Nation

Remembering the victims of the Kansas Jewish center shootings

NationCrime, Law and JusticeShootingsCrimeRecreational and Sporting Goods IndustryFrazier Glenn Cross Jr.Passover

OVERLAND PARK, Kan. — Standing at the lectern, Mindy Corporon calmly spoke about love in the face of hatred, describing how two people so central to her life — her father and her son — were shot to death by a gunman who police say is a white supremacist bent on violence.

Her voice steady, she described arriving Sunday afternoon moments after the attacker, whom police identified as Frazier Glenn Cross, opened fire in the parking lot of the Jewish Community Center here, a shooting rampage that took the lives of three people, including a woman outside a nearby Jewish senior center.

Corporon said she first spotted the truck owned by her father, William Lewis Corporon, 69, a doctor who had moved to the area a decade ago to be near his children and grandkids. The truck was empty, its doors open.

Then she saw him, his husky body there on the ground, and her instincts told her: "I knew my dad was in heaven within seconds."

Nearby, she saw her 14-year-old son, Reat Underwood, a high school freshman and Boy Scout who loved to sing and perform in musicals. He was on the pavement, being cradled by two men. Her boy wasn't moving.

Just then, a bystander grabbed her and ushered her away, toward the center, where she saw the bullet holes in the building's front glass.

And then it dawned on her what had happened to her father and son.

On Monday, after the nation's latest mass shooting, Corporon spoke at a news conference about her family's loss. For the victims' relatives — including those of 53-year-old Terri LaManno of Kansas City, Mo., who was gunned down outside a care facility where she had gone to visit her elderly mother — there was a cruel irony as well as pain.

Cross, 73, an avowed racist, had purportedly chosen the eve of the Jewish holiday of Passover to claim victims outside the Jewish Community Center and, later, at Village Shalom. Yet none of his victims turned out to be Jewish. Corporon and Reat were Methodists; LaManno was Catholic.

On Sunday, LaManno was meeting her two older sisters to visit her mother, Betty Hastings, at Village Shalom. LaManno worked part time there so she could visit her mom every day.

Friends say Hastings suffers from dementia, and it's not clear whether she knows about the death of a daughter whose Facebook page shows family pictures, all of them filled with smiles, along with a link, "Our Favorite Apps for Children who are Visually Impaired."

"She was just a beautiful, loving person," said Brian Fowler, who was a groomsman at the LaMannos' wedding. He said she was a devoted member of St. Peter's Parish and worked as an occupational therapist at the Children's Center for the Visually Impaired, where she assisted blind babies. "Family meant everything to her."

Outside LaManno's modest brick home on Monday, the daily newspaper was still in the front yard and friends stopped to deliver food and hugs to the family.

At St. Peter's, the flag was at half-staff. "It makes you wonder how much hate there is in the world," said parishioner Jean Schmidtlein. "Better live your life as if every day's your last. You never know."

On Tuesday, LaManno would have recognized her 25th wedding anniversary with her husband, Jimmy, a dentist, along with their three grown children.

The youngest of the three victims was remembered for his singing.

At the news conference, Corporon told how her son Reat had come Sunday to audition for a local "American Idol"-style competition for high school students.

He had two songs prepared. One was "On the Street Where You Live," a tune from "My Fair Lady," which he planned to perform in a coat and tie with a black shirt and hat. The second was the 1994 country hit "You're Gonna Miss Me When I'm Gone." He had sung it for his mom ahead of the audition.

She told of praying her dying son would somehow survive as he was rushed from the community center parking lot. William Corporon was dead at the scene from head trauma, she told reporters. Reat would later die at Overland Park Regional Medical Center.

"I prayed and prayed and prayed that he survived, but to no avail," Corporon said. "They both died from head trauma, and I feel confident from what I heard that they didn't feel anything, that they didn't know what was coming" before what she called an ambush.

The night before, at a vigil, Corporon explained to the audience how fate brought grandfather and grandson together that Sunday: Reat's grandmother was busy with cousins, and Corporon had gone to watch her other sons at a lacrosse game, one ultimately canceled by bad weather.

"We were in life, we were having life," Corporon told the mourners. "And I want you all to know that we're going to have more life."

Standing alongside her, Will Corporon — Reat's uncle and William Lewis Corporon's son — said the two victims should be going about their lives. "My dad should be seeing patients today at his work. Reat, if they had school today, would be in school studying or being with his friends," he said.

Reat and his grandfather, Will Corporon said, were always together. "My dad would have done anything if it could have just been him," he said. "He would have stood up and said, 'Just take me.'" He added that the family would go on, "but we'll always have two huge holes that will never be filled."

A day after the rampage, Mindy Corporon could still picture the shooting site. It didn't feel like a crime scene, she said. "It was my family; it was my family members who were lying on the ground."

Then she added, "I felt a lot of comfort — I felt God immediately."

john.glionna@latimes.com

Special correspondents Will Webber and Peggy Lowe contributed to this report. Times staff writer Matt Pearce contributed from Los Angeles.

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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NationCrime, Law and JusticeShootingsCrimeRecreational and Sporting Goods IndustryFrazier Glenn Cross Jr.Passover
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