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Teens take the lead in honoring victims killed in Kansas shootings

In this March 12, 2014 photo, Reat Underwood, of Stillwell, Kan., performs a vocal audition for the 45th season of Theatre in the Park at Overland Park, Kan. Underwood along with his grandfather William Lewis Corporon were both killed by a gunman at the Jewish Community Center in Overland Park, Kan., on Sunday. (AP Photo/The Kansas City Star, Susan Pfannmuller)

OVERLAND PARK, Kan. — From Australia to Albuquerque, people are wearing white Tuesday in memory of Reat Underwood, a young man many of them have never met.

Reat was one of three victims of the shootings Sunday at two Jewish centers here in this suburb of Kansas City that are being investigated as hate crimes. Also killed was his grandfather, Dr. William Corporon, 69, and Terri LaManno, 53, an occupational therapist who worked with visually impaired children.

Perhaps it’s because one of their own was killed, but it’s been teenagers who’ve taken the lead in coming up with activities to honor and remember the victims.

Tuesday is the first day back to school for Reat’s classmates at Blue Valley High School. Monday was a professional development day for teachers, although the building was open for students to come in and talk with a team of grief counselors, principal Scott Bacon said.

He said the idea to wear white Tuesday was a student initiative that was supported by the administration.

Emily Milakovic, a junior at BVHS who knew Reat through the debate team, created a Facebook page, “Wear white for Reat” with the Twitter hashtag of #whiteforreat.

“I wanted to so something pro-active,” Emily told me. “White is the color of life. And Reat was so full of life, there’s no other way to describe him. He was all about living life to the fullest.”

From all accounts, Reat was passionate about singing and theatre and was an enthusiastic participant on the debate team.

By Monday night, all five high schools in the Blue Valley School District in southern Overland Park were participating in wearing white, with schools in surrounding communities also joining. Then there were Blue Valley alums and former Overland Park residents and people with no ties to Kansas who all wanted to show their support, saying they also would wear white.

Even a group of Marines wrote on the Facebook page that they would participate.

“I’m really amazed at how the community has come together,” Emily said. “And how quickly rival schools are pulling together.” Schools that usually face each other as competitors on the football field or the basketball court have put those rivalries aside, she said.

Another area high school showed its support with a giant banner signed by students. Shawnee Mission West High School, also in Overland Park, perhaps understands tragedy more than some. Last year two students died, one in a car accident and one as a result of a sports injury.

Tuesday began with a prayer vigil before classes at BVHS, which has a student population of 1,460, for those who wanted to participate. Also remembered was a classmate severely injured in a surfing accident in Mexico over spring break.

It’s still hard to believe that something like this shooting has happened here. I’ve read the news reports of Newtown, of Aurora, of Fort Hood. Now Overland Park is added to the list. Now our sense of security has been shattered.

Adults are trying to cope as well. The Jewish Community Center — a place, by the way, that’s for all members of the community with its rich offering of classes and theatre productions — is closed Tuesday for Passover but will hold an interfaith service of unity and hope Thursday morning.

“It’s a service to unify our entire community regardless of faith to say that we will stand together and support one another to find the strength to move forward,” Art Nemitoff, senior rabbi of The Temple, Congregation B’Nai Jehudah, told KSHB-TV.

Friday evening several youth groups at the JCC will hold a candlelight vigil walk that begins with a Shabbat prayer service. Then participants will walk from the center to Village Shalom. 

It was in that parking lot that LaManno was killed. She was there to visit her mother who is a resident of the assisted living facility.

Terri LaManno. (AP Photo/Courtesy of The LaManno family via Kansas City Star) Terri LaManno. (AP Photo/Courtesy of The LaManno family via Kansas City Star)

LaManno’s family has asked for privacy as they mourn the loss of their wife and mother. Tuesday would have been the LaMannos’ 25th wedding anniversary.

Milakovic started another Facebook page called “Love is stronger” as a way to fight racism and hatred, she said. The shooting may have been motivated by anti-Semitism, but Reat and his grandfather are Methodists and LaManno was Catholic.

Student Samuel Reber came up with a 10-day challenge to honor classmate Reat Underwood killed Sunday. (From Facebook, used with permission of Samuel Reber) Student Samuel Reber came up with a 10-day challenge to honor classmate Reat Underwood killed Sunday. (From Facebook, used with permission of Samuel Reber)

Boy Scouts are also honoring Reat, who was a Life Scout working on his Eagle project. He’s eligible for the Spirit of the Eagle Award, given posthumously to Scouts. (Two Tiger Cubs killed at Newtown received it.) A Texas Scout is organizing an auction as a fundraiser for Reat’s family.

I think my favorite of all the events, though, is the one from Samuel Reber, a junior at Blue Valley, who came up with a 10-day list of activities — or #reatschallenge.

“Knowing why you do the things on this list is even bigger,” Samuel wrote on the Facebook page “Wear white for Reat. “It’s not just about what has happened, it is also about how we can evolve and change this evil world we live in.”


Diana Reese is a journalist in Overland Park, Kan. Follow her on Twitter at @dianareese.



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