CALEDONIA TOWNSHIP, Mich. (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 other children on Aug. 4 on the playground in Kentwood, near Grand Rapids, when witnesses say one boy pulled a knife and stabbed Connor in the back.
Connor died at a hospital, and the 12-year-old who allegedly stabbed him is facing a murder charge.
The service Wednesday, though, was largely free of talk about the incident. It was all about Connor, whose 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.
Connor 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 the 12-year-old boy charged in Connor's death.
The Associated Press isn't naming the 12-year-old because of his age. He's designated as an adult in the juvenile court system, meaning he'd be sentenced as a juvenile if convicted and then resentenced as an adult once he turns 21.
State mental health experts will examine the 12-year-old and report on whether they believe he is mentally competent to stand trial. That is expected to bring a delay of several months.
Laura Roth, Connor'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.'"