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Rachel Scott, 17, was the first victim of 1999’s Columbine High School massacre. Her parents, Beth Nimmo and Darrell Scott, wrote the book “Rachel’s Tears” in memory of their daughter, who they believe was targeted by shooters Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold because of her religious values. An excerpt.
We are thankful that you are reading this book, but we hope you understand that it is a book we never wanted to write.
The horrible tragedy at Columbine has turned things absolutely upside down for us and for the other families and loved ones of the thirteen people who were killed and the many more who were injured that day in April 1999.
Since then, this unimaginable event has struck a nerve with people around the world as many have struggled to come to grips with America’s worst school shooting. A writer for the magazine Christianity Today said, “This event is becoming a defining moment for this generation of teens.”
In the past year, we have been repeatedly interviewed by the national media, we have met world leaders and renowned entertainers, and we have spoken to thousands upon thousands of people at schools, churches, and town hall meetings.
We do all this because we believe that our daughter Rachel Scott has a powerful message that survives her tragic death and needs to be heard by everyone.
Sorrow and serenity
In everything we do, our deep sense of calling is mingled with a profound sense of sadness. The speeches we have given and the words that appear on these pages have been mixed with innumerable tears.
We wish we didn’t have to do any of this. This whole episode has been a cause of great pain and great loss in our lives. We would drop everything in an instant if we could have Rachel with us once again, or if we could have kept our son Craig from experiencing the horrors he endured that day in the Columbine library.
At the same time, even though we never would have chosen to live through the last year, we have lived through it, and we now have a powerful conviction that God had a purpose in the way that Rachel’s life unfolded.
As you will see, Rachel had a growing sense that she did not have long to live. We picked up only inklings of this while she was alive, but it all became crystal clear to us in the weeks and months after her death as we read the many journals she had written.
Letters to God
Some people cry out to God in prayer. Others reach out to God through singing, playing music, or creating works of art. Rachel did all of these things, but more than anything, she poured out her heart to God through writing in her journals.
In 1997, Beth gave Rachel a small journal for Christmas. That very day, Rachel wrote a prayer to God on page one. Reading that prayer today, you can see the simple and joyous intimacy she had with God, telling Him about her plans for the journal, and thanking Him for the birth of His Son nearly two thousand years ago. Over the next sixteen months, Rachel would write hundreds of letters to God, leaving us with a record of her love for her Lord.
After her death, we found her many journals, which overflow with her prayers, her doubts, her ever-evolving sense of purpose and calling, and her growing sense that her days on this earth were numbered.
You will be reading portions of her private journals and seeing some of the drawings she made on their pages. Our purpose isn’t to hold Rachel up as some kind of perfect, sinless saint because she was as frail and fallen as all of us, as her brothers and sisters are well aware.
Rather, we share these things because we believe her brief life holds powerful lessons for all of us, including young people, for whom she cared so much, and parents, many of whom struggle with how to instill deep and lasting godly values in their children.
During the last year, we have learned a few other lessons from Rachel’s brief life and sudden death, lessons we will be sharing with you.
Living the life
Rachel loved God, and she had an overpowering urge to communicate that love to everyone she knew. She didn’t beat people over the head with her Bible, and she never coerced anyone into faith. Instead, she shared her faith by living her life to the full, praying that others would see the divine light that burned so brightly within her heart.
We hope that by telling Rachel’s story, we can help those who knew her to have a greater understanding of her inner spiritual motivations. We also hope those who didn’t know her can be inspired by her example.
****Forgiving the unforgivable People respond differently to tragedy when it strikes their lives. Some never get over it. Others become bitter and angry, and that is easily understandable. However, we are given the opportunity to experience a realm of grace that is incomprehensible to some when we choose to forgive. Were we angry when our daughter was killed? Yes! Were we sad? Beyond description! But are we forgiving? That is probably one of the most difficult issues to face when you have been so deeply wronged.
