In the wake of the unimaginable, Brandy Corum has managed to take a clear-eyed look ahead. Take a job or two. Go back to school and pursue a career. Find ways to give back.
Corum’s latest move: a toy drive in memory of her two young children, who were shot to death on Jan. 15, 2016.
For the past two weeks, the pile of stuffed animals, books and toys has grown on a table at JJ’s Woodfire Pizza in Webb City, where Corum works. On the anniversary of the tragedy, Corum will bring the donations to local organizations to help their work with children who have experienced trauma.
“Life doesn’t stop,” she said. “Life will never stop no matter what happens, no matter if it’s the worst thing that anyone could possibly think of. It never stops. … I absolutely refuse to let something like this define me in a negative way.”
Corum’s children were shot and killed on a Friday night nearly a year ago by their father, Tony Kernel, who then turned the gun on himself in his home near Fidelity. Timber, 7, and Wesley, 9, were students at Steadley Elementary in Carthage; according to court records, Corum was seeking custody of them when they were killed.
On the day of her children’s funeral, Corum posted to Facebook asking friends to bring a book or toy to the service. She sent the donations to the Children’s Center, where Wesley and Timber had attended in 2014, and the Children’s Haven of Southwest Missouri — both nonprofit organizations that support child victims.
Over the past year, she has regained her bearings, working at the pizza place and at a painting company while taking college courses. She will graduate in May with a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice from Missouri Southern State University and a minor in biology. By next August, she hopes to have joined MSSU’s Police Academy.
“I just want to be in a position where I can help people,” she said.
The donations currently being collected will go once again to the Children’s Center and the Children’s Haven of Southwest Missouri. Some stuffed animals will also be given to the Jasper County Sheriff’s Office, whose deputies carry toys with them for when they encounter traumatized children in the line of work.
Corum is especially fond of books because her children loved to read. She asks that donations be given for all age groups, pointing out that very young children and teenagers also come through crisis centers.
One of her criminal justice professors at MSSU, JJ Spurlin, also employs her at his pizza shop. His classes focus on the experience of crime victims, including the grieving process, and he said it has been remarkable to watch Corum bounce back.
“It’s an individual path, but she is on the path,” he said. “(The toy drive) is part of it, the giving back and moving forward that takes you to the acceptance stage. We’re happy to help her bridge that.”
Toys and books for children of all ages can be dropped off at JJ’s Woodfire Pizza, 1612 S. Madison St. in Webb City, or at the Carthage Press building, 800 W. Central Ave. in Carthage. The donations, which memorialize Wesley Kernel, 9, and Timber Kernel, 7, will go to the Children’s Center, the Children’s Haven of Southwest Missouri and the Jasper County Sheriff’s Office.