Anya Bhamani remembers sharing time with 5-year-old Olivia Dworakowski at Brookdale Elementary School in Naperville.
They were “book buddies,” says Anya, 9, a fourth-grader.
But Tuesday was the last time Olivia would be at school. That night, authorities say, she was stabbed to death in her Naperville home by her sitter, Elzbieta Plackowska, who has been charged with her murder and that of Plackowska's own 7-year-old son, Justin.
On Friday night, Anya and her family joined more than 100 other students and parents of Brookdale in a candlelight vigil to remember the two children and begin the healing process.
The vigil, Anya says, “helped with my feelings.”
Her sister, 10-year-old Isha, said she felt the same way.
“Sometimes it's really hard, even if you don't know the person,” said Isha, as tears rolled down her face. “I heard she's a really nice girl. Terrible things happen for no reason. There's a lot of people here, and it feels comforting. And it's OK to be sad and let out your feelings.”
Those at Friday night's vigil lit candles and gathered together in a meditation garden outside St. Thomas the Apostle Catholic Church. Members of the clergy said prayers, and white and purple balloons were released into the air in memory of Olivia and Justin.
Parents at Brookdale say they decided to organize the vigil in an effort to bring the community together and show their support for the two families.
“Something like this doesn't just happen here in our community,” said Alicia Carlisle, whose son was a classmate of Olivia. “Our community is a very strong community. Our community is built around our children. ... When something like this happens, it feels very personal. It feels like it's happened to you. And it's a very, very sad thing. When those children were taken, they were taken from all of us.”
Carlisle says it's hard for her 6-year-old son knowing that something bad happened to someone his age. “He said he's going to miss them. He's sad that their mom hurt them.”
Mayor George Pradel said the story is especially sad considering it involved children so young.
“We've had the title of the best place to raise children. To work with our children in our schools and get to know them and love them, and then a tragedy like this happens, and see other children saying why and trying to find out answers — I think that's probably the toughest,” Pradel said. “We have to be leaders and try to understand that sometimes there isn't an answer or understanding.”
Deacon Larry Kearney of St. Thomas the Apostle Church said nothing is more horrifying than the loss of a child, and especially “to have children lost in this way.”
But, he says, healing is possible.
“If we look at it through human eyes, it's overwhelming. But if we look at it through the eyes of faith, we can begin to heal, or as much healing as we can.”
A fund has been set up for the family of Olivia to help with funeral expenses. Those who would like to donate can stop at any Naperville Bank & Trust location or mail a donation to Naperville Bank & Trust, Olivia Dworakowski Memorial Foundation, P.O. Box 294, Naperville, IL 60566. For more information, call (630) 369-3555.Copyright © 2014 Paddock Publications, Inc. All rights reserved.