Our understanding of God’s heart left us only one choice, the decision to forgive. It was the choice of Jesus as He hung on a cross dying. He said in Matthew 5:43–44: “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”
Forgiveness is not just for the offender. It is also for the one who is offended. If we do not forgive, we end up in perpetual anger and bitterness and eventually offend others with our words or actions. If we forgive, we experience a “letting go” or cleansing process that frees us from the offender.
There is a great misunderstanding about forgiveness. Forgiveness is not pardon. Forgiveness is an attitude, while pardon is an action. Had they lived, we would not have pardoned these boys for what they did. In fact, I (Darrell) would have killed them to prevent the slaughter that occurred if I had been given the chance. I believe most people would have done the same. If they had lived, we would have testified against them and demanded that justice be done. However, our hearts toward them could not have harbored unforgiveness. Unforgiveness blocks God’s ability to flow through us to help others.
It was this attitude of forgiveness that caught the attention of people such as Maria Shriver, Tom Brokaw, and Larry King. It produced positive remarks from people such as Rosie O’Donnell, who stated that she was brought to her knees in the face of such grace. We say this, not to gloat, but to illustrate that forgiveness brings positive response from others. We also recognize that many of the other victims’ families from the Columbine tragedy expressed a heart of forgiveness as well.
God wants us to overcome evil with good. Such a thing is beyond human ability, but it is possible when we acknowledge our weakness and submit to God’s grace. It is our prayer that this book will help sow the seeds of grace and forgiveness in your heart as you read the incredible story of our precious daughter Rachel.
No experience required In too many instances we complicate simple acts of love and kindness by trying to cloak them in a religious form. One young lady named Jessica, who sent an e-mail to us, relayed this incident: “I met Rachel at a gas station. I was short five cents so she pulled a nickel out of her pocket and set it on the counter. When I asked her who she was, she told me this: ‘Rachel Scott, good to meet you, friend.’ I didn’t know her, but her kindness and her smile has stuck with me even though it is three years later.”
Simple love and kindness will make a lasting impression on a person’s heart as they did with a young man I will call Jim (not his real name). Jim was a student at Columbine High School who suffered with a number of physical disabilities. The young man was basically left to fend for himself and was not surrounded by friends. His life had been lonely and one struggle after another with few happy days. Rachel took notice of this young man and, with a compassionate heart, crossed the invisible line that keeps so many of us from reaching out. She befriended Jim and made an effort to give him acceptance and the desperately needed love of a friend.
Rachel asked Jim if he had ever had a date. He was embarrassed and said, “No.” “Well,” said Rachel, “then I am asking you for a date.” Jim was thrilled! Not only did he have a date, but she was pretty too. He was looking forward to going to a movie and supper. The events of April 20 cut short Jim’s dreams of going out with Rachel. She would never be able to keep that date. In the days that followed, Jim’s mother told us how he cried and said, “Now I have no friends at school anymore.” The one cherished moment in the life of a very lonely young man is that one person dared to reach out, expecting nothing in return, and gave simple love and kindness.
Significance comes with knowing who you are, not with what you do. Rachel was learning that and making every effort to put it into practice. I remember a reporter asking me once, “Do you think Rachel was a part of cliques or groups like that?” “No,” I told her. “I doubt she was, but if she had wanted to be a part of a clique, she probably would form her own. She would have brought all the misfits and kids that fall through the cracks at school together and made them feel accepted and special.”
Rachel did reach out, even to the killers. She shared a photo-video class with them. When the boys turned in their violent video that depicted their fantasies of death and destruction, Rachel turned in a photo assignment of the hand picture that is illustrated in this book.
Months before April 20, there was a spiritual battle waging between good and evil in the halls of Columbine. The teachers did not challenge the boys’ project, the administration did not check it out, and their parents were not aware of what they had produced. But Rachel knew. Rachel stepped out on a limb and challenged Eric and Dylan about why they were so obsessed with killing and death. She tried to find out why they would produce something of that nature. She wanted to help them and possibly paid with her life for daring to do what no one else was willing to do.
Excerpted from “Rachel’s Tears,” by Beth Nimmo and Darrell Scott. Copyright (c) 2008, reprinted with permission from Thomas Nelson.