Bloomingdale woman killed in South America remembered as a volunteer
When Kari Pikus woke up on her 16th birthday to discover her parents' front yard had been peppered with smiley faces, she immediately knew who the culprit was.
Blythe O'Sullivan was the personification of those round, yellow icons of happiness, her friends said.
"She really is the greatest person I ever met," Pikus said. "Everywhere she went, she was smiling."
High school pal Sue Page remembers carrying out the smiley face caper with O'Sullivan for their friend's birthday.
"She called them 'Goobers,'" explained Page. "I have no idea why. She just had the idea, and I was tagging along."
A quick wit, an original thinker and a smiling face is how the Bloomingdale 25-year-old is remembered by friends. O'Sullivan was killed Thursday after accidentally tripping an illegal animal gun trap while volunteering with the Peace Corps in Suriname, according to media reports out of the South American country.
Peace Corps spokesman Richard Parker said investigators had been dispatched to the region to clarify reports of O'Sullivan's death.
"We're sending our investigators to get the story straight," he said. "They haven't gotten there yet, so I can't get into the specifics."
However, published reports said she had been shot in the leg and bled to death en route to a hospital.
O'Sullivan joined the Peace Corps in May 2006 and had been stationed in Suriname to help build a community center for women in the impoverished country, Parker said.
"She loved being out in the jungle," Pikus said. "She liked the work, but I think she was frustrated with a feeling she wasn't doing enough down there, but she loved the village where she lived and the people she knew there."
Pikus and Page befriended O'Sullivan while freshmen at St. Francis High School in Wheaton. They described their friend as a bit of an adventurer who dabbled in just about everything.
"I remember one year on her birthday she had a murder-mystery party where everyone had to dress up like the character they were playing, and I was so excited to get invited," said Serena Brommel. "It was a select group, but it was people who normally didn't hang out together at school, that was what she was like. She had a knack for bringing different people together."
Though her interests varied widely, O'Sullivan found a calling in the theater department at the school.
"We were in musicals together," said Sarah Malouf, "but she did things on stage and behind the scenes, she loved drama. She had a sense of adventure and was willing to try anything."
O'Sullivan graduated from St. Francis among the top 10 seniors in 2000. She went to Bradley University in Peoria, where she received a bachelor's degree, majoring in marketing and theater in 2004. She moved to Denver and learned to snowboard.
"I loved it when she moved to Colorado, because I was in Arizona, and now she was closer to me," Pikus said. "We'd go skiing in the morning when I'd visit; it was great."
O'Sullivan learned about the Peace Corps from a friend, and the adventure bug bit again, Pikus said.
Her MySpace Web page humorously details her adventures in Suriname.
"The Peace Corps volunteer learns to see the glass as half full," she writes in her Web page introduction, "and then uses that glass to take a shower."
She also explains how simplified life is in her new home.
"The river is like one-stop shopping," she wrote. "You can wash clothes, dishes, yourself, clean your meat and gather your drinking water."
She even acknowledges her legendary grin, somewhat prophetically.
"I laugh and smile a lot," she wrote, "because, well, why not? Life's too short not to."
Friends of the Bloomingdale family who answered O'Sullivan's parents' phone said funeral arrangements are pending.