OVERLAND PARK, Kan. –Clergy of different faiths, joined by U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, delivered messages of hope and unity Thursday before more than 1,300 people gathered at the Jewish Community Center in Overland Park.
“A pall has been cast over our great nation,” Holder said. “We gather today not in joy, but in solemn reflection.”
The overall message, however, was focused on the power of love and unity to combat hatred and evil. The service, at the Lewis and Shirley White Theatre, comes only four days after three people were gunned down, allegedly by a man who authorities say is an avowed racist and anti-Semite guided by his hatred of Jews.
Fourteen-year-old Reat Underwood, a freshman at Blue Valley High School, and his grandfather, physician William Corporon, 69, were shot shortly after 1 p.m. on Sunday while they were in a vehicle in the parking lot of the Jewish Community Center. Corporon had brought his grandson to the center to audition for an “American Idol”-like singing competition.
Teresa “Terri” LaManno, 53, of Kansas City was shot and killed soon afterward at the nearby Village Shalom living center where the mother of three had gone to visit her own mother, suffering from dementia.
Police quickly arrested 73-year-old Frazier Glenn Cross Jr., better known as F. Glenn Miller Jr., of Aurora, Mo., a former member of the Ku Klux Klan. None of the victims were Jewish.
The mood of Thursday’s event was solemn throughout. Three white candles sat atop a table covered in black cloth beneath large black and white photographs of the victims.
“Every, every alleged hate crime, no matter who the intended target is, is an affront to who we are, and who we always have been, as both a country and as a people,” Holder said. “These acts cannot be ignored.”
He continued, saying that “although our hearts are truly broken, all Americans, all Americans stand with the people of Overland Park, of Leawood and of Kansas City. We are united in our condemnation of his heinous attack.”
He said that the way the community has come together in support in the aftermath of a terrible day is a story of “light emerging from terrible darkness.”
“I know it can seem at times that the world is irreparably broken, that it is fractured beyond repair,” Holder said. “But all of us, here in this moment, surrounded by the people we love … we are a testament to the limitless desire in this country for healing, for compassion and, ultimately, for peace.”
In the message to grieving families, he said, “We will support you … not only in sorrow, but in strength.”
The “Service of Unity & Hope” began shortly before 10 a.m. with welcoming comments from the Jewish Community Center’s president and chief executive officer, Jacob Schreiber. Besides Holder, other political guests included Missouri Congressman Emmanuel Cleaver of Kansas City, the Israeli Consul General and Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback.
Clergy representing both the Jewish and Christian faiths spoke at the gathering, led by Rabbi Arthur P. Nemitoff of The Temple, Congregation B’nai Jehudah.
He noted that only a few miles away, Terri LaManno was being laid to rest and that today, services for Reat Underwood and his grandfather would also be held.
“Why? Why did such a tragedy happen to three good souls? Why do bad things happen to three good people? We do not know,” Nemitoff said. But he said that it was not God that caused this pain, but rather, “God, like us, is weeping for this loss.”
Mindy Corporon, whose son and father were killed on Sunday, did not attend the service.
Her pastor, the Rev. Adam Hamilton of the United Methodist Church of the Resurrection, noted that Corporon told him that returning to the community center and the site of her son’s and father’s murders would have just been too painful at this time. It was too soon, Hamilton said.
The service ended as solemnly as it began, but with a symbolic show of unity. All clergy, elected officials and members of law enforcement were asked to gather on stage as three candles were lit in memory of the three victims.