Helping families shaken by violence
Three years have gone by since a hate-driven shooting rampage outside Jewish facilities in Johnson County brought together, in shared grief, Mindy Corporon and Jim LaManno.
Now, in shared hope, they are coming together to remind their community that kindness and respect can win the day.
Or seven days, to be precise.
The third annual observance of “SevenDays: Make a Ripple, Change the World” begins Tuesday with an evening of songs, essays and interfaith reflection at The Temple, Congregation B’nai Jehudah, in Overland Park. It will close April 24 at Union Station, where thousands are expected to participate in a 5-kilometer walk promoting love, faith and kindness.
Not mere tolerance, Corporon said recently while visiting The Star with LaManno.
“To just tolerate is not enough,” Corporon said.
She has been outspoken about issues of hate and religious understanding ever since she addressed an evening vigil on April 13, 2014. That was hours after she lost her son Reat Underwood, 14, and her father, William Corporon, at the hands of an armed anti-Semite whose name she never mentions.
A third murder victim, Terri LaManno, 53, had been looking forward that Holy Week to celebrating her 25th wedding anniversary with Jim.
All three victims were Christians.
Corporon and LaManno answered questions about their own faith in an interview that also touched on their friendship and their appreciation for Kansas Citians honoring in a constructive way the lives lost at the Jewish Community Center and nearby Village Shalom. Their comments have been edited for brevity and clarity.
To register for SevenDays activities and see a calendar of events, go to GiveSevenDays.org. Dozens of area businesses are partnering in the effort, and any donations to SevenDays equally benefit the Faith Always Wins Foundation and the LaManno-Hastings Family Foundation.
Q: When you ask people to “give seven days,” what do you hope that we do?
Corporon: We’re asking people to give of their time and their energy to focus on others.
To focus on love, understanding, acts of kindness — at least for some time during that seven-day time frame. It’s something people could do very easily.
You could buy a sack of groceries for yourself and a similar sack to donate to City Union Mission. Or maybe mow a neighbor’s yard if someone is struggling.
LaManno: You shouldn’t feel you need to commit yourself to seven full days. It might be one simple act of kindness each day.
I try to do a lot of kind things, but this could be just one thing that I might actually think about, intentionally, when doing it.
For me so much of this is about diversity. … One reason we thought Union Station was a good site for the 5K walk was because it would draw a greater mix of people than we’ve had in the past (in south Overland Park).
Q: This observance stresses how we should understand and respect other religions. What happened three years ago, for many people, would’ve shattered their religious faith. How did each of you apply your faith before and after the murders?
LaManno: For our entire marriage, my wife and I always went to church. It was an important part of our week. … We believed in instructing our children in the Catholic faith.
Afterward, was my faith shaken? Yes.
But my parish really propped me up. The people there were just amazing. … Whether you believe in God or not, it’s the people who showed me. They cleaned my house, they washed my clothes, they fed me for months.
I was given more kindness than I could ever repay in a lifetime.
Corporon: I was raised in the Christian church to believe in Jesus and the resurrection.
In the parking lot (where Corporon’s father and son were shot), I heard God talk to me. I heard the words, “Your father’s in heaven. Go find Reat.”
(Reat lay wounded nearby and later died in a hospital.)
I had never felt or heard actual words from God until that day. … And since then I’ve heard the words, “I am with you.” It was so loud that I turned to my husband and asked him, “Did you just say something?” And he said no.
In terms of my faith being shaken, I knew that my own world had exploded …. and I started looking at faith very differently.
I do think God knew (the rampage) was going to happen. … Evil is real. But I think God is there to lift us up. And God, I think, wants us to work to thwart the horrible things that humans can do.
Q: Did you know much about other faiths before the tragedy?
Corporon: No … and here’s what’s interesting: My Christian friends came through, and my church was very supportive. But it was the people of Jewish faith who just swarmed my family with love, with acts of kindness … just giving of themselves.
(Several months after the Overland Park slayings, 15-year-old Abdisamad Sheikh-Hussein died after being struck by a motorist, allegedly with intent, outside the Somali Center’s mosque in Kansas City’s Northeast area. The mosque invited Corporon to speak.)
I’d never been to a mosque. I felt embarrassed. I felt humbled that they would ask me to come in and speak as a Christian woman.
Still, I didn’t know what to say about their faith. And I didn’t think it would be right to talk about my faith in their mosque.
I asked (local interfaith activist) Mahnaz Shabbir: “What do Muslims believe? … Do you believe (Abdisamad) is in heaven?” And she said yes. … I later learned that Muslims believe in Jesus as a prophet. I didn’t know that.
So I’m Googling Islam and I prayed and asked God, “What is going on here?” There are these murders, and then I become immersed in Judaism and now I’m at a mosque, speaking?
I feel that God has said to me, “Help bring my people together.”
I was raised in Bible Belt Oklahoma … and I’ve had three (evangelicals) come up and say, “We’re worried about this path you’ve taken. You should only be talking about your faith and Jesus. You should not be talking about people having the same God …” It has been conflicting at times.
And I’ve had a whole lot of other people say, “I’m so glad you’re talking about this and at least bringing people together.”
I’m not a theologian, but I think we have the same higher power. We just take these different spiritual paths.
So that’s part of what underlines SevenDays: understanding we’re all different and why we’re different. It’s about learning to be comfortable and redirecting someone’s hate when you can.
It’s not about tolerance, because to just tolerate is not enough. To tolerate someone suggests you may still not like or understand that person.
LaManno: Your mother might tolerate you doing something even though she hates it!
Q: Jim, there are many ways people could react to a tragedy so terrible and personal, and one way might be to cocoon yourself. We all saw Mindy, who on that first night seemed to make it her life’s mission to speak out and address hate and violence head on.
Were you with her from the start, wanting to make a difference, or was there instead some inclination to turn away from it?
LaManno: Well, I know that my wife would not want me to (withdraw), and that’s why I’m here with Mindy today. I know that Terri’s saying to me, “Don’t you dare cocoon yourself into this house. You make sure the kids are taken care of …”
I know she’s saying that. I mean, God may not have talked to me, but she’s talked to me.
This sounds very strange, but there were times within that first year or so where I really believed I heard her walking around the house.
Corporon: Oh, I believe you.
LaManno: I’d wake up at 3 in the morning and I’d think I would hear (pages of) the newspaper turning. And I think I would hear the coffee come on.
But, no, it just isn’t my personality to cocoon myself. I couldn’t be alone. I need people. I’ve always been a people person.
Corporon: You know, we first met in the (Johnson County) district attorney’s office. Not a good place to meet.
My mom could hardly function. I would say on a scale on how we were functioning as humans, my mom was the lowest, and then Jim, and then me. I didn’t know why I could function. … Maybe it’s because I still had to be a parent to a little kid (Reat’s brother Lukas Losen, then 12).
Jim and I really got to know one another better, and well, that October when the Anti-Defamation League brought us to Washington, D.C., in honor of Terri and Dad and Reat. That was awesome. (LaManno’s daughter) Alissa got accepted into nursing school that night. She was running into the hotel lobby, like, “I got accepted! I got accepted!”
LaManno (laughing): Loved it. I won’t forget.
Corporon: And all of a sudden we were one family. It was that night that really brought us together.