindness and compassion. Her story has resulted in a legacy that has brought hope to schools all across America. Hundreds of suicides have been prevented along with decreased bullying each year. Rachels Tears has sold more than 360,000 copies in six different languages. Even in her death, Rachel is still touching lives. I can say this with certainty because I was one of them.
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