At first, it was only a small group of students huddled together in front of the main entrance to Lyons Township High School’s South Campus. But slowly, cars carrying students, parents and community members began to enter the school’s parking lot off Willow Springs Road in Western Springs—and then they flooded in.
By 7 p.m. hundreds had arrived for a candlelight vigil to mourn the loss and celebrate the life of Kelli O'Laughlin, a freshman at Lyons Township High School, who was murdered in her home on Thursday.
In the cold night air friends clutched each other tightly for warmth and comfort as they lit candles and looked inwards. Their light created a warm glow that grew as the crowd did, and danced in the tearful student’s eyes like starlight on placid water.
For a while, it was quiet. Some sobbed and others stood stoically. Together a community bound themselves together to grieve and wonder why a girl that everyone thought of as bright and beautiful could be taken away in such a tragic and painful way.
“She was so young,” a girl of equal age sobbed into a friend’s shoulder.
Parents looked on without quite knowing how to comfort their children, and wondering themselves how to best protect them from the world’s dangers and from the pain of their loss.
“You just tell them you love them a lot,” said Vicky Gumbiner, a parent. “You can’t protect them all the time and you can’t control the world. But you try your best and you keep hope.”
As someone in the crowd began to softly sing Amazing Grace, the music slowly grew as more voices joined in. The Lord’s Prayer was recited. Together the mourners joined in a call and response chant with a lone voice shouting, “We are!” And the crowd shouting out in return, “LT.”
Students said school on Monday morning was going to be difficult, but tonight was about catharsis. They would share each other's pain and hold onto their fond memories to keep her alive in their hearts.
At the center of the crowd, a man spoke up who said he had known Kelli most of her life. He spoke about her smile, her warmth, and about the heartache he felt.
“Think of something nice,” he said. “Put it in your heart and keep it there for the rest of your life.”
The crowd agreed. She would have liked that.