Indian Head Park parents’ 6-year mission of ‘spreading joy’ after young daughter’s death

We often share with you families’ tears, sadness and anger in the hours and days after the murder of a loved one.  What you don’t often see is what can happen in the months and years that follow that loss.

“You can’t bring Kelli back so what we’re trying to do is keep her memory alive,” said John O’Laughlin.

John's daughter Kelli was murdered in 2011 in Indian Head Park when she came home from school and interrupted a burglary. Kelli’s mom believes keeping her daughter’s memory alive is part of her own healing process.

“If I didn’t have this to keep me going, if it wasn’t for her, I probably wouldn’t be sitting here today,” said Brenda O’Laughlin.

In the months and years that followed their daughter’s death, the O’Laughlins have tirelessly worked to honor Kelli’s memory.  They created a foundation that’s raised more than $359,000 and awarded 56 college scholarships.  It’s also paid for kids to attend Kelli’s favorite summer camp, Camp Tecumseh.  They’ve paid for uniforms for Lyons Township High School athletic teams and delivered toys to the Ronald McDonald House.

They’ve used Kelli’s middle name “Joy” as their inspiration.

“We want people to remember her for good and joy,” John O’Laughlin said. “We want that to be the memory and not that a poor little girl was murdered in her house. That’s how we started but that’s not where we want to end up.”

The O’Laughlins say they’ve been overwhelmed by the support they’ve received from friends and strangers alike.  Among them, a street department foreman from Hobart, Indiana.

“Never in my life did I ever run until I did the first run for Kelli,” Scott Cummings said.

He started running five years ago and has now logged more than 100 races in Kelli’s honor.  Cummings didn’t know Kelli – or her family - but he’s a father who says he was heartbroken as he watched news coverage of Kelli’s murder.  When he heard her family was sponsoring a run in her honor the next year, he felt called to join.  He’s been running ever since.

“Every time I would run, her name would go across the finish line with me and I felt like she was with me sometimes by doing that.”

Cummings likes to say "he never finishes first, but he always finishes inspired."

“When I run the races I always think of Brenda never giving up.  All that she’s gone through and she’s never given up.  I feel the same when I run. I’ve never given up on a race yet,” he says.

It’s one more way Kelli’s parents can still find “joy” despite their pain.

“Without the connection of the surrounding community I would fall apart,” Kelli’s mom said. “So for me, to run away from something like this, no. If I ran away that means the perpetrator, that’s what I’ll call him, he would have won.  And there was no way he was going to win.”

For more information or to donate you can visit kellijoyolaughlinmemorialfund.com