One Year Later: Kelli O'Laughlin's Lasting Legacy
Patch takes a look at the efforts over the past year, inspired by the 14-year-old Lyons Township freshman, who was murdered in her Indian Head Park home.
It has been nearly a year since 14-year-old Kelli O'Laughlin was murdered in her Indian Head Park home. Police say the Lyons Township freshman walked in as her house was being burglarized on October 27, 2011 and was stabbed to death.
The horrific crime motivated not only friends and family—but also strangers—to volunteer their time at events that would honor her memory. In the year since her death, numerous organizations have held fundraisers and charity projects to raise money for the Kelli Joy O'Laughlin Memorial Fund, which provides scholarships and educational opportunities for young people.
As the O'Laughlin family prepares for a memorial service on the anniversary of her death, Patch takes a look at the events that have taken place in the past year and the continuing efforts of the community to make sure Kelli O'Laughlin will never be forgotten.
In short: Score Tennis and Fitness Club in Countryside hosted a round-robin tennis tournament on Nov. 11 to benefit the O'Laughlin family.
"Our owners have kids the same age, and we thought this was something we could do to hold a benefit for them," manager Linda Kurtyka said.
In short: The purple bands, which read “Kelli Joy O’Laughlin—4.2.97-10.27.11,” sold about as fast as the organizers of the “Wristbands for Kelli” fundraiser could order them, with all proceeds going into the Kelli Joy O'Laughlin Memorial Fund.
The “Wristbands” program was started by three of O’Laughlin’s friends—Karli Ferhman, Olivia Jones and Tessa Metz—the Saturday after her murder, and was quickly picked up by the rest of the Lyons Township community.
“It’s just escalating into this big thing,” said Indian Head Park resident Bill Ferhman, one of the coordinators of the fundraiser. “I’m sending them to Norway, Holland, California, West Virginia, Washington D.C. It’s people reaching out, and it’s just huge. And the support that we’ve had from the local community has just been phenomenal.”
Another group of LT students raised funds by selling white T-shirts emblazoned “KO’MMUNITY” in that same purple.
In short: Forty-six area businesses donated items that were raffled off at a Nov. 23 event hosted by at Mattone Restaurant and Bar in La Grange Park to raise money for the Kelli Joy O'Laughlin Memorial Fund.
"Even though you may not know the family personally, you're so moved by this, because it's so horrific, it touches every single person," said Eric Alletto, one of the coordinators for the fundraiser. "People would like to do something and would like to help, but they don't know how, and this gives them a how."
In short: CounterStrike MMA Academy held a free Women's Self Defense and Pepper Spray Use program on Saturday, Dec. 3, which will also doubled as a fundraiser for the Kelli Joy O'Laughlin Memorial Fund.
“It's not something we typically do, but we look at it as a community service kind of thing,” co-owner Ross Gavino said.
In short: The fourth annual Lyons Township “Blackout” home boys’ basketball game versus rivals Hinsdale Central on Feb. 17 raised $23,000 for the Kelli Joy O’Laughlin Memorial Fund.
The Lions basketball team spent a good portion of their season working on setting up the fundraiser, and got many local businesses on board. The total amount raised exceeded the team’s initial goal of $15,000.
“It far surpassed anything that either Coach [Tom] Sloane or I had dreamed of when we talked about this at the beginning of the year,” freshman team coach Jason Brauer said.
In short: A garden at O'Laughlin's middle school was dedicated on May 9. It consists of a granite bench, a Jane magnolia tree and a stone with a plaque bearing Kelli’s name. The tree was decorated that Wednesday in ribbons bearing the names of the Highlands Middle School Class of 2011—so Kelli could be “surrounded by her classmates.”
“Highlands is the place where Kelli grew the most,” said O'Laughlin's friend and classmate Kelsey Corcoran, addressing a large assembly at the dedication. “She really made her mark on Highlands, and Highlands made its mark on her. Now we have a permanent reminder of the mark that she made and the light that she left: this beautiful peace garden.”
In short: At a fundraising event held at the Pleasantview Fire Station in La Grange Highlands on the morning of June 30, over 40 friends and classmates of O’Laughlin's co-opted the engine bay for use as a drive-through car wash to raise money for the Kelli Joy O'Laughlin Memorial Fund, charging $5 a car and using the station’s own hoses to provide a thorough cleansing of locals’ vehicles.
“We just want to remember Kelli; we never want her to be forgotten because she was such an amazing person,” said Macy Tabachka, a friend of O'Laughlin's and an organizer of the car wash. “And bringing the whole community together to raise some money for her fund—I think that’s just great.”
In short: O'Laughlin's friend Mark Gomez, 15, organized Joy: a concert to honor O'Laughlin's memory and raise money for the Kelli Joy O'Laughlin Memorial Fund.
In only a few weeks, Gomez and a group of friends worked with school officials to use the Reber Center Auditorium, held auditions to select performers and put together an Aug. 18 concert that featured 19 musical acts, and raised at least $4,098 through the sale of 200-300 tickets.
"We didn't want there to be sad songs," Gomez said of the process of selecting the night's set list. "We wanted them to be uplifting and to spread that feeling. We wanted to be able to express how we felt about her."
In short: The “Run for Kelli” 5K to benefit the Kelli Joy O'Laughlin Memorial Fund will be held Nov. 11 at Lyons Township High School South Campus in Western Springs. There will be four start times from 7:30 a.m. to 9:45 a.m., each with up to 250 runners. A one-mile walk and a 50-yard dash for children will also be available.
“As we mark one year since Kelli’s passing, we have been inspired by her everlasting spirit,” said Kelli’s mother Brenda in a press release. “We strive to keep her zest for life alive in our own pursuits to make our communities a better place, one neighbor and one block at a time.”
Registration is $25 ($15 for the one-mile walk.) Electronic timing, prizes, T-shirts and stuffed bears will be provided to participants.
Interested runners can find more information about the event or register here.
The memorial service for Kelli O'Laughlin will take place at 6 p.m. October 27 in Sacajawea Park, near O'Laughlin's Indian Head Park home.