Rachel Joy Scott (August 5, 1981 – April 20, 1999) was an American student and the first fatality of the Columbine High School massacre, in which 11 other students and a teacher were also murdered by Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, who then committed suicide.
Rachel Joy Scott
August 5, 1981
|Died||April 20, 1999 (aged 17)|
|Cause of death||Gunshot wounds|
|Burial place||Chapel Hill Memorial Gardens, Centennial, Colorado, U.S.|
|Parent(s)||Darrell Scott and Beth Nimmo|
|Relatives||Bethanee (sister), Dana (sister), Craig (brother), Mike (brother)|
Scott's belief in Christianity and the disputed circumstances of her death have led to her being remembered by groups of evangelical Christians as a Christian martyr. She was posthumously the subject and co-writer of several books and the inspiration for Rachel's Challenge, an international school outreach program and the most popular school assembly program in the U.S.
The aim of Rachel's Challenge is to advocate Scott's values, based on her life, her journals, and the contents of a two-page essay, penned a month before her murder, entitled My Ethics; My Codes of Life. This essay 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; they maintained a cordial relationship and held joint custody of the 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 Ken Caryl Middle School before she enrolled in Columbine High School in the ninth grade. 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. Acting did not initially come easily to her, and she had to devote extra effort to succeed in this activity.
When Scott was 11 in March 1993, she visited the church that her aunt and uncle attended in Shreveport, Louisiana, and chose to commit herself to Christianity. By April 1998, when she was at Columbine High School, 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. Rachel documented this in a letter to a relative a year to the day before her death. The letter included 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 future 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. In her mid-teens, Scott had a serious relationship with a boy, but she chose to end it over concerns that it might develop into a physical encounter.
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."
Scott was an aspiring writer and actress. In 1998, she performed a mime act to the song "Watch the Lamb" at the school talent show. The tape jammed halfway through the song and Dylan Klebold, who ran audio for the school theater production club, came to her rescue and fixed the tape, leading her to thank him afterwards. Rachel's sister would later perform the same mime act at her funeral.
In order to repay her parents for the Acura Legend they had given her, Scott worked at a Subway sandwich shop on West Coal Mine Avenue in Littleton shortly before she died. In one instance while working there, she felt remorse for not assisting a homeless woman who had come into the store and vowed to be more helpful to such people in the future.
At the time of her death at age 17, Scott lived at 7282 South Vance Street in Littleton and was 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 late 1999.
Scott was the first person to be shot in the Columbine High School massacre. She was shot four times with a Hi-Point 995 by Eric Harris while eating lunch with her friend, Richard Castaldo, on the lawn outside the west entrance of the school. Initially shot in the chest, left arm, and left leg, from a distance of 10 to 15 feet, she sustained a fourth and fatal wound to her left temple. Castaldo was shot eight times and permanently paralyzed from his injuries. Scott's body was left outside where she died and was not retrieved by the coroner until the following morning.
In total, 13 people were killed and 24 were injured. Then the two perpetrators, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, committed suicide in the school library. Scott did not personally know Harris or Klebold. After the killings, Scott's car was turned into an impromptu 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. The car was ultimately covered by the objects left upon it by mourners. 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, although two of his close friends were also murdered.
Craig's last interaction with his sister before she died had occurred that morning; that was slamming a car door at her when being dropped off at school, for which he later expressed extreme regret.
Scott was buried at Chapel Hill Memorial Gardens in Centennial on April 24, 1999, following a two-hour funeral service held at the Trinity Christian Center. Her funeral was one of the first services following the massacre and was attended by more than 1,000 people that included 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 that 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 the service while the song "My Heart Will Go On" by Celine Dion was played. 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 her 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." Scott'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. Her coffin was adorned with messages of love, gratitude, and grief. The funeral service was broadcast on television by CNN and MSNBC.
