CALEDONIA TWP. (WWJ/AP) – A 9-year-old fatally stabbed at a playground near his western Michigan home was remembered during a memorial service Wednesday as a big-hearted and fun-loving boy who was taken much too soon.
Michael Connor Verkerke’s “life had barely begun,” Pastor Brad Kalajainen told hundreds of mourners at Cornerstone Church in Kent County’s Caledonia Township.
The boy, called Connor by family and friends, was playing with some friends on Aug. 4 on a playground at the Pinewood Village Mobile Home Park in Kentwood, when one boy pulled out a knife and repeatedly stabbed Verkerke in the back.
Verkerke ran to his home and collapsed, bleeding on the porch, while the 12-year-old stabbing suspect, Jamarion Lawhorn went to a neighbor’s home nearby to call police and turn himself in. Verkerke died a short time later at a hospital.
Laura Roth, Verkerke’s godmother, said the boy’s unselfish personality was on display even in the moments leading up to the attack.
“When the child who took Connor’s life asked if he could join them, true to form, Connor welcomed him wholeheartedly,” Roth said.
After being stabbed, her godson’s focus was on his brother and not himself, she said.
“During a time when most would have been consumed with fear, Connor was more concerned about Kameron,” she said. “He told Kameron: `Look at me, Kameron. If I die, this is not your fault. I love you.”‘
Verkerke’s father called him “one of my heroes.”
“I have never known anybody” who loved as much as “my 9-year-old son,” said Jared Verkerke, one of several family members, teachers and others who spoke at the service.
They cited his varied interests that included dancing, singing, superheroes and the Cub Scouts.
The Scouts played a prominent role in the service, lining the entrance to the church and performing a flag ceremony inside. They also provided the food that was served afterward.
Verkerke was the oldest of four boys. During the service, his 7-year-old brother Kameron got out of his chair on stage, walked toward the audience and spoke into a microphone that the pastor handed him.
“It’s hard to go through this,” said Kameron, who was wearing a dark blue Cub Scout shirt. “But he’s in a better place.”
The service came two days after a judge ordered a mental competency exam for Lawhorn, charged with murder in Verkerke’s death.
Lawhorn is designated as an adult in the juvenile court system, which would allow the boy, if convicted, to be sentenced as a juvenile and then as an adult once he turns 21, according to Chris Becker, Kent County’s chief assistant prosecutor.
WWJ is identifying Lawhorn, who turned 12 in March, because he is charged as an adult.
State mental health experts will examine Lawhorn and report on whether they believe he is mentally competent to stand trial. That is expected to bring a delay of several months.
Lawhorn has been described as behaving “very calmly” after the stabbing. Witnesses said the boy mentioned that he was upset because nobody loved him, and that he had taken multiple pills earlier in the day.
According to the delinquency petition filed in Kent County Circuit Court, Lawhorn told investigators he stabbed Verkerke because he wanted to go to jail. Lawhorn said he is “bad and always does stupid things,” and that he thought he’d be killed “for doing something like this,” according to The Grand Rapids Press.
Lawhorn said he didn’t know how many times he stabbed Verkerke, who he had never seen before that day. He initially said he wasn’t concerned for the victim, then said he was concerned because “it made him feel stupid,” an investigator wrote.
Lawhorn also told police he would get mocked at school for getting in trouble, and be called “dumb” and “black.”
Assistant Kent County Prosecutor Laura Clifton said she believes Lawhorn is the youngest defendant in Kent County charged with open murder.
A online fundraiser has been established to help Verkerke’s family with expenses. So far, more than $24,000 had been raised. To donate, click here.
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