Before she was hit by a stray bullet Friday night at one of Kansas City’s most popular outdoor arts events, Erin Langhofer had a blossoming career as a therapist who advocated for survivors of domestic violence, her family said.
“It was a huge part of who she was,” Jackson County Prosecutor Jean Peters Baker said during a news conference to announce charges against Deon’te Copkney, the 18-year-old man accused of firing the bullet that struck Langhofer in the head.
Langhofer’s family told Peters Baker she loved advocating on behalf of survivors at Rose Brooks. In a statement, Susan Miller, the domestic violence center’s CEO, said employees were shocked by news of the killing.
The gunfire erupted about 10 p.m. near 18th and Main streets as thousands of people attending the First Friday event milled around. Langhofer was near the food trucks, enjoying the night with her boyfriend and other friends, when she was “struck down,” her family said in a statement.
Authorities described 25-year-old Langhofer, of Overland Park, as an innocent bystander.
Off-duty police officers working in the area chased three males who ran after the shots were fired. They arrested Copkney, who allegedly told detectives he was the only person to shoot during a fight that did not involve Langhofer.
Copkney, of Kansas City, faces charges that include second-degree murder.
“He is a resident now of the Jackson County jail,” Peters Baker said.
Gathered Saturday morning outside Langhofer’s family home in Overland Park, Langhofer’s close friends and neighbors recalled her radiant smile and wheezy laugh, which they said often caused others to cackle. One described her as “vivacious.”
Langhofer graduated from the University of Kansas with a degree in social work in 2016, her friends said. The only time she wasn’t smiling was when KU lost a game, they joked.
“She was a gift,” said Scott Kormann, a neighbor who knew Langhofer since she was born. “She wanted you to be a better person.”
Kormann’s daughter, 26-year-old Liz Kormann, was about to ask Langhofer to be her maid of honor at her upcoming wedding, she said. The two grew up together; Liz Kormann doesn’t know a life without Langhofer. She was always there for Kormann after her mother died, she said.
“The world lost a good one,” said Liz Kormann’s fiancé, Danny Dolan, 26. “We’re lucky to have had her as long as we did.”
Her friends Hope Farnsworth and Kate Westberg, who knew Langhofer since kindergarten, said Langhofer was the person that held their friend groups together. She made strangers feel like life-long friends, they said.
Friends described Langhofer’s death as a senseless tragedy. News of the shooting shocked her loved ones, one of whom said they were numb and didn’t even realize it.
“I don’t understand how something so bad could happen to someone so beautiful,” Westberg said.
In a statement read by family friend Michael Eagan during the news conference, Langhofer’s parents said they were devastated by the death of their daughter and the impact it will have on others, including the “life of the young man who pulled the trigger.”
Langhofer’s parents thanked the investigators who worked to bring a criminal case against Copkney within a day as well as the first responders who tried to save Langhofer.
The Rev. Adam Hamilton, senior pastor at the United Methodist Church of the Resurrection, asked people to pray for Langhofer’s family. Her father is Tom Langhofer, a pastor of recovery ministries at the church in Leawood.
Mayor Quinton Lucas said he was as heartbroken to learn about the shooting as he was to read about another killing, that of 62-year-old Michael Pittman, which occurred Thursday near 32nd Street and Indiana Avenue.
“This is a problem that our city cannot stand,” said Lucas, who was sworn in as the city’s new mayor Thursday. “I do not want a third homicide on my third full day as mayor.”