Connor’s parents: Forgiveness taken back

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

KENTWOOD, Mich. (WOOD) — Their generosity shocked Jamarion Lawhorn’s mom.

Jamarion Lawhorn, just 12, had already confessed to stabbing 9-year-old Connor Verkerke to death in a Kentwood playground on Aug. 4 for no other reason than that he wanted to die himself.

Connor Verkerke.
(Connor Verkerke.)

Less than two weeks later, Connor’s mom Dani Verkerke knocked on Jamarion’s mom Anita Lawhorn. They stood outside, hugged and cried.

“I just wanted to help her because you know, we both lost our kids,” Dani Verkerke told Target 8.

Then Connor’s mom gave Jamarion’s mom a sympathy card with $150 inside, “so she could buy groceries for her kids.”

“She thanked us,” Connor’s mom said. “She said she didn’t understand how we could be so  nice, how we could be so kind, why we would help her and that kind of thing.”

>>Inside Connor’s parents: Numbness, pity, anger

“That’s how we were raised,” Connor’s dad Jared Verkerke said. “I was raised with the idea, you take care of your community, all the time. You help your neighbors, you love your neighbors, and you help those that are in pain.”

Several days later, Connor’s parents learned of the Lawhorn family’s abusive history. Now, they’re feeling betrayed by both Jamarion’s mom and the state.

Anita Lawhorn had lost parental rights to two other kids in New York 15 years ago after her 1-year-old daughter suffered four broken bones and her 3-year-old had apparent cigarette burns.

Anita Lawhorn at her son Jamarion's arraignment on Aug. 5, 2014.
(Anita Lawhorn at her son Jamarion’s arraignment on Aug. 5, 2014.)

They also learned that Michigan CPS had substantiated that Jamarion had been abused by his mom and stepdad a year ago.

By law, Michigan was required at the time to try to remove Jamarion from his home — but that never happened.

“It does feel like somebody else not doing their job properly cost me dearly,” Jared Verkerke said.

When police arrested Jamarion for the stabbing, he was covered with bruises. Jamarion told them his stepdad put them there. They also found what they called “deplorable” conditions in Jamarion’s home — no bedding, no utilities, little food, and that his mom and stepdad were using cocaine.

“Instead of crying out for help, or something like that, he chose to act violently,” Connor’s dad said.

“Which in itself was probably a very, very loud cry for help,” Connor’s mom added.

A month later, Connor’s mom and dad are, at times, numb. Tears come some days but not others. Anger wells, then fades and turns sometimes to pity — at least for Jamarion.

“It’s a roller coaster, it’s a complete roller coaster,” Connor’s mom said. “Today I might feel bad for him; tomorrow I might hate him.”

But there’s no wavering in their anger at Jamarion’s mom.

After the stabbing, CPS took away her other three kids and filed papers to terminate her parental rights.

Connor’s parents believes those kids were already gone when they gave Anita Lawhorn the $150.

“We went there and gave her money with the intent that it would be used for good purposes,” Connor’s dad said. “If she didn’t use it for that, that’s on her.”

And they blame the state.

“Why do they get to act outside of those laws?” Dani Verkerke questioned. “Why do they get to be outside of those restrictions? Is it because of their caseloads? Is it because they’re in some position of power that they feel it’s their discretion which rules that they follow? It’s not. You don’t get to pick and choose.”

The state Office of Children’s Ombudsman is investigating CPS’s involvement in the case. State Sen. Judy Emmons (R-Sheridan) has called for a joint Senate/House committee hearing. Connor’s parents said they want a chance to testify at the hearing.

And Thursday, Department of Human Services Director Maura Corrigan released a statement saying DHS has launched its own internal investigation.

What keeps Dani and Jared Verkerke going now are their three sons — Kameron, 8; Riley, 5; and Morgan, who will turn 4 on Friday. There’s also the community support — the vigil, the fundraisers, hundreds of cards and letters — some from strangers, some from Connor’s friends.

Connor Verkerke's parents received hundreds of sympathy cards and letters after the death of their son.
(Connor Verkerke’s parents received hundreds of sympathy cards and letters after the death of their son.)

“Buddy, you’re the nicest friend I ever had,” a friend known as Junior wrote in a hand-drawn card. “You should come back to life so I can play with you one last time.”

“It has truly given me hope because it shows me that good people far, far, far outnumber the bad,” Connor’s dad said.

Then, there’s Dani Verkerke’s dream — something she clings to. In it, she’s leaving a store through a double set of doors into a huge parking lot.

“There was a humungous rock and Connor was sitting on it,” she recalled. “And he looks up at me and he says, ‘Finally mom, you finally found the place where you can always find me. What took you so long?'”

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