ABC7 Exclusive: Family of Kelli O'Laughlin, 14, talks for the first time -- 1 year after her murder

October 9, 2012 (CHICAGO)

It began as a burglary and ended with a 14-year-old girl murdered in her own home.

Her name was Kelli O'Laughlin, and her murder one year ago this month was the first in the history of the small suburb of Indian Head Park.

Kelli's parents have never spoken publicly until now. John and Brenda O'Laughlin don't shy away from talking about their daughter. They view it as one more to way to help them heal.

They continue to hear from Kelli's huge network of friends, and even attended her school's big homecoming football game this past weekend. They're not waiting for a court verdict to provide them with comfort - they are seeking it out themselves.

The ribbons may have faded, but not the memories or the pain.

"We have thousands of pictures of Kelli in all these different situations, but the sad part is: There's no new pictures. There's no new stories," said John O'Laughlin.

Last fall in the O'Laughlin home was like so many others across the city and suburbs. There were memories of summer vacations; a return to school and sports; and, a big homecoming dance: Kelli O'Laughlin's first as a freshman at Lyons Township High School.

Then, on October 27th: a coincidence of time and crime. It was the one week between tennis and track for Kelli, so she was home from school earlier than usual when a burglar broke in.

"If you knew Kelli, Kelli weighed 90 pounds and she wouldn't even hurt a fly," said Brenda O'Laughlin. "If this person would hurt Kelli, this person would hurt anybody."

John Wilson, Jr., a career criminal who had spent 17 of the last 20 years behind bars, is charged with the murder. In the days that followed, police sources say he sent taunting texts from Kelli's phone to her parents.

How and why did a man from the South Side of Chicago allegedly pick the suburban home, 25 miles from his last known address, to rob? It's a question still unanswered.

"Whatever happens, Kelli will never be back and our lives have changed forever. The community has changed forever, and so, it doesn't matter: Why? What? When? Where? Who? Or anything like that - it's just everything has been changed," said Brenda O'Laughlin.

"You have to find a way to be OK, or come to a realization that no matter what happens in the court system, you are where you are. Your daughter is gone, and that's a tough one to come to, because - you know, she's not coming back," said John O'Laughlin.

The O'Laughlins have drawn strength from their community; so much so: despite the horror that happened in this home, they have stayed here, in part, to stand their ground.

"I've tried to visualize going somewhere and no one would know our story. It's sort of hard to start the conversation about what happened, and how traumatic it was. I just don't want to do that," said John O'Laughlin.

"We can't run from something that's happened because then it's like we are the victims," said Brenda O'Laughlin. "We can't be known as the victim - that we had to pick up and leave and stuff. This is our home."

Wednesday on ABC7 News at 5, our conversation with the O'Laughlins continues. Kelli's friends continue to honor her in ways big and small. Despite her death, Kelli continues to impact the lives of those who knew her, as well as those who didn't.

Kelli Joy O'Laughlin Memorial Fund

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