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Rabbi recounts irony of Susan Choucroun’s murder

This photo was taken at Congregation Ohev Sholom on Labor Day, after the morning minyan, the day before Susan Choucroun was murdered. Choucroun is standing on the right, dressed in the dark pink shirt with her hair pulled back, with her hands on the shoulders of Shir-El Rudnick, who is wearing the Double Bubble shirt.

Just after morning prayers at Ohev Sholom last Monday (Sept. 1), Susan Choucroun posed for the group photo accompanying this article. Twenty-seven hours later, she was murdered.  

{mprestriction ids="1"}That Tuesday afternoon, Susan failed to appear for an appointment at the beauty salon her husband Charles owns and operates. Repeatedly failing to reach her by phone, Charles grew worried and decided to close the shop and drive home to check on her.  

He arrived at his neighborhood to find it draped with yellow tape and swarming with police. He approached a police guard and said he lived in the neighborhood and requested to pass. The guard asked for his address. Charles supplied it and the cop blanched and asked him to wait while he got his supervisor. Charles Choucroun began to fear the worst. A minute later, those fears were realized.  

Later that night, Ohev Sholom Executive Director Steve Berman was winding down the day and watching the 10 o’clock news. The lead story reported a spree of violence in a quiet south Kansas City neighborhood that left three dead and two gravely injured. Steve recognized the name of the subdivision: Woodbridge. A congregational family resided there. He thought he’d call the Choucrouns to make sure everything was okay. He discovered, to his horror, it was quite the contrary.

At that moment, my wife and I were strolling across the parking lot at the Kaufman Stadium, feeling giddy after a winning effort by Royals. Then the cell phone rang. It was Steve Berman.  

Susan’s murder was terrible in myriad ways. She died a sudden, violent death. She left behind a string of loving friends and family, from her husband to her brother and his wife and their sons, nephews she deeply adored. Also abruptly cut off was her life’s work: four decades of very active dedication to making our community a better place to live in.  

And therein lies the deep irony of how Susan died. In the aforementioned photo, Susan’s hands are resting on the shoulders of one of the children of our congregation. Susan spent much of her adult professional life teaching and caring for young children. She adored all children, but the ones who most touched her heart were those from disadvantaged backgrounds. Her loftiest goal was to help give such kids a better shot at making something good of their lives.

But she couldn’t save them all. There would be, inevitably, some who couldn’t be saved — even some who would end up accomplishing quite the opposite.    

The cruel irony is that Susan’s life was snuffed out by the kind of wayward soul she most would have wanted to help.

Part of my job is to anticipate tough questions my congregants might be asking themselves. In these circumstances, they likely are wondering: What is the origin of such malevolence? Why does it often victimize those who least deserve it? And: What compels rational individuals to choose to carry out acts of malign evil? 

I have no answer to the first two questions. From time immemorial, people much wiser than I have groped unsuccessfully for answers. The best we’ve been able to do is re-frame the question.  

But about the third question I believe we can eventually locate the answer — and with it solve the problem of choosing evil over good. The journey there remains long and arduous. And without Susan there is less light to the way. She wouldn’t want us to let that dampen our efforts.


Jewish activist, along with two others, murdered

Early in the afternoon of Sept. 2, Susan Choucroun, a member of three local congregations as well as several Jewish and interfaith organizations, was found shot to death in the driveway of her south Kansas City, Mo., home. Police also discovered two others, Lorene Hurst and Darrel Hurst (who are not Jewish), dead at the scene a couple of houses away from the Choucrouns. Two others, George and Ann Taylor, were found severely beaten in their basement and died Tuesday. The suspect is accused of stealing the Taylors’ 2002 Toyota Highlander.

The stolen vehicle was found abandoned a few hours later following the report of another assault at a Motel 6 in the northland. Shortly before midnight on Sept. 2, police received a call about a suspicious person walking along I-29 near 72nd Street. Officers identified the man as the suspect from the earlier assaults at the motel. By late afternoon on Sept. 3, Brandon B. Howell had been charged in Jackson County with three counts of first-degree murder, four counts of armed criminal action, two counts of first-degree assault, one count of first-degree burglary, stealing a motor vehicle and a felon in possession of a firearm in relation to the crimes committed in Choucroun’s neighborhood. He also faces charges in Platte County including three counts of assault, one count of burglary, one count of tampering with a motor vehicle and one count of unlawful possession of a firearm.

Howell is being held without bond at the Jackson County Detention Center. He is being represented by an assistant public defender. A preliminary hearing has been set for 2 p.m. Sept. 25, which is the first day of Rosh Hashanah.