The deaths of Scott and fellow student Cassie Bernall—also a Christian—during the Columbine massacre led both to be subsequently depicted and remembered by groups of evangelical Christians as Christian martyrs. This began during her funeral on April 24, 1999, which was televised. At the beginning of the ceremony, Barry Palser, a pastor from an Assemblies of God organization, gave a speech in which he said she was "one who has given [her] life for the Lord Jesus Christ, a modern-day martyr."[n 1] Pastor Bruce Porter delivered a sermon later in the service, in which he called Rachel a "warrior" who carried "a torch that was stained by the blood of the martyrs from the very first day of the Church's existence". Porter then requested that others pick up the "torch" in Scott's wake. In the following year's numerous books—termed "hagiographies" by sociologist Ralph Larkin—were published about Scott and Bernall with the assistance of or authorship by their parents. Porter also wrote a book about Scott, making frequent references to sacrifice. Many web pages have been published that are specifically dedicated to Scott and she is prominently featured in more broadly themed Columbine memorial websites. Some of these sites explicitly or implicitly refer to Scott's belief in Christianity and suggest that she was killed because of it. Journalist Hanna Rosin framed public remembrance of her death as part of a phenomenon in which teenage Christians began obsessing over Christian-based death. Scott's mother and her brother Craig toured many schools across the United States years after the shooting to speak about Rachel's life, asserting that she probably died because of her religious beliefs. Christian churches used the martyr narrative of Scott's and Bernall's deaths to promote themselves and recruit members.
The circumstances surrounding Scott's death and its relation to her religious beliefs are disputed in the martyr narrative. Journalist Wendy Murray Zoba argued that the shooters targeted evangelical Christians during the massacre. As evidence for this, she claimed that Scott was shot execution-style, though the official report published by police stated that Scott was shot from a distance of 10 to 15 feet. Scott's mother claimed that she had offered to be friends to Klebold, that Klebold was romantically interested in her, and that Klebold and Harris mocked her for her religious beliefs. Scott's mother also asserted that her daughter was on a "target list." Investigations in the years following the shooting—especially Dave Cullen's findings in his book Columbine—have concluded that Klebold and Harris were not targeting people for their religion, ethnicity, or gender. Scott did not know the two boys personally and was in a different academic grade than them. A frequent feature of Rachel's martyr story is that she had a verbal exchange with Klebold and Harris about her religious beliefs before they killed her. The Hollywood Reporter accounts that Richard Castaldo, who was shot while sitting with Scott and survived, "told a newspaper that not only did the killers ask Rachel about her faith but that he, too, was asked if he believed in God, and he answered truthfully that he did not, and his life was spared." Other sources report that Castaldo had survived by "playing dead". Castaldo was in a coma in the immediate aftermath of the shooting, and thus did not testify to police and his account was not included in the police report on the event. Castaldo said in his speech at Scott's funeral, "People tell me I said she said she believed in God, and I can't remember it," and Larkin wrote in 2007 that Castaldo "could not remember Klebold or Harris saying anything."
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. These 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.
After reading the essay, My Ethics; My Codes of Life, and the journals Scott had written in the last 16 months of her life, her father founded Rachel's Challenge in 2001. Rachel's Challenge 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.
The Random Acts of Kindness Foundation posthumously awarded Scott the 2001 National Kindness Award for Student of the Year. The award was 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.
In the wake of the 2006 West Nickel Mines School shooting, Craig Scott was formally invited to address a National Council on issues relating to safety and security in schools. This meeting was held at the White House with President George W. Bush and included White House staff and educators from across the nation. The conference 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 Scott's parents have also spoken with 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.[n 2]
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."
- The 2016 film I'm Not Ashamed is directly based on the life and death of Scott. Directed by Brian Baugh and starring Masey McLain as Rachel Scott, the movie also uses some of the contents of Scott's journals for voice-overs.
