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La Grange

Indian Head Park community gathers to remember 'guardian angel' Kelli O'Laughlin at vigil

La Grange, IL

When Kelli O'Laughlin was little, she'd go to the playground by her house with her brothers and sister.

Because of her love for the playground, the O'Laughlin family nicknamed it "Kelli's playground." Now, a year after Kelli's death, that has become the playground's official name.

Kelli was a freshman at Lyons Township High School when she was murdered in her Indian Head Park home on Oct. 27, 2011.

On the one-year anniversary of her death, her family held a candlelight vigil in Sacajawea Park to remember Kelli and dedicate the newly named "Kelli's Playground" that stands in the park.

"Nothing we can do can make up for that loss," Indian Head Park Mayor Richard Andrews said at the vigil. "We can extend our love and support to [the O'Laughlin family] and hope it helps in some way."

The playground was filled Saturday night with friends and family members, as well as community members who had never met Kelli. The vigil was led by Kelli's father, John, and included various speeches and performances.

Mark Gomez, who met Kelli the summer before they both started their freshman year at Lyons Township, said knowing Kelli changed his life in so many ways, calling her his "guardian angel."

He said he is living the way she would have wanted him to by being kind to everyone he meets and loving and cherishing his family and friends.

"I know I'm stronger than I think I am because of Kelli," Gomez said.

Patricia Dart, wife of Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart, became friends with the O'Laughlin family following the tragic loss of Kelli and said she wishes she could have known her.

"Her death is as powerful to me as her life was to all of you," Dart said. "That 14-year-old girl has brought out the best in all of us."

Kelli's mother, Brenda, said it was important for their family to remain a part of the community to help other children and ensure Kelli's legacy would continue. In that spirit, the family has sponsored scholarships for graduates of Lyons Township High School and children who want to attend Camp Tecumseh in Indiana, where Kelli used to attend camp.

Kelli's Playground now has a memorial for the slain teen that includes a redbud tree, bench and boulder with a plaque. A sign reading "Kelli's Playground" sits on top of the sign for Sacajawea Park.

The tree will bloom every spring around Kelli's birthday in April with purple flowers, her favorite color.

Brenda said she was thankful Kelli will always be remembered in the community thanks to the memorial and even more so, thanks to the kind of person Kelli was.

Gomez said she was the kind of person who loved everyone. And since her death, he has missed her.

"School's not the same," Gomez said. "Going to class, knowing I'm missing something, something that should be with me."

But he added that it's up to the community to spread Kelli's story and share her inspiration with others. Her sister, Bridgette, agreed, saying she had mixed feelings on the one-year anniversary of Kelli's death.

Bridgette said that although she was sad not to have Kelli physically present to make more memories in this world, she knew those in the community would help create memories in honor of Kelli through the many fundraisers and efforts people have led.

"The new memories of Kelli will be made on her behalf, in her memory," she said.


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