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Family, friends hold vigil to mourn teen’s death

Updated: December 13, 2013 6:16AM



Despite unseasonably cold weather Monday night, hundreds of people huddled together during a evening vigil in Worth to try to warm the hearts of the grief-stricken family of Brittany Wawrzyniak.

“This outpouring of love makes it a lot easier, especially for my wife. Brittany would have loved it,” her stepfather Mike Tully, said as friends surrounded the family in the parking lot at 115th Street and Beloit Avenue, where Wawrzyniak, 18, suffered a fatal injury after falling out of a car Friday night.

Wawrzyniak, of Worth, was buying drugs from a 20-year-old man when he took off in his car and she was ejected from the back seat, falling to the pavement and later dying at Christ Medical Center in Oak Lawn, according to Cook County prosecutors.

Family members and friends who attended the vigil, including many teens who attended Shepard High School in Palos Heights with Wawrzyniak, were searching for answers and struggling to understand the tragedy that claimed her life.

“There are so many different stories being reported, and some of them put Brittany in a negative light,” said Jeanie Hughes, a friend of the

family who organized the vigil. “We don’t understand it. We do not know the truth.”

“She really cared for everyone,” said April Larson as she huddled under a blanket with a friend. “She did not seem like the type of person who would get into trouble.”

“She always had a smile. She was always fun to be around,” said Stephanie Schober, who wore a white sweatshirt bearing a photo of

Wawrzyniak and a saying from Peter Pan on the back, “You can fly away forever. Fly with me, fly.”

“She was going to get (that saying) in a tattoo,” Schober said.

“Worth is supposed to be ‘The Friendly Village,’” Bruce LeBeau, a father of three daughters, said. “This is not supposed to happen here. It’s unbelievable. It’s scary. I guess we’re not immune to anything.”

Prosecutors said Wawrzyniak met Eric S. Johnson about 8 p.m. Friday at a boat launch in the 7400 block of 115th Street to buy four grams of Clonazepam, a prescription drug used to treat panic and seizure disorders.

Wawrzyniak got into the back seat of Johnson’s car and handed him $200 for 30 pills of Clonazepam, which she began counting as Johnson began to drive away, according to prosecutors. They said Wawrzyniak opened the door of the moving car and fell out.

Worth police said she was found when police responded to a call of an accident with injuries. Wawrzyniak, of the 10800 block of Nashville Avenue, died at Christ about 50 minutes later.

Johnson, of Peotone, is charged with selling a controlled substance and appeared in court Monday, where Circuit Court Judge Adam Bourgeois ordered him held on $300,000 bail.

“A lot of people go around and say the sale of drugs is non-violent,” Bourgeois said. “I disagree. Because of it something tragic happened.”

Johnson was charged with burglary in 2011 and misdemeanor possession of a controlled substance earlier this year, authorities said. His public defender said he lives with his parents and went to South Suburban College for a semester.

Wawrzyniak’s family attended the hearing at the Cook County Criminal Courts Building in Chicago but did not comment afterward.

Earlier Monday at her home, Rebecca Tully described her daughter as a loving, nurturing “old soul” with a spirited nature and great sense of humor.

“I used to tell her that, even when she was little, because she always wanted to take care of people,” Tully said. “She was like a little mom. ... She was always funny, and when she got in a mood, you got drawn in, too.”

After graduating from Shepard, Wawrzyniak, one of 11 children, was studying at the Illinois Institute of Art in Chicago and was learning to play guitar, her mom said.

“She loved all kinds of music. I don’t think she could pick a favorite,” Tully said.

She said that, as a member of New Hope Church in Alsip, Wawrzyniak had been on a couple of missions to Indianapolis where she taught small children about the life of Jesus.

Friends have set up a Brittany Wawrzyniak Memorial Fund, which can be found on RIP Wawrzyniak Facebook page. Hughes said the family had no insurance for Wawrzyniak and have been “overwhelmed” and are very grateful for the donations they have received.

Contributing: Donna Vickroy



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