Song: “This Is Your Time” by Michael W. Smith
RACHEL JOY SCOTT – 1997
Rachel Joy Scott (August 5, 1981 – April 20, 1999) was an American student and the first murder victim of the Columbine High School massacre, in which 11 other students and a teacher were also murdered before both perpetrators committed suicide.
She has since been the subject of several books and is the inspiration for Rachel’s Challenge (http://rachelschallenge.org), an international school outreach program and the most popular school assembly program in America. Its aim is to advocate Scott’s belief, based on her life, her journals, and the contents of a two-page essay penned just a month before her murder entitled My Ethics; My Codes of Life which advocates her belief in compassion being “the greatest form of love humans have to offer”.
Rachel Joy Scott was born on August 5, 1981, in Denver, Colorado. She was the third of five children born to Darrell Scott and Beth Nimmo. Scott’s entire family are devout Christians. Her father was a pastor at a church in Lakewood, Colorado, and worked as a sales manager for a Denver-based food company; her mother was a homemaker. Rachel’s parents divorced in 1988, but maintained a cordial relationship, and held joint custody of their children. The following year, Beth and her children relocated to Littleton, Colorado, where she remarried in 1995.
As a child, Scott was an energetic, sociable girl, who displayed concern for the well-being of others—particularly if they were downcast or otherwise in need. She also developed a passion for photography and poetry at an early age. Rachel attended Dutch Creek Elementary School, and then Ken Caryl Middle School, before enrolling in Columbine High School in her ninth-grade year. At Columbine, she was an attentive, above-average student who displayed a flair for music, acting, drama, and debate. She was a member of the school’s forensics and drama clubs, although initially, acting did not come easily to her, and she had to devote extra effort to succeed in this activity.
Coincidentally, because of her involvement in the school theater production club, she became acquainted with Dylan Klebold—one of the perpetrators of the Columbine High School massacre—in 1998. Initially, Scott had offered her friendship to Klebold, who reportedly became privately infatuated with her.
In a March 1993 visit to the church her aunt and uncle attended in Shreveport, Louisiana, Scott, then 11, chose to commit herself to Christianity. By April 1998, five of her closest friends had distanced themselves from her because of her increasing commitment to her faith. Furthermore, because of her faith, she was occasionally subjected to mockery by several of her peers, including Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold. Rachel documented this in a letter to a relative one year to the day before her death. This letter includes the words: “Now that I have begun to walk my talk, they make fun of me. I don’t even know what I have done. I don’t even have to say anything, and they turn me away. I have no more personal friends at school. But you know what, it’s all worth it.”
On many occasions throughout Scott’s adolescence, her family observed her in prayer both at home and at church. Her mother said that her daughter would regularly pray on her knees, with her head bowed, her hands upon her face, and that often, these particular prayer rituals brought tears to Scott’s eyes. On one occasion, this included writing a prayer for one of the perpetrators of the Columbine High School massacre. By the age of 17, Scott was an attendee of three churches: Celebration Christian Fellowship; Orchard Road Christian Center; and Trinity Christian Center, where she choreographed dances at Sunday service. She was also an active member of church youth groups; at the Orchard Road Christian Center, she attended a youth group named “Breakthrough”, where she displayed a passionate interest in both evangelism and discipleship. Scott wrote in her journals that her spiritual awareness developed greatly through attending this youth group, and she became known as a leading advocate within it.
Scott struggled with self-esteem issues as a teenager, and has been described by her family as being “blind to her own beauty”. By the age of 17, Rachel, although popular among her peers, would occasionally resist efforts to attend certain social events with her friends out of fear she would succumb to the temptation of drinking alcohol. Scott had one serious relationship with a boy in her mid-teens, but she chose to end it over concerns it might develop physically.
According to friends, Scott often chose to wear clothes of a style reflecting her colorful personality, and occasionally wore eccentric hats, fedoras, or even pajamas to amuse her companions. In addition to her passion for fashion, music, and photography, she was an avid viewer of classic movies, and often spoke of her desire to become a renowned Hollywood actress. She is known to have conveyed these aspirations to her family and to have combined her sense of humor into everyday family life with lighthearted gestures such as leaving a message on her family’s answering machine stating: “You have reached the residence of Queen Rachel and her servants, Larry, Beth, Dana, Craig, and Michael. If you have anything you’d like them to do for me, please leave a message.”
At the time of her death, 17-year-old Scott was an aspiring writer and actress, debating as to whether she should become an actress or a Christian missionary. She also had plans to visit Botswana, as a member of a Christian outreach program to build homes in the upcoming summer before moving into her own apartment in the fall of 1999.
Scott was the first person to be shot in the Columbine High School massacre. She was shot four times while eating lunch with her friend, Richard Castaldo, on the lawn outside the west entrance of the school. Initially shot in the chest, arm and leg, she sustained a fatal wound to her left temple, reportedly inflicted as she attempted to crawl to safety. Castaldo was shot eight times and permanently paralyzed from his injuries.
