A 'hole in your heart': Rep. Casten and family release statement about daughter Gwen's death

U.S. Rep. Sean Casten and his family on Wednesday released their first lengthy public statement since the death of his oldest daughter, Gwen.

"There are no words to describe the hole in your heart when a child dies," begins the message, which was posted on social media and signed by Sean Casten, his wife, Kara, and their younger daughter, Audrey.

The statement describes Gwen, 17, as "a happy, healthy, well-adjusted young woman who was looking forward to starting her freshman year at the University of Vermont."

Gwen was found dead Monday morning in the family's Downers Grove home.

According to her family, they ate dinner together Sunday night and then Gwen went out with friends for a few hours. After coming home, she said good night to her parents and texted a friend.

"The only thing we know about her death is that it was peaceful," the statement reads.

A recent Downers Grove North High School graduate, Gwen was planning to study environmental science in college, the Castens said in the statement.

Gwen was passionate about music and activism, her family said. She played trumpet in the school's jazz band and wind ensemble and was in the orchestra for the spring production of "Mary Poppins."

Gwen also created a student Empowerment Club at the school that worked on gun violence prevention, environmental protection, voter registration and more.

"If her light seemed a bit brighter than most it was because she was so generous in reflecting back the light and love that so many gave to her," the family said.

The Castens expressed gratitude to everyone who has shared condolences and offered help this week.

"To all asking what they can do, we ask only that you live your lives as Gwen lived hers," the family said. "Savor the moments. Use every ounce of energy you have to ensure a better, more tolerant, more generous, more loving tomorrow. Not because you know that your tomorrow will come, but because you know that someone else's will."

Hundreds of people left the Castens sympathetic messages on social media Wednesday after the statement was released.

Instead of flowers, people should consider donating to the Downers Grove North High School Friends of Fine Arts at or to the March For Our Lives at

Earlier this week, Downers Grove North Principal Courtney DeMent described Gwen as a "shining star" in an email to families.

"Many people are hurting right now and we send our love to the Casten family," DeMent wrote. "Our thoughts are with the Casten family and all of you who cared about Gwen."

Downers Grove police have declined to provide any information about Gwen's death since an initial news release Monday. DuPage County Coroner Richard Jorgensen also declined to release information about the investigation, saying "we will be honoring the family wish to have time to grieve."

Casten, a two-term Democrat serving the 6th District, is seeking reelection this year. He's facing U.S. Rep. Marie Newman of La Grange and Chicagoan Charles Hughes in the June 28 primary.

A first-term legislator, Newman represents the 3rd District now but opted to run in the 6th after congressional boundaries were redrawn last year.

The Casten campaign has temporarily halted its TV advertising. The Newman campaign is stopping ads comparing the two candidates.

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Democrat Sean Casten watches election results come in with his daughters Gwen, then 13, at right, and Audrey, then 11, on election night in 2018 - the night he won the 6th District seat for the first time. Daily Herald File Photo, 2018
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