OVERLAND PARK, Kansas — “Why would such a tragedy befall three good souls? Why do bad things happen to good people? We don’t know,” said Rabbi Arthur P. Nemitoff of Congregation B’nai Jehudah. “God did not cause this pain. But like us, He is weeping.”
Those were among the first words uttered at the Service of Unity & Hope, held at the Jewish Community Center of Greater Kansas City on Thursday, four days after the neo-Nazi activist Frazier Glenn Cross shot and killed Dr. William Lewis Corporon and his grandson Reat Griffin Underwood there. Terri LaManno, the third victim, was shot dead minutes later at Village Shalom, just up the street.
The JCC was overflowing with more than 1,500 people who came together in a gathering of faith and love. Among the crowd were hundreds of the local clergy and dignitaries from Overland Park, Leawood and Kansas City, Kansas, as well as officials from as far as Washington, DC.
The atmosphere was one of mixed emotion. There was sadness and eerie silence, coupled with hope and a call for love.
“The Jewish religion speaks of tikkun olam, repairing the world,” said Eric Holder, United States attorney general. “This concept is relevant in any faith.
“There are times,” he continued, “when the world seems fractured, beyond repair. But we are here as a testament to the limitless desire for healing, passion and peace.”
Holder called on the crowd to fight for justice, to never forget the names and the stories of those who were lost, but also to live on in strength.
The JCC reopened three days after the shooting, repairing the entry doors that had been shattered by Cross’s bullets. Activities resumed to as normal as could be expected, with counselors on hand for staff, and regular security updates sent to members. That, according to Rev. Adam Hamilton of United Methodist Church of the Resurrection, was how the families wanted it.
Speaking on behalf of Reat’s mother, Mindy Corporon, Hamilton said the family “expressed great appreciation” for the outpouring of love.
“They wanted to be here, but it was too soon to come back. She [Mindy Corporon] said she couldn’t do it yet,” he said.
But he told the tearing crowd that what was keeping Corporon strong was her faith, the prayers of the entire community – her church, the Jewish community, those of people in Kansas and around the country – and the hope that something good would come from the tragedy.
“How do we rid ourselves of evil? With good,” said Hamilton. “With hope and determination, evil — and those who spread evil — will not have the final word.”
As Rev. R. Glen Miles of Country Club Christian Church spoke, he looked out at the crowd, among whom were Christians, Jews, Muslims and Buddhists.
“This place is always this way,” he said of the interfaith unity at the JCC, where upwards of 40 percent of the members are not Jewish. “The power of our connections can move us past hatred to a life based on love.
As people slowly worked their way to the parking lot, the silence was pierced by fragments of hushed conversation. Some held hands; others had their arms around each other, still clinging to the song of peace, “Oseh Shalom,” that was sung at the conclusion of the service.
“Very moving,” said one attendee, Irene Blend. “Very well said.”
Maayan Jaffe is a freelance writer in Overland Park, Kansas.