Mom of teen killed at Kansas Jewish center ‘felt God immediately’
OVERLAND PARK, Kan. - When tragedy came in the form of a gunman to a Jewish community center here Sunday, it was two Methodists who were shot and killed in the building’s parking lot.
Reat Underwood, a 14-year-old high school freshman, had come to the Jewish Community Center of Greater Kansas City with his grandfather, Dr. William Lewis Corporan, 69, who was always accompanying one of his grandkids to some event or another.
Reat, a Boy Scout, loved to sing and perform in musicals, and after years of waiting to become eligible, he had come to audition for a local “American Idol"-style competition for high school students. He had two songs prepared.
The first 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 “You’re Gonna Miss Me When I’m Gone.”
Reat’s mother, Mindy Corporan, shared those details about her son and her father in a news conference Monday in which she refused to break down into sobs over the attack on two Jewish facilities in Overland Park. A third victim, Terri LaManno, 53, a Catholic, was also killed.
“It was horrible act of violence, and my dad and my son were at the wrong place at the wrong time for a split second, and we want something good to come out of this,” Corporan told reporters, explaining why she was being so open about her family and their grief. “We don’t know what that’s going to be, so we want people to let us know if something good has come from it.”
Corporan was among the first on the scene after the shooting in the parking lot of the Jewish Community Center in Overland Park.
When she arrived, she said, she saw her father’s truck parked, with its doors open. It was empty. She wondered why her father - a physician who had moved to the area with his wife in 2003 to be closer to their kids and grandchildren - wasn’t standing by the truck.
Then she saw him on the ground. “I knew my dad was in heaven in seconds,” Corporan said.
Then she also saw her son on the ground, being held by two men, seemingly lifeless. A man named Nicky grabbed her, hugged her, and took her away, she said. As she went inside the center, she saw the bullet holes in the building’s glass, and realized what had happened.
Reat would die after being taken to the Overland Park Regional Medical Center. “I prayed and prayed and prayed” that he would survive, Corporan told reporters. “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,” and that they had been ambushed.
Corporan said of the shooting scene, “It didn’t feel like a crime scene to me - it was my family, it was my family members who were lying on the ground.” She added, however, that “I felt a lot of comfort - I felt God immediately.”
In the hours after the shooting, family, friends, neighbors and fellow churchgoers from the United Methodist Church of the Resurrection in nearby Leawood surrounded Corporan at home.
Corporan managed to pull herself together enough to make an appearance at a Sunday night vigil at a nearby Episcopal church, where many of Reat’s classmates and fellow performers had gathered to pay tribute to a fallen classmate.
“I just want to thank you - I don’t really have anything else to say. I just wanted to be here with the students. I want you all to know that Reat loved school and theater; he loved acting and singing,” Corporan told the mourners.
Corporan explained to the audience that it was happenstance that Reat’s grandfather was with him. Reat’s grandmother was busy with cousins; Corporan was with her other sons at a lacrosse game that was ultimately canceled by bad weather.
“We were in life, we were having life,” Corporan told the mourners. “And I want you all to know that we’re going to have more life, and I want you all to have more life.... I got to tell both of them today that I loved them; I was the last person in the family who saw them.... I just appreciate you being here; it’s very helpful to me, that’s just how I grieve.”
At Monday’s news conference, Will Corporan - Reat’s uncle and William Lewis Corporan’s son - told reporters of the gunman: “That idiot absolutely knocked a family to its knees for no reason. My dad should be seeing patients today at his work. Reat, if they had school today, would be in school today studying or being with his friends. There’s no reason, no reason for this.”
Yet he remained circumspect about the deaths, and said he wanted to keep the spotlight on the lives that were lost rather than on the motive of the man who pulled the trigger.
“It takes no character to do what was done. It takes no strength of character, it takes no backbone, it takes no morals, it takes no ethics,” Will Corporan said of the shooting. However, he added, “It could have been a drunk driver, it could have been a car accident, it could have been any number of things.” Reat and his grandfather were always together, and now the family has been dealt a “huge blow.”
“We’ll go on and get through this, but we’ll always have two huge holes that will never be filled,” Will Corporan said. “Every day is just going to be a reminder. We do hope that if there’s any way possible - any sliver of good, goodness, grace, that can come of this - that by the sheer grace of God, it will not have been totally, totally for nothing.”
Times staff writer Pearce reported from Los Angeles and special correspondent Webber from Overland Park.
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