On October 27, 2011, the horrific murder of teenager Kelli O’Laughlin roiled the Lyons Township community, precipitating a yearlong outpouring that shows no sign of waning.
On October 27, 2012, hundreds of community members flooded tiny Sacajawea Park in northwest Indian Head Park to dedicate a new memorial beside Kelli’s Playground, as the park’s structure has now been officially renamed. It was Kelli’s—and her family’s—name for the park, which is just about as old as Kelli would have been.
The memorial consists of a plaque, a bench and an eastern redbud tree, which will flower in the bright purple that has become a symbol for Kelli’s memory. On the plaque are inscribed lyrics from Disney’s The Fox and the Hound: “Goodbye may seem forever/farewell is like the end/but in our heart is the memory/and there you will always be.”
Indian Head Park mayor Richard Andrews gave the dedication speech for the memorial. Like all the evening's speeches, it was delivered from the top of Kelli's Playground.
“A year ago today, as the result of this senseless tragedy, our community was changed forever,” Andrews said. “However just as we all learn life’s lessons from hardship, we have become more vigilant and I believe more concerned about each other.
“The outpouring of support is demonstrated by all of you here tonight. The ribbons throughout the community, the cups in the fences and the events held in the memory of Kelli are not just a source of strength for the O’Laughlin family, but also for our entire extended community.”
As darkness grew and candlelight spread throughout the crowd, several speakers gave testimony to Kelli’s memory and the work her life continues to inspire. IHP resident Lou Meani told of Kelli’s welcoming his family to the town when he moved; LT sophomore Tori Lambert, shared an essay about Kelli written by her friend Kyle Brown that the O'Laughlin family had asked to be shared.
Several of Kelli’s friends also spoke, many through palpable emotion.
“As we go through this we need to stay strong and united as one, be there for each other and care for each other, just like Kelli would have wanted us to do,” said Mark Gomez, who met Kelli in the summer of 2011. “A way to do this is by spreading her story and her inspiration. Seeing those white ribbons around the community gives me hope—hope that we’ll all remember her and try to live the life that she couldn’t.”
The closing speech was given by Brenda O’Laughlin, Kelli’s mother, who discussed the impressive accomplishments of the Kelli Joy O’Laughlin Memorial Fund and the family’s continuing gratitude for the support of the community.
“As our journey continues, people still amaze us in how touched they were [by] Kelli and how she impacted their lives,” O’Laughlin said.
Music and poetry was a large part of the ceremony. Local ukulelist/singer Josie Dunne performed “Somewhere Over the Rainbow,” Celine Maria Allan, a friend of Kelli’s, sang an original tribute to Kelli called “Tell Me Why,” Isabella Tenorio-Bucci sang “Hallelujah,” Anna Hoffman read the poem If Tomorrow Starts Without Me by David Roman and a group of Kelli’s friends from Highlands Middle School closed the ceremony singing “For Good” from Wicked.
“I do believe I have been/changed for the better,” the song goes. “Because I knew you/I have been changed for good.”