As hundreds of friends and family members poured into a suburban Chicago funeral home to say goodbye to 14-year-old Kelli O’Laughlin, police in a tiny Illinois suburb today announced they are questioning a “person of interest” in her murder.
“We have a person of interest in custody, and we’re working feverishly to bring this to a conclusion,” said Indian Head Park Police Chief Frank Alonzo, at a brief press conference at which he took no questions. ” No charges have been filed.”
Police say the brutal killing of the popular high school freshman is the first murder ever in this tight knit community of 3,700 people. Kelli was discovered by her mother inside the family’s home last Thursday. She had been stabbed to death with a kitchen knife. Investigators believe she came home from school and walked in on a burglary.
The vicious crime has put friends and neighbors on edge.
“Any parent would have the fear of walking into your home and finding your own child,” said Rose Mary LaMont, a neighbor. “You’re supposed to have the comfort of your home.”
Investigators with the South Suburban Major Crimes Task Force have combed through more than 100 leads. They are also searching for several rare coins — including some from a Las Vegas Casino — believed stolen from the O’Laughlin’s home.
The man police have in custody is reportedly on parole and thought to be connected to a recent string of burglaries in the region. Sources close to the investigation say search dogs tracked the man’s scent to a highway rest stop near the O’Laughlin family’s home, where he may have hailed a taxi.
The latest developments in the case come as Kelli’s distraught family holds her wake and prepares for her funeral.
“Kelly was smart, happy, full of promise and absolutely tennis-crazy,” said Richard Roderick, a long-time family friend who saw Kelli frequently at the neighborhood tennis club and was one of many who came to pay his respects. ”She just lit up a room when she came in — just a very happy person.”
Schoolmates tied white ribbons around trees outside Lyons Township High School. They also wore purple ribbons, her favorite color.
On Wednesday, Kelli’s father, John O’Laughlin released a statement on behalf of his family, saying, “We are truly overwhelmed and touched by the outpouring of support we have received from the community and all those who knew and loved Kelli. We are so grateful to everyone who has offered their support and condolences at this difficult time.”
So many people are expected to attend Kelli’s funeral of Friday morning that community members are conducting a roadside vigil to help ease the overflow crowd. They’re calling it “Join Hands and Hearts for Kelli” and asking neighbors to line the mile-and-a-half route between the funeral home and the church, in a show of support for Kelli’s family.
Kelli leaves her parents, John and Brenda, two brothers, Ryan and Daniel, and a sister, Bridgette. The O’Laughlins have also set up a scholarship fund in their daughter’s memory.