A year ago on April 13, 2014, three beautiful souls were taken away from this earth way too early. Shot by a a southwest Missouri man known for his anti-Semitic views. His goal was to shoot Jews at the Jewish Community Campus (JCC), but instead ended up shooting three non-Jews. A grandfather (William Corporon, 69), who moved to Kansas City to be closer to his grandchildren. And his grandson (Reat Underwood, 14) an Eagle Scout and talented singer. William Corporon was at the JCC with his grandson, Reat for a singing competition, when they were shot in the parking lot.
Once they were shot the gunman drove to Village Shalom where he shot Terri LaManno, 53, who was visiting her mother at Village Shalom. Words can’t describe the sadness and heaviness I felt in my heart from this senseless act. For months I kept thinking of those three lives that were taken away and for what reason?
My husband and I moved from Israel to Kansas in 2012 because of the warm and welcoming Jewish community. The JCC and Village Shalom here in Kansas City, is a place frequently visited by most of the Jews in this town (regardless of affiliation). A large number of JCC members are not even Jewish. A day care center, Jewish Day School, theater, gym, swimming pools, and more are all located at the JCC. This place is the heart of Jewish life in Kansas City. Several of my friends (both Jewish and not) were there on that tragic Sunday afternoon.
To commemorate the killings, a group of people decided that as a community we have the power to outshine and overcome such senseless acts of hate. “SevenDays” was a challenge for young and old, to embrace diversity across races, religions and cultures. Through three events, Faith, Love & Song, Faith, Love & Kindness and Faith, Love & Walk, their mission of hope was to promote understanding and encourage kindness to “Make a Ripple to Change the World.”
When I arrived at the JCC for the commemorative walk a few days ago, I was overcome with emotion by the 3,000+ people that were gathered to walk in unity to the Church of the Resurrection. Music was playing, people were hugging and connecting with each other. The walk started off with a few remarks from people (including clergy and the mayor of Overland Park) followed by a recording of Reat Underwood singing the Star Spangled Banner. His voice was so pure, full of light and passion.
Thousands of people walked together and it was so touching to be surrounded by such kindness and unity. Volunteers along the way handed out fruit and water and cheered us on. When we got to the Church of the Resurrection, more food and water was handed out as we took our seats.
Several people spoke, performers sang and the SevenDays sponsored the first Faith, Love & Song competition to reward songwriters, 14 – 21 years of age, for songs composed around the subject of racial, religious, and/or cultural equality and acceptance. Three finalists performed, and the winner was awarded a $5,000 scholarship. When the winner performed her song, Free Bird, it brought tears to my eyes, such a beautiful voice and powerful message.
At the ceremony’s conclusion, the pastor from the Church of the Resurrection, Rev. Adam Hamilton, spoke about how one year ago we felt so much darkness and as he continued to talk people, holding candles went up and down the aisles to light candles. Soon the whole church was filled with every person holding a lit candle as he talked about this community being the light in the world by spreading love and acceptance.
Tears ran down my face as I put my arm around my dear friend who was stricken with terror that day as she hid her two young daughters in the JCC locker bathroom, when it was on lockdown (not knowing if the shooter was inside or not). Looking out at the sea of light, this truly was one of the most beautiful and moving moments I have ever witnessed!
Mindy Corporon, whose father and son were killed, spearheaded the event. She said she and organizers intentionally wanted the week to end with a walk and celebration that would focus on the community coming together. During the many interviews she has done in the last year, I am always touched by her unwavering faith in God.
Tragedy shouldn’t have to happen to bring out the best in people, but somehow it does, and we can only learn from the importance of “loving your neighbor as yourself” and cherish our love ones everyday. May God bless, protect and keep us safe from the evils in the world.