A year later, friends mark death of Engelhardt family members

Clutching a photograph of her friend posing with rocker Chris Daughtry, Katie McCoy wished she could look forward to new memories with Laura Engelhardt.

The snapshot was from three years ago, when the pair attended an "American Idol" concert featuring Daughtry at the Allstate Arena in Rosemont. Laura held a penchant for making people laugh, but this time it was her smile that beamed through standing next to her favorite musician.

The photo "was just about something she could always count on to make her smile when she was feeling sad," said McCoy, 19, of Schaumburg.

Laura's smile endures as friends recall the countless times she told a joke or sang a terrible song on karaoke. The Hoffman Estates resident would do anything to make her friends smile.

She rooted for Daughtry throughout his appearances in 2006 on season five of "American Idol" and stayed active on the show's online message boards. McCoy and Laura would feverishly text each other, breaking down the performances while the two watched the show on television from the comfort of their couches.

Friends will gather Saturday at St. Peter Lutheran Church in Schaumburg to remember Laura on the year anniversary of her death.

Laura, her father Alan Engelhardt and grandmother Marlene Gacek died on April 17, 2009, inside their Hoffman Estates home, stabbed, police said, by D'Andre Howard, then the boyfriend of Amanda Engelhardt, Laura's older sister.

Howard remains jailed, and it could be years before court proceedings finish.

While attorneys sort out Howard's fate, friends and family continue to mourn. McCoy and two of her friends, Nick Osten, 19 of Schaumburg, and Stephanie Gray, 19, of Elk Grove Village, got together as the anniversary approached to remember Laura's brief 18 years.

Even though a year has passed, the instinct for friends to grab their phones and share a laugh with Laura hasn't subsided, they said.

"When I heard that she was gone -- I'll never hear her laugh again; it was the worst feeling ever," McCoy said.

But as fate has it, Daughtry has given her friends the chance to create new memories the day after the anniversary of her death. His band is playing Sunday at Assembly Hall at the University of Illinois in Urbana, where some of Laura's friends now are in college, and again Thursday, May 27, at the Sears Centre in her hometown of Hoffman Estates.

Laura's mother, Shelly Engelhardt, called the shows a fitting tribute and an amazing coincidence. She said it's as if Laura from heaven drew up the tour dates and lineup. What makes the tour even more special is that mother and daughter together saw Lifehouse, the band opening for Daughtry, during a 2008 performance in Itasca.

Shelly and Laura's siblings - Amanda and Jeff - already have tickets for the Hoffman Estates event.

McCoy, now enrolled at the University of Illinois, will attend the Daughtry show Sunday. If Daughtry mentions Laura at either show "it would mean the world," she said.

Laura was on track last year to graduate from Conant High School. She wanted to study to be a veterinarian and was planning to attend the University of Missouri. Friends said she would have enjoyed college dorm life, with the chance to meet a variety of new friends and make them laugh.

"Before I met her, I never really felt like I belonged anywhere," said 19-year-old Nick Osten, who met Laura at Conant at the beginning of her last school year.

Friends dropped off balloons and flowers at Laura's grave on her birthday in January, but it didn't make sense to hold any major events Saturday, Shelly Engelhardt said.

"Most of her friends are away," she said.

She's planning on organizing an event on Memorial Day weekend when Laura's loved ones can be back in Hoffman Estates, she said.

One way the community showed its love was when McCoy and other Conant classmates raised money through the sale of green rubber bracelets inscribed with the words "stop dating violence."

The bracelets are a way to remind women and men to watch for warning signs of a potentially abusive relationship. McCoy still wears her bracelet, now faded from the bright hue it held last year.

Meanwhile, Stephanie Gray, a student at Harper College in Palatine who wants to eventually teach at Conant, envisions a scenario where she'd have the opportunity to teach Amanda Engelhardt's 2-year-old daughter Stelliah in high school. Perhaps there would be a chance to share memories of the aunt the infant never got to know, she said.

"She'd go there and I would see her at school, at my job," Gray said. "Just seeing her every day would be a reminder that you (Stelliah) didn't get to know your aunt. You never got that, and that just kills me. It just absolutely depresses me."

Katie McCoy, 19, of Schaumburg, a friend of Laura Engelhardt's, wears a green rubber bracelet on her wrist reading "stop dating violence." Conant High School students sold them to raise money after Laura's death. Mark Welsh | Staff Photographer

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<li><a href="/story/?id=373775">Jeff Engelhardt: It's community's gift of compassion that stands out <span class="date">[04/16/10]</span></a></li>


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