In total, 13 people were killed and 24 were injured. The two perpetrators then committed suicide, raising the final death toll to 15. After the killings, Scott’s car (a 1988 Acura Legend coupé) was turned into a flower-shrouded memorial in the adjacent Clement Park after being moved from the school’s parking lot by grieving students. A chain link fence was also installed around the vehicle for mourners to attach their tokens of grief such as flowers, crucifixes, teddy bears, and letters of condolence; her vehicle was scarcely visible beneath the gifts left on it. Scott’s 16-year-old brother, Craig, was also at the school on the day of the massacre; he was in the library where most of the killings occurred; he survived unharmed.
Two days after the Columbine High School massacre, Craig Scott appeared on the morning television broadcast of the Today Show for an interview with anchorwoman Katie Couric. Isaiah Shoels’s father was also present at this interview. Couric later recalled the interview as “one of the most memorable and even spiritual experiences [she] had ever had”. Rachel’s parents appeared later on a show with host Maria Shriver, immediately after sharing on their personal choice of forgiveness.
Rachel Scott was buried at the Chapel Hill Cemetery on April 24, 1999, following a two-hour service held at the Trinity Christian Center. Hers was one of the first of the massacre victims’ funerals, and was attended by more than 1,000 people, including her family, friends, and staff at Columbine High School. The Reverend Porter began the service by addressing the congregation with the question, “What has happened to us as a people that this should happen to us?” He then addressed the solemn crowd with a speech which included references to Scott’s pious character, kind nature and love of her fellow human, before stating: “You have graduated early from this life to a far better one, where there is no sorrow, violence or death.” Her friends from the Orchard Road Christian Church Youth Group also sang a song at the service, composed in her honor, entitled “Why Did You Have to Leave?”
Many of Scott’s friends spoke at this service as the theme song “My Heart Will Go On” was broadcast. Those conveying their eulogies included one youth who had been considered an outcast at Columbine High School, who stated: “All my life I prayed that someone would love me and make me feel wanted. God sent me an angel,” before staring at Scott’s casket and weeping. Nick Baumgart, who accompanied Rachel to the high school prom as his date three days before her murder, also spoke, saying: “A truer friend, you couldn’t find. You could be having the worst day of your entire life; all she had to do was smile.” Rachel’s parents chose not to speak at the service, but issued a statement in which they described their daughter as “a girl whose love of life was constantly reflected in her love and zeal for music, drama, photography, and for her friends”.
Prior to her burial, mourners who had known Scott throughout her life were invited to write messages of condolence on her ivory white casket. In what was described by an observer as an “achingly beautiful calligraphy of grief,” her coffin was adorned with messages of love, gratitude, solemnity and sorrow. The funeral service was televised worldwide on many national and international TV channels, and the entire funeral was viewed by millions around the world.
Scott first received a journal as a Christmas present from her mother in 1997. She regularly populated her journals with her thoughts and life experiences over the next 16 months, often addressing her entries to Christ, whom she repeatedly referred to in these entries as her “best friend”. The journal entries also include many poems, drawings, and prayers, in addition to accounts of her efforts to welcome new students to her school, and of her offers of friendship to students who had been considered outcasts; those regularly subjected to mockery because of ailments or a handicap; and others she met both inside and outside her school who were lonely or in need. Scott offered her continued support to all these people, and willingly met or talked with them conveying her continued friendship and support.
My Ethics; My Codes of Life
One month before her death, Scott wrote a school essay entitled “My Ethics; My Codes of Life” in which she stated her belief in the act of compassion being the greatest form of love that human beings could advocate to each other, and her efforts to look for the beauty in everyone she met in her life. In the essay, Rachel also wrote: “My definition of compassion is forgiving, loving, helping, leading, and showing mercy for others. I have this theory that if one person can go out of their way to show compassion then it will start a chain reaction of the same. People will never know how far a little kindness can go.” On reading the essay and the journals Scott had written in the last 16 months of her life, her father was inspired to found Rachel’s Challenge two years after her death.
Reviewing their daughter’s life and hearing firsthand just how profound an impact Scott’s simple acts of kindness had imprinted on the lives of those who had known her, as well as recalling her repeatedly stated desire for her life to have an impact for the better on others, Darrell Scott and Beth Nimmo were inspired to write the book Rachel’s Tears; a non-fiction book about their daughter, her faith, her inspirational journal entries, and the impact of her loss on their lives. The book was published on the first anniversary of her death, and is incorporated into the Rachel’s Challenge program.
Scott and Nimmo later published two more books inspired by their daughter and her legacy: Rachel Smiles: The Spiritual Legacy of Columbine Martyr Rachel Scott, and The Journals of Rachel Joy Scott: A Journey of Faith at Columbine High. The books were published in 2001 and 2002 respectively. Both parents have expressed their hope that those who did not know their daughter would find inspiration in the books’ description of the principles their daughter had lived during her life.
