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Police block off the area where 14 year old Kelli O’Laughlin was found stabbed to death Thursday. Friday, October 28, 2011. | Brian Jackson~Sun-Times

Cops: Suspect held in Indian Head Park not related to girl’s slaying

SHARE Cops: Suspect held in Indian Head Park not related to girl’s slaying
SHARE Cops: Suspect held in Indian Head Park not related to girl’s slaying

The burglar that authorities believe killed a 14-year-old girl Thursday after she surprised him when she walked into her Indian Head Park home after school was in custody Friday, a source close to the investigation said.

The man was a stranger to Kelli O’Laughlin, a freshman at Lyons Township High School, the source said.

“We had a 14-year-old girl returning home from school,” between 4:45 and 5:30 p.m. Thursday, said Indian Head Park Police Chief Frank Alonzo on Friday. “And as she entered the house, we believe she foiled a burglary in the home. . . .They confronted her, and, sadly, they killed her.”

Alonzo said the girl’s death was believed to be the first murder in the town’s history. He declined to comment on reports that a suspect was in custody, saying “it’s all under investigation.”

Kelli’s mother found her daughter in the family’s home, on the 6300 block of Keokuk Road. The home is adjacent to a neighborhood park. Late Friday afternoon, two tearful teenage girls started a memorial to Kelli in the park, leaning a teddy bear against a tree, flanked by a bouquet of multicolor daisies and a single burning candle. Community members were tying white ribbons around the town in Kelli’s memory.

Nathan Carnezal, 14, and Bailey Hernandez, 14, who both knew Kelli since elementary school, tried to walk to the family’s home Friday afternoon but were stopped by police from getting too close. Both described Kelli as positive and friendly, someone who always had a smile on her face.

“Kelli was just always happy, always laughing,” said Hernandez, who first met her when the two were in the same Girl Scout Daisy troop in kindergarten. “She brightened everybody’s day.”

Carnezal described Kelli as “probably the nicest person ever to go to Lyons Township or Highlands [elementary and middle school].” He found out about the murder when classmates started calling each other around 9 p.m. Thursday.

“I didn’t want to believe it,” he said. “We would, like, ride the bus together to school every morning. Right now, all I pretty much keep thinking is why her?”

Early Friday, police released a sketch of a dark-complexioned black man, 25 to 35 years old, about 5-feet-8 or 5-feet-9 inches tall, with a medium build who was wearing a dark, hooded sweatshirt and had a patterned backpack or strap bag. The sketch was from a woman who called police to say she had seen the man walking near the O’Laughlin home.

Police also released images of rare gold coins that were missing from the home, hoping that a pawn shop employee might recognize them and call police. About four dozen officers from Indian Head Park and the surrounding suburbs were working on the case on Friday.

“Our community has been shaken,” Indian Head Park Mayor Richard Andrews said. “It feels as if we’ve all lost a family member.”

Gary Meyers, who has lived in the neighborhood for 32 years and lives a block from the O’Laughlin home, said it was common for people in the area to leave their homes unlocked until a series of burglaries over the summer. Police arrested several suspects in the burglaries and do not believe they are related to Thursday’s killing.

An Air Force veteran, Meyers was walking his dog Friday and said after the summer burglaries, he locks his doors and doesn’t walk his dog without his gun, patting his waist band.

“I know the family,” he said. “The 14-year-old was an attractive young lady. She had two dogs and we’d run into each other walking our dogs and chat. I could have cried when I heard.”

John Adams, who has lived in the neighborhood for three years, said the entire community was shaken.

“Nobody wants to think this type of thing happens where they live but the fact of the matter is it does,” Adams said. “This is very, very tragic, especially for the family.”

Friday night, hundreds of candle flames flickered in the chill autumn air, as classmates and parents gathered outside Lyons Township High School to remember Kelli. There were hugs and children openly weeping.

Danielle Shapiro, 14, was among the grief-stricken. She played on the freshman-sophomore tennis team with Kelli.

“She was a person to look up to,” Danielle said of her friend. “She never quit. Everyone loved her. She never would hold a grudge. She will always be in our hearts.”

Parents talked about their fears for their own children in a community they always viewed as safe.

“I can’t tell you how horrifying this is,” said parent Josie Giovannelli. “It’s every parent’s nightmare. The whole community is not only shaken, but overcome by the horror of it.”

But Giovannelli said she remains determined not to have her freshman daughter “paralyzed by fear.”

Contributing: Jane Michaels, Sun-Times Media Wire

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