17 Years After the Shootings at Columbine Beth Nimmo Talks About the Loss of her Daughter, Healing and Purpose
It was the school shooting that rocked the nation. Two students showed up to Columbine High School on April 20th, 1999, armed with guns and pipe bombs. They murdered twelve students and one teacher before taking their own lives. The first victim was Rachel Joy Scott targeted for her unwavering faith in Jesus Christ. A new movie titled, I’m Not Ashamed, will be released in October, about Scott’s life and the events of that tragic day. Scott’s mom, Beth Nimmo, was involved with the project having written two books about her daughter’s life, “Rachel’s Tears” and “The Journals of Rachel Scott.” What many might not know is that this mother of five had two of her children on campus that tragic day. Scott’s brother Craig was also at the school, but managed to survive unharmed by playing dead between two other students. Risen sat down with Nimmo for a candid interview about loss, healing, faith and meeting the mom of one of the shooters.
Interviewed exclusively for Risen Magazine in nashville, Tennessee
Risen Magazine: The day of the Columbine shootings you had two of your children at the school. The first victim was your daughter, Rachel, and your son Craig survived unharmed by playing dead between two other students. How did you make sense of such a tragedy?
Beth Nimmo: It was a senseless act of violence, it really was, and there’s no justification for what happened that day. These boys [the shooters] were unhappy, hateful, discouraged, and even bullied, but there’s nothing that would ever justify the behavior they exhibited that day. The thing that probably helped me the most was [later] when we found Rachel’s writings, I knew there was a purpose, and that God allowed Rachel to be in that mix. Rachel knew she was going to die young, she knew she wasn’t going to live to be very old; she wrote about it, and sensed that God prepared her for that. I don’t believe that she knew how, when, or why, but she definitely considered it. Without those [journals], I honestly don’t know how I would have felt about it. I know some of the Columbine families didn’t have that sense. It was a gift for us that she had documented her life and documented her beliefs, because it gave us a platform to walk out on. A lot of Columbine families just didn’t have that so there was no place for them to put a lot of those feelings.
RM: Will you share some more about Rachel’s writings and drawings in her journals? Was it through these tools that you were able to learn more about her relationship with God?
BN: Yes, absolutely. God was definitely using her, but it was very private, and only between Him and Rachel. The reason I think He kept it so private, was He wanted to keep it pure. No one could interrupt or interfere with what was happening, because the Lord knew the end game – a witness was being raised up to proclaim His name out of the Columbine massacre. What the Lord was doing with Rachel during this time was so private that I never even saw any of her writings, and didn’t even know she was journaling. Before Columbine, there was no real point of reference for mass school shootings. Now when I share her writings or share what she was saying, and her drawings, I can’t take credit for it, Rachel’s not here to take credit for it, there’s only one person who gets the glory for what was going on in her life, and that is the Lord.
I think that’s really important because as adults, I think we would try to influence and we would have input and I think God would just say, “No, you’ll get to see everything that was going on in her life by My spirit and by My hand, but it won’t be until after that fact, and then I will show you how it will be used for My purposes.” I see the wisdom of God in this, but as a mother I would have begged for her life all day long, “God, please, I want to be able to comfort her. I want to be able to console her. I want to be able to advise her.” But that was the very thing the Lord did not want interference with. It was a shock in so many ways, but then the testimonies started coming out from all over the place – kids at school, kids at work, people she just happened to meet, but they were real connections that she made with these people, to the point that it changed them to some degree. That’s when you know God’s doing something. She was just being obedient. That’s all we’re required to do is be obedient and God knows we’re going to mess up trying to do that, but the fact that we’re trying and wanting to be obedient, God gives us the grace to keep on. I think in Rachel’s own little way, she knew what God wanted her to do, and that He wanted her to reach out, and she would just do it.
I saw her as a woman who had lost her son, only she was on the flipside of that coin. She had all this shame and reproach to bare, but her loss was still the same as a mom.
RM: I can’t even imagine how you even begin mourning the death of one child, and rejoice in the safety of the other. How was Craig when it came to processing what had happened?
BN: Craig’s been to Hell and back quite honestly. He lost a couple of years of his life at that time, just trying to find himself. But, he has found himself even though there are moments where it’s really hard, and there are other moments where he is walking in victory. He’s a public speaker and he has done a lot of speaking on behalf of both his and Rachel’s story. He’s working on a book and at some point in time, he will do his own story on film, but his struggles have been hard. It’s also hard to stay grounded because a lot of people swoop in and kind of make a celebrity of him, and he kind of was – he helped to save lives that day and God definitely used him, but by the same token, he was young, and it’s hard to stay grounded in that. His journey has been one of ups and downs, but I’m very proud of Craig because he’s got a good heart. That’s what I always tell him, that even though he may have made a lot of mistakes along the way, or should have done some things differently, or handled some things better than he did, he’s always had a good heart, and God judges the heart. He has compassion and wants to impact people the same way Rachel did. I think God didn’t allow Craig’s life to be taken that day – even though emotionally it was taken from him for awhile – because Craig’s work here isn’t done. Rachel’s was [complete] because what God had planned for her here on this earth was accomplished, and she could go home [to Heaven]. Then everything else began, and we picked up where she stepped off.