Rachel’s Challenge (http://rachelschallenge.org) is a national nonprofit and nonpolitical organization whose stated aims are to advocate a safe and positive climate and culture in schools in a campaign to quell school violence, bullying, discrimination, and both homicidal and suicidal thoughts in students. Through the more than 50 designated speakers and the international expansion of Rachel’s Challenge, the annual international student outreach of the organization is estimated to be in excess of two million. The program itself typically involves a one-hour audio and video presentation, hosted by the Rachel’s Challenge speaker, to assembled students, with the aim of motivating those present to analyze how they treat others. The Rachel’s Challenge speakers include Darrell, Craig and Mike Scott; guest speakers include Nicole Nowlen, who was wounded at age 16 in the Columbine High School massacre, and Adam Kyler, a former Columbine student who had harbored suicidal thoughts until Rachel, noting he was the victim of bullying, offered her friendship and support.
Each attendee is asked to pledge to accept the five principles discussed during the presentation before leaving the assembly: to eliminate any form of prejudice from their being, and seek only the best in others; to keep a journal and seek to achieve accomplishments; to choose to accept only positive influences in their lives; to commit to bringing a positive change in their home, school, and community through kind words, and undertaking tasks great and small; and to show care and compassion to those who are vulnerable, ridiculed, or in any form of need. A final impetus is to commit to Rachel’s theory of the formation of a chain reaction through these five pledges by sharing these commitments with their family members, friends, and peers.
At the close of the program, the audience is asked to close their eyes, and picture five or six people closest to them; they are then asked to tell them how much they mean to them. The initial presentation is followed by a 45-minute, interactive training session involving both adult and student leaders. Participants are trained to perpetuate the chain reaction of kindness envisioned by Scott. The participating school is provided with a curriculum and a training manual to ensure the continuity of the objectives of Rachel’s Challenge, and the speaker typically holds a meeting later with parents and community leaders.
Internationally, many schools have incorporated Rachel’s Challenge into their internal character building programs, with active efforts made to eradicate any sense of alienation among the student population, and various initiatives implemented to increase cohesion. One initiative to achieve this objective is to establish a “Friends of Rachel” club, to sustain the campaign’s goals on an ongoing basis. In addition, many students actively seek to honor Scott’s theory of just one person displaying compassion having the potential to spark a chain reaction of the same by spreading her message of kindness, empathy and compassion with their fellow students.
As a direct result of Rachel’s Challenge, numerous child and teenage suicides have been prevented, bullying has decreased in American schools, documented acts of community service have increased, and in seven known cases, planned school shootings have been prevented.
Scott was posthumously awarded the 2001 National Kindness Award for Student of the Year by the Random Acts of Kindness Foundation in recognition of her efforts to eradicate negativity, discord, and alienation in those she encountered during her life and to replace these negative influences with care and compassion.
Craig Scott was formally invited to address a National Council on issues relating to safety and security in schools in the wake of the 2006 Amish school shooting. This meeting was held at the White House and included President George W. Bush, White House staff, and educators from across the nation, and focused on cultural issues and the accomplishments and personal experiences garnered through Rachel’s Challenge. President Bush requested a copy of the speech, and Craig Scott was later invited back to the White House to speak further on these issues.
In a direct recognition of the significant, ongoing, national benefits achieved in schools, colleges, and universities through Rachel’s Challenge, the National Education Association of New York awarded Darrell Scott and Rachel’s Challenge the “Friend of Education Award” in 2006. Darrell Scott was selected as the 2009 winner of the “All-Stars Among Us” initiative in recognition of his selfless dedication toward preserving his daughter’s memory in a positive manner through Rachel’s Challenge in the U.S. Along with 29 other recipients, Scott was formally honored as part of the 2009 Major League Baseball All-Star Game ceremonies, held in St. Louis, Missouri, on July 14 that year. At this ceremony, Darrell Scott stated: “Rachel loved to watch baseball. She had no clue that because of her memory […] I’d be here representing her.” Both of Rachel’s parents have also spoken with renowned entertainers, world leaders, and notable individuals including Miep Gies – one of the people who hid Anne Frank and her family from the Nazis, and preserved her diary after her capture.
Darrell Scott has stated that reliving his daughter’s death giving his Rachel’s Challenge speeches is painful, but that he and his family consider the opportunity to be a worthwhile experience as they can turn a tragedy into triumph. He notes: “I feel that God has really called me to do this. To pick up the torch my daughter dropped. This is what my daughter would have wanted to see. If I died right now, I can tell you my daughter’s prayer has been answered.” Rachel’s mother would herself recollect on the 10th anniversary of her daughter’s passing: “Only through eternal eyes will she ever know how powerful her life and death became.”
Also see, these free downloadable and printable PDF booklets from Direction For Our Times, JESUS CHRIST, The Returning King:
“Heaven Speaks About Depression”
“Heaven Speaks To Those Considering Suicide”
“Heaven Speaks To Those Who Struggle To Forgive”
“Heaven Speaks To Those Who Experience Tragedy”