Remembering Reat: Recent tragedy sparks students to honor classmate, reflect on freshman’s positive example, contributions to school activities


Throughout the day, students left notes, pictures and paper cranes attached to freshman Reat Underwood’s locker in the 200 hallway. Photo by Raine Andrews.

Anna Wonderlich, Hailey McEntee & Meghan Kennedy, Co-Editors & Staff Writer

It’s 7 a.m. on Tuesday, April 15.
Blue Valley students rush down the already-full aisles of the Performing Arts Center to find a seat among their peers. Students arriving just a few minutes late see that the PAC is standing room only.
Dressed in white clothes, students gathered together for a school-wide morning prayer service honoring 14-year-old freshman Reat Underwood, a victim of the Jewish Community Center shooting on April 13.
Underwood was going to audition for the KC Superstar contest at JCC with his grandfather, Dr. William Corporon, on April 13, when they were shot in the parking lot.
A few minutes later, 53-year-old Terri LaManno was also shot in the parking lot of Village Shalom while visiting her mother.
At the Tuesday morning prayer service, leaders of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes group made a few encouraging remarks and then opened up the time for students to talk, pray and comfort each other.
Holding hands, many students circled up on the PAC stage and shared some of their favorite memories of Underwood.
After several students spoke out, everyone returned to their seats and the lights dimmed for a slideshow of pictures submitted by Underwood’s family and friends. Students, faculty and family members shared both tears and laughter while watching the slideshow.
Principal Scott Bacon said he is extremely proud of the way the BV students and staff have supported each other in times of adversity.
“I am not sure I could be touched in a more meaningful way than to see our school community that I dearly love come together in the compassionate, caring way we have over the past several weeks,” he said. “We all strive in life to make a difference in the lives of others. Our students and staff have authentically and genuinely done that. Those are moments and memories we all will take with us forever.”
In addition to the prayer service, the entire student body arranged to wear white to school Tuesday. Shawnee Mission West, Rockhurst High School, BV North and BV Southwest among other local high schools submitted pictures of their students wearing white in support as well.
BV students wrote memories of Underwood on paper slips to be compiled into a paper chain that will hang near the choir room.
In the freshman hallway, students left notes and pictures on a sheet of paper covering Underwood’s locker. By the end of the school day, almost every student’s locker had a red construction paper heart with Underwood’s initials “RU” written on it and taped to his or her locker.
Many students even chose to wear the heart on their clothing.
Underwood was also recognized before the softball and baseball games on Tuesday night with a moment of silence, recording of the National Anthem he once sang and a balloon release.
Bacon said BV’s goal is to provide some sense of flexibility so students can grieve, be together and receive assistance if needed.
“Obviously, our students and staff are hurting,” he said. “We have done that yesterday, today and will do that on a smaller scale each day. Each day, we will take another step towards putting the pieces back together. Although the pain of losing Reat will linger and, for some, never go away, I think he wants us to celebrate his life and legacy by moving forward and take anything we can from this experience to better ourselves and the world in which we live.”
Underwood was involved in the choir department at BV, including this year’s musical “Guys and Dolls,” Choraliers, Men’s Choir and the Men’s Ensemble.
“He sang with so much gusto and passion,” choir teacher Marsha Moeller said. “He was a kid who was not only talented, but he was always positive, he was always happy, he was always friendly — he was like a magnet. We were looking forward to great things with him — I think he was going to be a rockstar, I really do. He will be very missed. It was an honor he was in my life for a little while.”
Moeller said Underwood left a legacy with his passion for performing and his always-positive attitude.
“Sometimes it’s hard when you’re going through the day, and you’ve got down moments,” she said. “I think he taught everyone to be positive and to love what you’re doing and to do it 100 percent and to find your passion and do it. I love thinking about his face when he was standing in choir and singing — it was always so energetic and wonderful, and that’ll stay with me forever. I think he’s going to leave a wonderful legacy.”
Choir member senior McKinzie Norton said she became close to Underwood through the musical this year.
“When I met him, I was immediately just like, ‘Wow this kid is incredible,’” she said. “After musical, when I saw him every day between third and fourth hour, he’d come up to me and say, ‘Hey, Kinzie. How are you?’ with this big smile on his face, and he would give me the biggest hug ever. I didn’t know someone so small could hug that tightly — they seriously were the best hugs ever.”
Moeller said everyone can take something away from Underwood’s attitude about life.
“If we could just be as positive as he was every day and try to put the troubles away and just really enjoy every little thing we do have, I think that’s a great lesson,” she said.
Norton said Underwood’s passion for life was a true inspiration.
“His Twitter bio really explains his whole philosophy of life — ‘Live life to the fullest, and never give up,’” she said. “He sure exemplified that, and I think that’s what is so impactful to the student body is that he really was such a positive person and he really did make the most out of his life, even though he was only here for a short time. What we can take from that is we can still be happy and be passionate about things even though he isn’t here, and he would want us to do that.”
Norton said Underwood always sang loudly and had a huge smile on his face when he was on stage. She said BV will always remember him and the impact he made.
“I know it’s hard, but he most definitely would want us all to be happy and rather than mourn his death, celebrate his life,” she said. “He would want us to keep going and push through and stay passionate through it all. He would definitely not want us to think of this as the end, but just as another step on the journey that we all have to face.”
Moeller said the choir department is doing what they can to honor Underwood. The combined men’s choir will sing at his funeral and the choir will do a number in his honor at Spring Show. Underwood will also appear in the spring video shown at Spring Show.
Not only was Underwood involved in the choir department, but also with Debate.
Debate teacher Chris Riffer said he had a close relationship with Underwood. He said Underwood never lacked confidence and always kept a positive attitude.
“I certainly enjoyed every minute I worked with him,” he said. “He was an outgoing kid. You know the cliché ‘he gives 100 percent every time’? That was Reat. He was active and always involved and did everything to his fullest.”
Riffer said Underwood leaves the legacy of being so active and involved in a variety of school activities.
“We were just reflecting on how it’s amazing he was only here for seven months,” he said. “There were so many lives of people who he has touched in just those seven months. Even in our program, for whatever reason, has more Prairie Star Middle kids than Blue Valley Middle kids — he was kind of in the minority when he started — and you would have never known that. He instantly became friends with everybody, and he assimilated to Blue Valley so fast.”
Riffer said the Debate department has began discussing ways to honor Underwood’s life.
“We’re really trying to work that out, but we haven’t gotten to that level yet,” he said. “We have talked about some ideas, though. It was a member of the Debate squad who came up with the idea of wearing white. The debaters are such good leaders, so I know they are already leading in those examples.”
At the beginning of this week, the Underwood family released this statement:
“We would like to thank our friends, family and our church, the United Methodist Church of the Resurrection, and school community for the outpouring of love and support during this very difficult time. We take comfort knowing they are together in heaven.”

Funeral services for Underwood and his grandfather will be held at 3 p.m. on Friday, April 18 at the United Methodist Church of the Resurrection. A community candlelight vigil walk from the JCC to Village Shalom at 7 p.m. on Friday.