Connor’s parents: Numbness, pity, anger

Dani and Jared Verkerke speak with Target 8 investigator Ken Kolker. (Sept. 4, 2014)

KENTWOOD, Mich. (WOOD) — A month after their 9-year-old son was stabbed to death by a 12-year-old boy, Connor Verkerke’s parents still have trouble sleeping.

Dani and Jared Verkerke are haunted by images of their son dying on their front porch as they tried to save him.

The Verkerkes are, at times, numb. Tears come some days but not others. Anger wells, then fades and turns sometimes to pity — at least for Jamarion Lawhorn, the boy who confessed to the stabbing.

Michael Connor Verkerke (File photo)
(Connor Verkerke)

What they want people to know is what was taken from them: A boy who should have started the fourth grade this week, who always watched out for his three little brothers, who loved to play soccer, dance and play in the dirt.

“Connor changed my life,” Dani Verkerke told 24 Hour News 8. “I think that your first kid always does that.”

As they spoke, Connor’s parents sat next to each other on a couch in Jared Verkerke’s mother’s home. Dani Verkerke wrapped herself in a blanket she made for Connor. It’s decorated with colorful salamanders.

Dani Verkerke, sitting next to her husband, holds the blanket she made for her son Connor. (Sept. 3, 2014)
(Dani Verkerke, sitting next to her husband, holds the blanket she made for her son Connor.)

“He changed everything,” Connor’s mom said. “He made me a better person. He was always so naturally compassionate and loving and it inspired you to emulate him, to always want to do better.”

They were amazed at how easy it was for Connor to make friends.

“They made so many new friends this summer, they accepted everybody into their group,” Connor’s mom said.

Which is what happened on Aug. 4,  when Connor; his little brother, Kameron; and their best friend, James, went to the playground within view of Connor’s back door. They went with their new friend. It was just like any other summer day.

Ten minutes later, his parents said, “everything fell apart.”

Connor ran to their home in Pinebrook Village mobile home park with his 7-year-old brother, Kameron.

“He (Kameron) grabbed him up under his arm and basically they ran together,” their dad said. “When he was running home with his brother, he wanted his brother to know that this wasn’t his fault. … Here he was bleeding out and his thoughts were on other people, what they needed.”

They ran to their front porch, where their dad, trained in first aid, immediately knew something was wrong.

“I don’t know how he made it so long,” his mom said. “I don’t know he was able to get home before collapsing.”

As mom held Connor’s hand, dad tried to stop the bleeding, while kissing his son’s forehead.

“He was saying he loves us, and he kept trying to roll over so he could look at me and Jared,” his mom said.

“The last thing I heard him say was when they were wheeling him into the ambulance, he said, mamma,” she said.

Their son died at the hospital.

It was later that night they learned that the new friend, 12-year-old Jamarion Lawhorn, had stabbed Connor repeatedly in the back with a kitchen knife taken from his home down the street. Not until later did they learn why: That Jamarion wanted to die himself.

“I asked Kameron, I said, ‘Was it your new friend who did this?’ And he said, ‘yes,'” Dani Verkerke said. “It blew me away.

“You teach them stranger danger, you teach them not to help adults find their puppies, not to take candy from strangers, that kind of thing,” she continued. “But you don’t expect it from a child.”

Since then, Jared and Dani Verkerke’s lives has almost stopped. They’re living at Jared’s mom’s home. Neither has gone back to work. They couldn’t bear to go to their son’s vigil.

(Dani and Jared Verkerke. Sept. 3, 2014)
(Dani and Jared Verkerke.)

“This is like getting sucked into a whirlwind that you can’t get out of, and you can’t make it go away, everything keeps replaying over and over and over,” Jared Verkerke said.

Connor’s mom often wraps herself in the blanket she made for her son.

“I sleep with it every night now,” she said. “It helps. It helps make it feel like he’s still close to me.”

But, they keep getting out of bed in the morning for their three younger sons, Kameron, who turned 8 last week; Riley, 5; and Morgan, who will turn 4 on Friday.

“When I get into my car, I turn it on, put it into gear, but before I  move, I tilt the mirror and do a head count, and it messes with me when I only count three heads,” Dani Verkerke said.

For Jared Verkerke, it’s most difficult at bedtime.

“When I go to check on the boys when they’re all sleeping, to make sure they’ll all where they’re supposed to be and I do a check, and there’s only three. There’s not four anymore,” he said.

Somehow, though, they found room for forgiveness. They heard that Jamarion’s mom Anita Lawhorn had been walking through their neighborhood, looking to apologize to them. So Connor’s mom and grandma knocked on her door. Soon, they were standing outside with Jamarion’s mom and stepdad, Bernard Harrold.

“He was so shaken up, he couldn’t even look at us. His back was turned to us. He was bawling his eyes out. He kept hugging and saying how sorry he was and mumbling about Connor and just how awful, he was so broken up,” Dani Verkerke said.

Jamarion’s mom cried and the two moms hugged each other.

“She said she was sorry We told them that we forgave them,” Dani Verkerke said.

Then, Connor’s mom did something that Jamarion’s mom could not believe. Dani Verkerke gave Anita Lawhorn a card with $150 inside and told her to use it to buy groceries for her three other children.

“When she found out there was money in the envelope, she broke down crying, she was saying she didn’t understand why we would help her after what her son did,” she said.

The Verkerkes thought they had forgiven Anita Lawhorn. But they had to take that forgiveness back.

>>Inside Connor’s parents tell Target 8 they’re angry at Jamarion Lawhorn’s mother — and CPS for failing to remove the 12-year-old from her care.



State investigating CPS over Lawhorn case

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