RM: I understand some time after the Columbine tragedy, you actually reached out to one of the mothers of the shooters. What happened and why was that something you felt you needed to do?
BN: Well, this mother had actually sent letters to all of the Columbine families of how grieved they were about what happened. I saw her as a woman who had lost her son, only she was on the flipside of that coin. She had all this shame and reproach to bare, but her loss was still the same as a mom. I just felt there was a lot of judgment for those parents and there was a lot of hate for those parents. I lost my daughter and got the love, comfort and nurturing of a whole community and the world, and they [shooter’s parents] got all of the reproach and shame. So, when she made the first step to tell each family how bad they felt and how grieved she was, I felt it was appropriate to respond.
When we were headed to the mediator’s office to meet, and where we were going to be in a room together to be able to talk, I thought, “Lord, I don’t know what I’m suppose to say to this woman. Her son killed my daughter.” But, in the elevator on the way up, I felt like the Lord just wanted me to ask her who her son was before April 20th, 1999. You know, he had a whole life before that day, but nobody focused on that, they just focused on the behavior and actions of that day. I got in the room and I met a very lovely woman who was very broken, so I just said, “Will you please tell me who your son was before April 20th, 1999?” She started describing a beautiful little boy that was loved and cherished, and how the last couple years of his life he became distant and withdrawn.
She described how they had felt like they’d lost him and they didn’t know how to get him back. There was a mother’s heart there and how much she loved her little boy and how much she was broken by what he had done. It was a precious time and I think what it did for me was show me these parents weren’t monsters, they hadn’t done everything wrong. There were a lot of things they had wished they would have caught. Being a mom of five kids, I know that I didn’t know everything that my kids were doing so to set myself up to be a judge and jury of a parent and say, “You should have known, you should have known.” Well, doesn’t everybody wish they would have known? These boys were great pretenders. They hid their motives in their hearts very well, and they played the game very well. Nobody had a Columbine to look at as a mock-up to say, “This is what they’re planning” because that wasn’t on anyone’s radar. It’s a little hard to know what was in their hearts, and what the plan was, until after the fact. Only then could you go back and see their computers and journals, and all of their writings, and that they had been planning this for a very long time. I actually had some compassion, because I knew her loss wasn’t any different than mine, she just had a different path she had to walk. It really was about two moms losing a child just from different points of view.
RM: Wow. That is so incredibly powerful. Thank you for sharing. Sadly, it seems we are witnessing more and more tragic shootings, not only in schools, but in movies theaters, churches and at events. From your perspective, what issues do you think we need to address as parents, or in society today, to help put an end to this senseless violence?
BN: I think the best influence we can have in our society and in our world is to be light in the darkness, and that’s just by having a real relationship with the Lord. Let me share with you something that Rachel wrote and I think it says it better than anything that I could say. Like you said, you can be killed in a church, in a school, in a mall, driving down the highway, in your home, there’s really no safe place. Rachel wrote, “Create in me the church, so that wherever I go, I will find sanctuary.” The only sanctuary we have is in the Lord and one of the things I want to impress on kids today is without a relationship with the Lord, there is no safe place. The enemy can get to you anywhere, any way, but if you want peace, and if you want to feel the love and protection of the Lord, you have to have that relationship with Him. That’s what creates peace that passes understanding, and that’s what creates sanctuary when you’re being threatened. Rachel came to that point in her own life where she could face whatever she had to face, and she could still have sanctuary and still have peace. I think even that day, when she was crying, and she was bleeding, and she was hurt, and I’m sure scared, but I don’t think that took away her confidence in the Lord. I know it didn’t because of how she answered the boys.
RM: Most parents strive to make faith a real part of their kid’s lives. What advice would you give when it comes to raising kids to love and obey the Lord?
BN: I think kids are very smart and very savvy. They know when they hear double talk; when you say one thing, but do something else. They read parents better than ever before in this generation, in fact, I think they read everybody better. So, whether it’s your body language, or what you’re saying, if it’s not matched up to how you act – what your attitudes are, your behaviors, your habits – I think kids get mixed signals and then get very skeptical. I think that translates into their relationship with the Lord. We can basically destroy our own witness to our children by those kinds of behaviors. One of the things people really liked about Rachel was she was what she was. Her big thing was to be authentic.
