“He said, ‘Good, because you’re a Christian, you’re going to see God in just about one second,’” Boylan’s father, Stacy, told CNN, relaying his daughter’s account while she underwent surgery to treat a gunshot to her spine. “And then he shot and killed them.”
Autumn Vicari’s brother J.J. told NBC News a similar account, saying that Mercer told people to stand up before asking whether they were Christian or not. Anyone who responded “yes” was shot in the head, according to the report. If they said “other” or didn’t answer, they were shot elsewhere in the body, usually the leg.
Mercer apparently disliked organized religion. “Not Religious, Not Religious, but Spiritual” he wrote on one dating Web site, also listing membership in a group called “Doesn’t Like Organized Religion.”
This is not the first time Christians have been under the spotlight after a school shooting. Two girls, who were killed in the shooting at Columbine High School, Colo. in 1999, became known as women who stood up for their faith. However, their stories were not as clear-cut as originally relayed. Victims Cassie Bernall and Rachel Scott were both heralded for their faith after the shooting.
The book “She Said Yes,” by Bernall’s mother, became a bestseller after her death, and her death inspired sermons and songs like Michael W. Smith’s popular “This Is Your Time” Contemporary Christian Music title.
But early reports of what took place during the actual shooting were later questioned. Initially, some suggested that Eric Harris, one of the two shooters, asked if Bernall believed in God before she was shot, and she replied “yes.” But according to an eyewitness and a 911 tape, she was shot when he put his shotgun under the table and said “peekaboo.”
Bernall’s initial story likely came from an exchange that took place between Dylan Klebold, the other shooter, and Valeen Schnurr, another student who was wounded in the library that day. Here’s what The Washington Post wrote about Schnurr’s story:
At some point, Schnurr looked up and saw boots first and then a shotgun. She was whispering prayers when the first blast hit her and knocked her to the floor, bleeding. She whispered more loudly, “Oh my God, oh my God, don’t let me die.” Do you believe in God, one of the shooters asked. “Yes.” “Why?” “Because I believe, and my parents brought me up that way,” she answered, and crawled away while he reloaded. He didn’t shoot at her again. “It didn’t really cross my mind that something bad would come from my answer,” she says now. “He asked and I couldn’t say no. I don’t think of it as bravery. I think of it as what I said because it’s true, because it’s just me. What else was I going to say?”
The other woman, Rachel Scott, was the first one killed, according to the book “Columbine.” She had been eating her lunch on the grass with another student, who played dead and survived. A movie titled “I’m not Ashamed,” focusing on Scott’s story, is scheduled to be released in April 2016, the 17th anniversary of the shooting. “Duck Dynasty” star Sadie Robertson, who was reportedly offered the lead role of Rachel, will play a smaller part as one of Rachel’s cousins from Louisiana in the film.
Scott’s father, Darrell Scott, made and released audio tapes from the Columbine shooters that included anti-Christian ravings. At the time, lead investigator Kate Battan insisted that Rachel Scott is not the person discussed on the video and said what happened at Columbine was not “a God thing,” according to a 2000 article in Christianity Today. Battan stated publicly that what happened at Columbine was not “a God thing.”
Darrell Scott protested her account, saying, “I won’t take that at face value. [Battan] told me that this was not a Christian thing, but all I heard on that tape was Christianity f—ing this and f—ing that.” The killers mocked Rachel Scott for her love for Jesus and made derisive references to the WWJD (What Would Jesus Do?) trend (Rachel Scott wore a WWJD wristband), according to CT. “My personal opinion from the beginning,” Scott said, according to CT, “has been that these kids were targeted because they were Christians.”
Many people believe the Columbine shooters targeted jocks and Christians, but Dave Cullen, the author of “Columbine,” wrote witnesses said the shooters killed students at random. Myths are quickly repeated when it takes investigators months to gather information, Cullen said.
“He might have cared (about whether they were Christians), but maybe it wasn’t a driving motive,” Cullen said. “It could’ve been an after effect. Or it could’ve been central. There are a lot of possibilities.” Either way, Cullen said, it could take at least a year to really know more from the investigations.
Some Christians can latch onto stories like Bernall’s and Scott’s as modern examples of martyrdom, someone’s willingness to die for their faith. But narratives can be murky on the actual facts, said Trevin Wax, an editor at LifeWay Christian Resources, the publishing arm of the Southern Baptist Convention. Wax published myths about the Columbine shooting on his blog.
“The tendency is to put moral and religious significance on these,” Wax said. “It should give us a little bit of pause before we jump on the specific details of every story.”