Cover image for The martyrs of Columbine : faith and politics of tragedy
The martyrs of Columbine : faith and politics of tragedy
Watson, Justin, 1957-
Personal Author:
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Palgrave Macmillan, [2002]

Physical Description:
xii, 212 pages ; 22 cm
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
BR1608.5 .W38 2002 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

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On April 20, 1999, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold killed twelve fellow students and one teacher at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado. Two of the victims of the Columbine massacre, Cassie Bernall and Rachel Scott, reportedly were asked by the gunmen if they believed in God. Both supposedly answered 'Yes' and were killed. Within days of their death, Cassie and Rachel were being hailed as modern-day martyrs and are seen by many American evangelicals as the sparks of a religious revival among teenagers. Cassie and Rachel, as innocents martyred for faith, also became useful symbols for those seeking to advance a conservative political agenda and to lay the blame for Columbine at the feet of their liberal opponents. According to police investigators, however, Cassie and Rachel may never have been asked by their killers about God. They may have been simply victims of a senseless crime rather than martyrs to a cause. The Martyrs of Columbine provides a careful examination of the available evidence and attempts to discover what really occurred. Despite these questions the martyr-stories continued to be told and the religious and political use of Cassie and Rachel continues. The popular significance of the martyrs of Columbine persists, and may even be growing. How and why is this happening? The Martyrs of Columbine is a groundbreaking investigation of what this tragedy has come and will come to mean in American religion, politics, and culture.

Author Notes

JUSTIN WATSON is the author of The Christian Coalition: Dreams of Restoration, Demands for Recognition. He is currently visiting assistant professor at Lafayette College.

Reviews 1

Choice Review

Two of the victims in the Columbine High School shootings--Cassie Bernall and Rachel Scott--were reported to have professed their belief in God moments before their deaths. In what might be called a study of the uses of tragedy, Watson examines the claims-making that occurred within the world of evangelical Christians, whereby the victims were defined as Christian martyrs. He provides a detailed account of the shootings based on available testimony, the subsequent ways that parents of the young women sought to promote this view, and the ways the claim was embraced by significant conservative Christian leaders. In a lawyer-like manner, Watson concludes that the evidence does not support the martyrdom claim, which leads him to a more sociologically significant question: why has it persisted? Aside from opportunism, of which there is plenty, readers are not offered a satisfactory answer. This is due to Watson's failure to provide an interpretive framework to explore the religious logic of evangelical Christianity. The book is useful as an in-depth journalistic account of the tragedy and its aftermath, but not as an adequate explanation for the martyrdom legend. Summing Up: Recommended. Public libraries/general collections. P. Kivisto Augustana College (IL)

Table of Contents

Introduction: It Pierced the Soul of America
1Martyrdom: The Blood of the Martyrs Is Seed
2Cassie Bernall: Feeding the World with One Word
3Rachel Scott: Starting a Chain Reaction
4The Politics of Martyrdom: I Will Heal Their Land
5Defenders and Debunkers: What Really Happened?
6When the Legend Becomes Fact, Print the Legend