- Nimmo, Beth; Klingsporn, Debra (2000). Rachel's Tears: The Spiritual Journey of Columbine Martyr Rachel Scott. Thomas Nelson Inc. ISBN 978-0-7852-6848-2
- Nimmo, Beth; Klingsporn, Debra (2001). The Journals of Rachel Joy Scott: A Journey of Faith at Columbine High. Thomas Nelson Inc. ISBN 978-1-4041-7560-0
- Scott, Darrell; Rabey, Steve (2001). Chain Reaction: A Call to Compassionate Revolution. Thomas Nelson Inc. ISBN 0-7852-6680-1
- Scott, Darrell; Rabey, Steve (2002). Rachel Smiles: The Spiritual Legacy of Columbine Martyr Rachel Scott. Thomas Nelson Inc. ISBN 978-0-7852-9688-1
- Scott, Darrell; Rabey, Steve (2009). Rachel's Tears: 10 Years after Columbine, Rachel Scott's Faith Lives on. Thomas Nelson Inc. ISBN 978-1-4003-1347-1
- Palser also told The Washington Post, "We consider her to be a Christian American martyr."
- The fact both Rachel Scott and Anne Frank died at a young age through the hatred of others,[clarification needed] and that both girls had written of their wishes to change the world for the better through the acts of love and kindness, has led to parallels being drawn by her father, uncle, and journalist Lisa Kintish between the journals Rachel wrote in her lifespan and Anne Frank's The Diary of a Young Girl.
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Devon Adams, who was a friend of Rachel and Dylan, was in the sound booth with him when it happened. She said Dylan rescued Rachel's performance. 'He was freakin' out,' she said. 'He's going, 'Stupid tape!' Rachel kept going, and he tried his best to get it back up. It was just a bad tape. He got it to work better than it had been. He adjusted the levels a little bit and it came out okay.' Devon said Rachel was 'a wreck' after that performance but that she thanked Dylan for fixing the tape.
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It was not until late the following morning, April 21st, that the coroner was permitted to move the bodies of Rachel Scott and Daniel Rohrbough into the school from where they lay outside it.
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Scott recalled how Rachel approached Columbine student Adam Kyler after other students knocked books out of his hands. Rachel offered Kyler her support. 'Adam told us Rachel prevented him from taking his own life,' Scott said.CS1 maint: location (link)
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Just days after the Columbine shooting, the Scott family met Adam Kyler, a school friend of Rachel's. Kyler told the family he had been teased his entire life - his nickname at the school was 'Alien,' Scott said. She said Kyler has a disorder that has disfigured his facial muscles. 'He told us that Rachel reached out to him every day by either saying something nice, hugging or smiling at him,' she said. 'He just started to cry as he told us his story. No one had ever done that for him before.' Kyler told us Rachel's random acts were the highlight of his day, she said. 'It is so powerful because he said he had thought about killing himself,' Scott said. 'But Rachel's little bit of interaction made life worth living, he thought.'CS1 maint: location (link)
- Francis, Naila (January 3, 2000). "Another Side to Columbine". Doylestown Intelligencer. Doylestown, Pennsylvania. Retrieved October 5, 2018.
Three weeks before Rachel Joy Scott, 17, was gunned down the first victim of the Columbine High School massacre she saw Austin Wiggins changing a flat tire in the rain in her town of Littleton, Colo. Scott stopped her car, got out and held an umbrella over Wiggins' head. Today, he waters her grave every day. It is the only patch of green in the area of the cemetery where she is buried. A week before she died, Scott had promised to take Adam, a student with a bone structure deficiency, to lunch and ask him all about his family. Every day, Scott would offer Adam a hug and a few kind words. The other students teased him and called him "alien" because of his facial disfigurement. Today. Adam cries almost nightly for the loss of his friend.
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|Wikiquote has quotations related to: Rachel Scott|
- Contemporary news article detailing the funeral of Rachel Scott
- acolumbinesite.com: dedicated to those murdered, injured, and affected in the Columbine High School massacre
- Rachel's entry at acolumbinesite.com
- Official presentation video detailing the objectives and impact of Rachel's Challenge
- "My Ethics; My Codes of Life", as written by Rachel Scott one month before her death
- Rachel Joy Scott at Find a Grave
- Official website of I'm Not Ashamed
- Official website of Rachel's Challenge