In fact, she corrected me if she thought I was being hypocritical. She would say, “Mom, that’s not right!” Her passion was to be authentic in her relationship with others and with the Lord. Consequently, that is what turned into all of her writing and journaling. So, my biggest advice to parents would be to walk the walk because your kids are going to know the difference and they follow your passions. If your passions are for the Lord and for doing His work, and His service, try not to do something that completely contradicts that. Even if you’re raw and you blow it now and then, kids would rather see that, and then see you have to humble yourself and repair it, or make amends or whatever. I think they’d rather see that humanity, and then see you submit to whatever God’s asking you to do in that. I had to tell my kids I was sorry at times. Being hard for the sake of being hard, or saying “no” because it was the easiest thing to say. Parents fall into that trap just because things can become an inconvenience to us. My biggest advice would be just to be true to the best you can. We’re not one hundred percent pure, nobody is and nobody will be. There are going to be times where we’re going to fail miserably, but the bottom line is, kids can handle our frailty, they just can’t handle the doubletalk.
RM: Did you ever question your faith at that time, or has it changed your walk in faith since that day?
BN: Yes, but the only way that it changed it was it gave me greater resolve, because I saw that there was a bigger reason. God holds things close to His heart because you don’t want the enemy to know everything you’re doing. Even though none of this came from God’s heart, it didn’t take Him off guard. Knowing the end from the beginning, He knew what those boys had in their hearts and He knew they were going to act on it. So, when I saw what was being accomplished in Rachel’s life and then how the Lord intended to raise up a witness for His name out of that whole thing… it doesn’t take the pain of losing Rachel away, that’s resonant with any parent and that’s your child… but it just gives purpose for me.
RM: There’s a feature film coming out in October about Rachel’s story titled, I’m Not Ashamed. What do you hope the public will come away with after seeing the movie?
BN: I’m hoping it will awaken the church to not be apathetic, not be lazy, and not be ashamed of their faith. I’m hoping it will light the fire in the church that we need to win the lost. I’m praying for the lost to come to the Lord and I’m praying for millions; an army of warriors, like Rachel was, not worried about being a warrior in the body of Christ. I’m praying for millions of voices to come up, replacing the one that the enemy thought he was taking away. I’m praying for this generation of kids to find the Lord and to be bold and strong.
Kids love having a cause and a lot of the really bad regimes target the kids because kids want to be a part of something bigger than themselves. They have so much passion and they’re so fearless and they want to live that out. If we can channel that and direct that towards an army of warriors for Christ, these kids could become, if necessary, the 21st century martyrs and defenders of the faith. I honestly believe our culture is leading us down a path where Christians aren’t going to be able to be on the sidelines or ride the fence about their faith. It will be black or white, hot or cold, and I think the children will probably lead the way. I’m good with that because my generation, I’m sorry, but we kind of dropped the ball. I’m praying the movie will inspire passion for them to want to be a world changer and make a difference. One life can make a difference. We say it all the time, but we don’t really practice it or believe it… at least for ourselves because it’s easier to believe that somebody else’s life can make a difference. I’m praying for this movie to inspire the church to stand up and let their voice be heard, and for the movie to reach thousands and millions of souls. I’ve got a big vision for this.
I honestly believe our culture is leading us down a path where Christians aren’t going to be able to be on the sidelines or ride the fence about their faith. It will be black or white, hot or cold, and I think the children will probably lead the way.
RM: I understand you were on set for some of the film’s production, and even let the filmmakers use Rachel’s car for the making of the movie. What was it like for you watching your family’s story come to life again in a film production?
BN: Masey McLain [actress that plays Rachel] is amazing and it was like getting a little piece of Rachel back. I think the Lord really had the right person being raised up to play Rachel’s part. Masey captured Rachel’s spirit in a very pure representation of Rachel on-screen, so that part I’m so pleased with. It’s a little bit surreal watching the whole thing, but there were some parts I didn’t want to be there for. I didn’t watch the day of the shooting or the day of the funeral. I didn’t want to be on set for those, but what I did see, I was pleased with. I knew God was there directing the leadership of this film and I believe we got it right.
RM: This past April marked the 17th anniversary of the tragedy at Columbine, how is your family doing?
BN: Well, you know there’s no “quick work” and there’s no “closure.” I tell people all the time that’s just a figment of their imagination. People want closure to represent getting things back the way they were and that’s never going to happen because closure is a myth. But what there is, is healing. Healing is a process and it takes many years; it may take the rest of my life and my family’s lives. But, every year you can see where the Lord takes a little piece of the trauma and just binds that up in His love and helps that little scar area. I encourage people who have gone through loss and trauma and hardships to not look for closure. God doesn’t say we’re going to have closure about anything, that’s a man-made way of trying to escape what’s happened.
Rachel will never be a closed part of my life, but you come to a point where you know God has healed your heart. I was telling a lady this weekend who had just lost her daughter four months ago, “Don’t look for closure, look for healing.” There will come a day when you won’t cry everyday. There will come a day where you can think about your precious daughter and actually laugh about some of the good times. Those aren’t quick works and there’s no way any parent is going to lose a child and have closure, but they will get healing. Some of that comes from understanding why God allowed it. The enemy comes to kill, steal, and destroy so, it wasn’t God’s plan, it was the enemy’s plan. But God can use anything the enemy throws at Him. He can use it all, and that’s what He’s done with Rachel’s story.
The movie I’m Not Ashamed hits theaters across the country on October 21, 2016