The Grand Rapids Press, Joel Bissell / AP
Published Tuesday, Aug. 5, 2014 | 8:27 a.m.
Updated Wednesday, Aug. 6, 2014 | 12:22 a.m.
KENTWOOD, Mich. — The giggles and innocence neighbors associated with the playground at the Pinebrook Village mobile home park vanished in the screams of a 9-year-old boy, who witnesses and authorities said was stabbed in the back by a 12-year-old.
The older boy now faces a murder charge, and authorities say they are still investigating what led to the attack.
"The kids, I thought they were just playing," neighbor Barb Poelman, 50, told the Associated Press on Tuesday. "They're always out there playing."
Michael Conner Verkerke, his brother, his best friend and another child were playing Monday on the playground in Kentwood, near Grand Rapids. Witnesses said one boy pulled a knife and stabbed Michael in the back.
"We were sitting right on our deck," Poelman said. "We heard the kids run across the front ... screaming. He (Michael) ran with the kids that were with him."
Witnesses and police said Michael ran to his home and collapsed, bleeding on the porch. His mother, Poelman said, pleaded for help on the grass outside.
"She was screaming, 'Where is the ambulance?' while her boy was laying on the porch bleeding," Poelman said.
Michael died a short time later at a hospital.
The 12-year-old, meanwhile, went to Glen Stacy's home nearby after the stabbing, witnesses said. Stacy told The Grand Rapids Press the boy asked to use his phone. He said the boy called 911 to report the attack and turn himself in.
Stacy said he also called police and described the boy as "very calm."
"The only time he raised his voice was when the police came," Stacy said.
When officers arrived at the mobile home park, they first went to aid the stabbing victim, but the older boy wanted the officers to pick him up and yelled, "'Hello, I'm right here. You're going the wrong way,'" Stacy said.
Kentwood Police Chief Thomas Hillen said authorities were still investigating a motive for the attack. Police said the 12-year-old was evaluated at a hospital and then taken to the Kent County Juvenile Detention Center.
He pleaded not guilty to a murder charge in juvenile court Tuesday, according to his attorney, who told a court referee he may seek a mental evaluation to determine if the boy is competent to stand trial. The boy was ordered held until an Aug. 13 preliminary hearing.
The Associated Press is not naming the 12-year-old because of his age. He 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.
A man who identified himself as Michael's grandfather when the AP called a phone number listed for his home declined to comment. But Tiffany Armijo said her son was playing with Michael when he was attacked and that she had never seen the 12-year-old before.
"He was playing with Michael and his brother, and my kid, too," she said, her voice breaking.
She declined to discuss any details about the attack, but said Michael was her son's best friend and "a good kid."
"They always played together. He was at my house almost every day," she said.
Residents and strangers gathered near the playground Tuesday night to hold a vigil and pray.
Susan DeGroot said her 4-year-old grandson, Ewan Beukema, has played with Michael and the others in the sandbox and on the colorful play equipment.
"Ewan was not here and so I'm very thankful that he was not on the playground with the children at the time," DeGroot told the AP on Tuesday. "But it's a tragedy for the community."
AP writer Corey Williams reported from Detroit.