DOWNERS GROVE, IL — In his first public statement since the announcement of the death of his beloved daughter, Gwen, U.S. Rep. Sean Casten said, “there are no words to describe the hole in your heart when a child dies.”
Casten said in a statement on Facebook that his daughter went to bed Sunday evening and did not wake up the next morning. Downers Grove police and paramedics were called to the home around 7 a.m. Monday for an “unresponsive 17-year-old female.”
“We had dinner as a family, and then she went out with some friends for a few hours. When she got home, she said goodnight to Kara and I, texted a friend to make sure she got home OK, and didn’t wake up on Monday morning,” Casten said. “The only thing we know about her death is that it was peaceful. And the only lesson we can take from that is to savor the moments you have with your loved ones. We want purpose. We want to believe in a brighter tomorrow. But the only thing we can control is our present.”
Casten, who is currently running in the IL-06 Congressional Democratic primary, described his daughter as a “happy, healthy, well-adjusted young woman” and a recent graduate of Downers Grove North High School. Gwen had been looking forward to her freshman year at the University of Vermont, where she was planning to study environmental science.
The congressman said his daughter’s two main passions were music and activism. Gwen played trumpet in the jazz band, the wind ensemble and the pit orchestra for North’s spring musical “Mary Poppins.” Inspired by the student efforts in the wake of the Parkland school shooting, Casten said his daughter created an Empowerment Club, which became one of the largest clubs in her high school, “focusing on everything from gun violence prevention to environmental protection to LGBTQ allyship to organizing Black Lives Matter rallies to registering students to vote.”
Casten said his daughter had the good fortune to have a close circle of friends, teachers and family. “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 Casten family asks that in lieu of flowers that donations to be made in Gwen’s name to Downers Grove North High School Friends of the Fine Arts, or to March For Our Lives.
“We are grateful to all who have reached out with thoughts, condolences and help,” Casten said on behalf of his wife, Kara, and daughter Audrey. “To all asking what they can do, we ask only that you live your lives as Gwen lived hers. 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.”