KENTWOOD, Mich. (WOOD) — Michael Connor Verkerke, the 9-year-old who police say was stabbed to death by another child on a Kentwood playground, was remembered Wednesday for the loving nature that his father said made him his hero.
Connor died after he was stabbed Aug. 4 at the playground at Pinebrook Village mobile home park. 12-year-old Jamarion Lawhorn has been charged with his death. Court documents say he confessed.
At Connor’s Wednesday memorial service at Cornerstone Church on 84th Street SE, the 9-year-old was described as a boy who loved being a cub scout, dancing, singing and soccer.
“I thank you from the bottom of my broken heart right now to the top of my soul for all you have given us for nine years,” Toni Nunemaker, Connor’s grandmother, said during the service.
Speaker after speaker talked about Connor’s capacity to love, even in his final moments as his little brother carried him home from the playground.
“During a time when most would have been consumed with fear, Connor was more concerned with (his younger brother) Kameron,” Connor’s godmother Laura Roth said. “He told Kameron, ‘Look at me, Kameron. If I die, this is not your fault. I love you.'”
“Kameron, you’re my hero. Thank you for bringing Connor home. And Riley … thank you for getting the Band-Aids to help your brother,” Nunemaker said during the ceremony, addressing Connor’s two younger brothers.
“Connor, once he was gone, it’s like you could feel all his energy and how kind he was,” Kameron said when it was his turn to speak. “And it’s hard to go through this, but he’s in a better place.”
Connor’s family said they initially thought about making the memorial service private, but then realized the community also needed to mourn Connor.
“It’s not just the family that’s grieving, it is the country,” said Connor’s grandmother, Sue Fiebig. “We thought there should be something here to help everyone else move forward and start healing as well.”
Fiebig called the support her family has received in the wake of Connor’s death “amazing and as unreal as the event itself.”
Jamarion Lawhorn will be charged with murder as an adult in juvenile court in Connor’s death. He apparently admitted to the stabbing, saying he wanted to die and take someone with him, according to court documents. He is expected to undergo a psychological evaluation before his case moves forward.
“We’re not angry with Jamarion’s mom and dad because you can’t always know. As protective as you want to be with your kids, you have to give them wings to grow and you can’t always know what they’re thinking,” Fiebig said. “More anger with Jamarion. In a way, we feel bad for him and we do hope that he gets whatever help that is available that he could get — but anger, too, that he chose Connor.”
Connor’s family said that the boy made friends with everyone, and that’s what he was doing the day he was killed. Several family members said at the service they hope their tragedy doesn’t discourage other kids from making new friends.
“Hold your babies tight, but let them grow, too,” said Fiebig.
Donations in Connor’s memory can be made at an online memorial fund.