Friends and family celebrate Kelli O’Laughlin’s 15th birthday
Sharon Storm of Crest Hill hands out balloons for a balloon launch as part of Kelli O'Laughlin's birthday celebration/memorial at Sacajawea Park. | Steve Johnston~for Sun-Times Media
Updated: April 3, 2012 1:08PM
Surrounded by the laughter of friends, a rainbow of balloons, and cake, Kelli Joy O’Laughlin would have loved her 15th birthday party April 2 in the park next to her Indian Head Park home.
Instead, students from Lyons Township High School and Highlands Middle School and neighbors turned their eyes toward heaven and celebrated without the friend they called peppy, happy and so full of life and kindness.
Tears welled up at times as those at the park recalled the beautiful life cut short Oct. 27, when the 14-year-old freshman was found stabbed to death in her home after she confronted an intruder.
But sadness gave way to smiles at the gentle urging of Kelli’s father, John, who told the crowd of several hundred, “Your wet eyes are not helping me.”
Paige McMahon, an eighth-grader at Highlands and neighbor of the O’Laughlin family, said she was anxious to sing a special song for Kelli with the middle school’s show choir. The group began working on “Long Live” by Taylor Swift in January.
“Kelli and I hung out and played at this park all the time,” Paige said of Sacajawea Park off Plainfield Road. “She thought this was her park.”
Following the song, Brenda O’Laughlin spoke about her daughter as “an inspiration to us all, who led by example.
“From the moment she was born, she lived up to her name, Kelli Joy,” her mother said. “She had a contagious, radiant smile and was uplifting to everyone.
“She was vibrant, happy, generous and a friend to all,” Brenda O’Laughlin said. “I never realized how many friends she had.”
Some of the friends from school, summer camp and tennis programs she attended had written notes or attached cards to hundreds of helium balloons. After everyone sang “Happy Birthday,” they released the balloons, which sailed up and out of sight, and the crowd applauded.
A group of Kelli’s friends from Highlands wore matching shirts they had tie-dyed purple commemorating their friend’s birthday and her favorite color. The back of the shirts read, “I’m thankful that in God’s design, he planned it so your path crossed mine. I will never forget you.”
“It’s good to be here tonight,” said La Grange freshman Melissa Marston, who wore one of the shirts. “It’s good to celebrate her life and look at all the positives.”
Other friends spoke of Kelli’s bubbling personality, boundless energy and ability to reach out and be a friend to everyone with a knack for brightening each day.
“We met in seventh grade, when I transferred to Highlands,” said freshman Anna Hoffmann, who shared a poem about Kelli. “She was literally the first person who said hi to me.”
Emily Flaws, a sophomore at LT, read Kelli a letter saying, “I hope you’re making all the other angels laugh and smile.”