'Heart in the right place' – Corey's Network focuses on service amid transition

By Mike Genet mike.genet@examiner.net

Almost seven years and more than 300 families later, the work — which is both important and unfortunately necessary — continues for Corey’s Network.

The nonprofit organization, founded in 2014 by Michelle Metje and husband Bob Norris, provides immediate support and advocacy for surviving family members of homicide victims in the Kansas City metro area. Metje’s son, 22-year-old Corey Laykovich, was fatally stabbed in July 2013 less than two blocks from their family home in Independence.

Until last year, Corey's Network hosted an annual vigil for victims of unsolved homicides in late July along 39th Street in Independence. Co-founders Michelle Metje and Bob Norris recently named Shelly Schuman as the new president of Corey's Network, which assists families of homicide victims in the metro area.

She later decided to put her social work experience to use and help families deal with hurdles that she encountered. That includes financial assistance for funerals, connections for counseling, advice on dealing with media and investigations and other services that leverage organizational partnerships and the various expertise of Corey’s Network board members.

Thus far, they’ve assisted more than 300 families, including about $75,000 in financial aid. Earlier this year, a new president took over day-to-day leadership of Corey’s Network — board member Shelly Schuman of Raytown. 

In addition to pushing their vigil for unsolved homicides online last year, Metje said the pandemic gave her and her husband plenty of extra time for self-reflection, and they realized they needed to help themselves a bit, similarly to help they offered to others.

“It changed how often Bob and I were out of the house,” she said. “We had to sit back and look at how his homicide affected us, how it affected us when we talked with others about their homicide.” 

Metje said it was vicarious trauma, and, referring to the traditional airplane safety lecture, she and Bob had “too busy giving everyone else their masks” to properly put on their own.

So, while Metje and Norris will continue to lead sets of weekly “GRIEF to Relief” seminars for surviving families, they’ve entrusted the day-to-day work to Schuman, which they say will help the organization going forward. Schuman, like all board members, is strictly a volunteer.

Schuman said her family also was touched by homicide in 2008, “and our story’s a little bit different in that it was a family member that killed another family member.” Saddened by crime in the communities, she wanted to find a way to help and followed on Facebook how Corey’s Network assisted people.

“The heart they have for the community, I want to be with people during those darkest nights and the hardest days, and help them stand up a little bit,” Schuman said. “This was an organization that has its heart in the right place.”

Schuman, whose background includes work as a crisis chaplain and educator, said even the organization’s name with the particular word “network” is meaningful, “because it’s not about us trying to do everything, or Shelley and Bob trying to do everything. It’s about getting a network of agencies together to help families.”

Anyone who does a referral on the coreysnetwork.org can voluntarily have their information shared instantaneously with a number of partner organizations in the metro area.

Corey’s Network’s latest round of weekly GRIEF seminars started this week at The City House on U.S. 40 in Independence (the former Best Buy building, east of Noland Road), but Metje said people can join at any point, and the Monday evening sessions (6-8 p.m.) start again short thereafter, so one can easily make up previous sessions. In their case, “grief” is an acronym for:

  • Getting to know services.
  • Reporters (how to work with the media).
  • Investigation (what to expect with the process).
  • Enforcement (the court process).
  • Forward movement (grief, vigils and keeping cases alive).

The sessions often include guest speakers, and Metje said one family has been making a multi-hour round trip through numerous rounds of sessions, in part because there are different speakers for the various sessions.

Schumann said she first observed through the sessions how Metje and Norris emphasize that finding even a small grasp of something to control can help immensely.

“When you lose somebody, you’ve lost control, and you try to grab for anything to keep from spinning,” Metje said, and part of Corey’s Network’s aims are to provide some tools, “so you’re able to go out and live for yourself and be a loving part of the community.”

Laykovich’s killer was arrested in January 2017, pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter more than a year later and recently received an additional federal prison sentence for separate charges. The annual vigil that had taken place at the time of Laykovich’s death then changed to a vigil for unsolved homicide victims. Metje and Norris relocated to north of the river before the pandemic, but it didn’t change the scope of the group’s work.

Metje started Corey’s Network out of advocacy for her son, and that desire doesn’t wane, even if she’s handed over the reins.

“Death for the child doesn’t mean that the parenting stops,” she said. “Just because Corey died doesn’t mean I stop being Corey’s mom; I’ll always be Corey’s mom till the day I die.

“I come from a social work background, and I always realized there’s a need for people to step out of their areas and help others.”