It's been almost a year since three people were gunned down outside the Jewish Community Center and Village Shalom in Overland Park, Kansas. The avowed anti-Semite accused of killing William Corporon, 69; Reat Underwood, 14; and Terri LaManno, 53; on April 13, 2014, will face capital murder charges at a trial this summer.
This week, the families of the victims are asking Kansas Citians to share in seven days of kindness in memory of their loved ones. I sat down with Mindy Corporon, who lost her son and father in the attack, to talk about how her life has changed in the year since the shooting.
There are a lot of people in Kansas City who’ve been following what happened at the Jewish Community Center last year that just, they worry about you. They worry about your family. They want to know how you guys are doing. What do you tell them?
I tell people that prayers still help. I get up every day and function, and I know that I get up every day and function because people are still praying for us. How we’re doing? How we’re doing as a family, in our small unit, and my unit with (my husband) Len and (our other son) Lukas, you know, we’re learning how to be three instead of four. So we’ve been on a couple trips, and those are always interesting and a little difficult. It’s difficult to leave the house in the first place, and then when you get somewhere you get adjusted to Reat not being there, but then when you return, it’s almost as if you think he’s going to be there again. And so then when you get home, you have to acclimate again to a home that has an empty bedroom.
So in our little bit wider circle with my mom included and my brothers, it’s always apparent that two significant people in our family are missing. At the birthday table, at family celebrations, the holidays were horrible. I know now why people say the holidays are hard. They were hard. I wanted them over as quickly as possible. I tried to be as in the Christmas spirit as much as I could for Lukas in particular, but I was ready for that to be over.
I know that you’ve been working with the Jewish Community Center to organize an event. What made you want to be involved with it?
As early as June, people did start asking me, what are you going to do to commemorate the year anniversary? And I was barely breathing at the time. So I was just starting to function. I couldn’t even think about a year. But we agreed to meet with (Dr. Ekkehard and Sieglinde) Othmer and a group of people, a group of their friends, in July. From the beginning, my mom said what she heard me say was we need to do good. Good has to come out of this. What she saw that as was seven days of kindness.
When something like this happens, obviously it’s not just your family grieving. I think the entire metro grieves what happened last year. Did you ever not want to do a big, public remembrance for the anniversary?
Early on, I was getting asked to do some speaking engagements, and I felt a little overwhelmed, and I started asking my mom and my brothers their opinion, and my husband, their opinion. “Is it OK with you if I go speak here?” We came to an agreement that we could represent ourselves and we could represent our family. If we ever going to be taking our story in a completely different direction, just to stay, keep everyone informed.
We did have family meetings about what are we going to share, and how much are we going to share. Also pull each other back into why are we doing this? It’s not so much that I want every single other person to remember Reat and my dad. It’s not so much about that. Because I remember them. And my family remembers them. It’s about as we remember them internally, we’re helping other people learn how to go through grief or help someone else go through grief.
And a few people recommended that we name the event after Terri LaManno, and my dad, and Reat. And we disagreed - Jim LaManno and I were in the meeting, and we both said we don’t want our family members’ names on that all the time. We’re going to remember them. That’s not the point. The point is to move onward.
How has your faith changed or grown in the time since you lost your son and father?
What I would say is I didn’t know my faith was as strong as it is. It had not been tested like that before. When I saw my dad in the parking lot and I knew that he was not living, I heard the words, “Your father’s in heaven. Go find Reat.” That’s what came to my mind. I walked around the truck, or ran around the truck, and I saw Reat. There was a lot of chaos and a lot of crazy commotion. They didn’t know where the shooter was, they didn’t know if any of us were going to get harmed. So I was taken away from the area. People might say, “Oh, you were in shock.” Or, “It was that numbness.” You know what? Maybe it was that numbness, but I’m thankful for it because it helped me make decisions that I needed to make when we got to the hospital.
We were at my mom’s house - I was told students were meeting, and they were having a vigil. It immediately came to me that I needed to be there to tell those students that they’re going to be OK, that this was an act of violence against the Jewish faith, and that Reat and Dad got caught in the crossfire. It was a horrible act of violence, but it doesn’t mean that all of us shouldn’t continue to live our lives. Now, I’m living my life with a different purpose.
What my faith did specifically on that day was God wrapped me in his arms and said, “I’m going to take care of you. I’m here for you.” I never doubted that God wasn’t there. It wasn’t like a brilliant light or a booming voice or a burning bush. It just was in me. It was just in my soul, and I felt it, and I felt comforted by it. When I do go into the dark place, when I get so sad that Dad can’t be here for Lukas’ 13th birthday or my mom’s, their wedding anniversary, or Reat won’t ever graduate from high school. He won’t go to prom. I mean, he won’t even go to prom. It just makes me sick. It makes me sick to my stomach. But if I stay there, I can’t function. Those prayers that people give us - that’s what helps pull me out of that darkness. That’s why I’m not there very much.
How has being able to connect with the LaMannos helped your family grieve and be able to move forward after this tragedy?
It’s never good to meet a family for the first time in the DA’s office. You don’t know what to say other than you’re sorry, just like they want to say to you that they’re sorry. So we met in the DA’s office. It turned around when we were all invited to Washington, D.C., for the anti-defamation league. Jim LaManno and his daughter, Alissa, and his son, Gian, and lots of family members on Terri’s side and a very good friend of Jim’s came. It was delightful. My mom and I, and my husband, Len, and Lukas, our son, and my aunt, my Aunt Barbara. We really bonded with them then. We were in a different environment. We were all there for a very sad reason, but we bonded over that. Jim and I text quite a bit. Anytime we know we’re going to be in the press and something might startle the other person, we let each other know. It’s a friendship. So from a bad start in a DA’s office, we’re very close now.
What else do you want people to know, or what else do you want people to keep in mind as we get toward the anniversary of the shooting?
I’m not so Pollyanna that I think we’re going to stop all the evil in the world. I know that. I know we’re not going to stop all the evil in the world. There’s too much. But it doesn’t mean that we should be quiet. It doesn’t mean we should stop trying. We have to be louder with the good, so we overcome that evil.
You can learn more about the planned events at Seven Days, Make a Ripple, Change the World.