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Blue Valley High Lost A 'Star In The Making'

Laura Spencer

Blue Valley High School, at 159th and Nall in Stilwell, Kan., was closed earlier this week for a previously scheduled professional development day. Still, counseling support was available for staff and students in the wake of Sunday's shootings that killed three people, including a Blue Valley student and his grandfather.

William Lewis Corporon, a physician, and his 14-year-old grandson, Reat Griffin Underwood, a freshman at Blue Valley, were shot in the parking lot at the Jewish Community Center in Overland Park, Kan. Underwood was there to audition for KC SuperStar, an "American Idol" style of competition that recognizes the best high school singer with a scholarship.

The loss of a 'great kid' and a 'star in the making'

"It was tragic and senseless," says Chris Riffer, speech and debate teacher at Blue Valley, about the shootings.

Riffer describes Reat as "a great kid and a hard worker." In his first semester, he competed in seven tournaments.

"He competed at the highest level for a first-year debater that you could probably compete with at a novice level," says Riffer. "He medalled in debate frequently."

Principal Scott Bacon says he was just getting to know Reat, but the student had made a memorable first impression at the beginning of the school year when he sang the national anthem at an annual breakfast.


"And certainly at that point in time, I thought we had another star in the making. Very talented," says Bacon. "He was involved in debate, involved in theater, very much involved in music, (he) was in our school musical. (He) had a tremendous personality."

Friends and family connect

An interfaith prayer service took place Sunday night at St. Thomas the Apostle Episcopal Church, with reportedly hundreds of students as well as family members in attendance. Bacon says he stopped by the family's home to offer his condolences.

"As an administrator, if the situation deems appropriate, I try to reach out in that way if I can," he says. "We as a school certainly want to provide for the needs of the family...it's a difficult time."

Early Tuesday morning, Blue Valley High students held a vigil in the Performing Arts Center. It was closed to the public, and cars started filling the parking lot just after 6 a.m. as a police officer directed traffic.

A smile that lit up a room

Across the street from the school, before the vigil started, freshman Jeremy Jacobs, wearing a white collared shirt in honor of Reat, talked about his friend.

Jacobs says he started performing in musicals with Reat in middle school. "It's really hard to accept the fact that he won't be at school with us again," he says.

Most recently, they shared the stage in Guys and Dolls.

"He was always the kid that would come into the room and would automatically light everyone up, because he had these huge dimples that just made everyone smile," says Jacobs. "And he always had a smile on his face."

At the top of Reat's Twitter page, it says, “Live life to the fullest and never give up!” And classmates say they’re taking that advice to heart.

Remembering lives well lived

An interfaith service takes place on Thursday at 10 a.m. at the Jewish Community Center to mourn and honor all three victims, Terri LaManno, Dr. William Lewis Corporon, and his grandson, Reat Underwood.

A private memorial is scheduled for Corporon and Underwood on Friday at 3 p.m. at the United Methodist Church of the Resurrection in Leawood, Kan.

In a statement on Monday, Will Corporon, who lost his father and a nephew, said about the Friday services: "I can't think of a better day (Good Friday) and week (Easter) to thank God for my 48 years with a wonderful father and 14 years with a beautiful nephew."

Eds note: Updated to include interviews conducted before Tuesday's vigil.

Kansas City is known for its style of jazz, influenced by the blues, as the home of Walt Disney’s first animation studio and the headquarters of Hallmark Cards. As one of KCUR’s arts reporters, I want people here to know a wide range of arts and culture stories from across the metropolitan area. I take listeners behind the scenes and introduce them to emerging artists and organizations, as well as keep up with established institutions. Send me an email at lauras@kcur.org or follow me on Twitter @lauraspencer.
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