Family, friends, remember Kelli O’Laughlin in Indian Head Park
Students, community officials and supporters attemd a candlelight vigil and playground dedication for Lyons Township High School student, Kelli O'Laughlin who was killed a year ago. | Jerry Daliege~for Sun-Times Media
Updated: December 2, 2012 6:13AM
INDIAN HEAD PARK — Exactly one year after Kelli Joy O’Laughlin was murdered in her home in Indian Head Park, friends, family and the community celebrated her life under a nearly full moon.
About 200 people gathered Saturday evening in Sacajawea Park for the dedication of Kelli’s Playground and a candlelight vigil.
The park is right next to the O’Laughlins house where an intruder fatally stabbed 14-year-old Kelli on Oct. 27, 2011.
Standing on the playground equipment, Kelli’s father, John O’Laughlin, pointed to the window of a second-floor office in their home where he said he and his wife retreated after the murder.
“Without the support of all of you, we might still be hiding on the second floor in that 12-by-12 room, with a couch, desk, chair and three dogs,” O’Laughlin said. “Friends and family literally dragged us out of the house.”
O’Laughlin described all the ways the community responded to the tragedy, including a prayer vigil the night after the murder, raising money for the Kelli Joy O’Laughlin Memorial Fund, and selling white crocus bulbs to bloom in spring to coincide with Kelli’s April 2 birthday.
“Thanks for giving us a reason to come out,” O’Laughlin said. “It’s much better to be out here with all of you.”
That’s why teenagers, parents, friends and families attended the ceremony, entitled Celebrating a life well-lived and well-loved.
“Kelli went to the same school (Highland Middle School) as my children,” Mike Lopez of Indian Head Park said before the ceremony started. “This had a huge impact on the community. We want to support the family.”
Kathy Ahern of Burr Ridge does not know the O’Laughlins. But her daughter works as a nanny and some of the girls she cares for knew Kelli.
“Kelli brought joy to the community. She was friends with everyone,” Ahern said. “Kelly brought joy to us and I wanted to bring joy back to her family.”
One of the first speakers Saturday met Kelli only once, but she made a strong impression on him and his two daughters.
Lou Mini said he and his family had just moved to the neighborhood, when some of their new neighbors invited them to a picnic in Sacajawea Park in September 2011.
Mini’s 3-year-old and 6-year-old daughters at first were staying close to him, too shy to join the other children. As he talked to the neighbors, his girls were drawn into playing with the other children.
They were on the zip slide and playing with a karaoke machine, he said. It all seemed to be orchestrated by an older girl, who introduced herself as Kelli.
“She said, ‘I live right there,’ and pointed to her house. ‘This playground is like my back yard.”
Mini said his youngest daughter refused to leave the playground until Kelli gave her a piggyback ride home.
Mini appreciated “this young girl who went out of her way to make my girls feel welcome. Since Oct. 27, I thought about that day a lot.”
“It was just a random act of kindness,” Mini said, but he since learned it was typical of Kelli.
Other speakers included Kelli’s sister Bridget, Indian Head Park Mayor Richard Andrews, Patricia Dart, a mother of five and the wife of Cook Country Sheriff Tom Dart, and new and old friends of Kelli’s, some of whom sang “Somewhere Over the Rainbow,” “Hallelujah,” and “For Good” from the play “Wicked.”