A mother will never forget her child, even if death separates them — and a mother will never give up.
Former Forest Park resident Karen Mohr Richards has carried the grief of her son Tom Walsh’s death for 11 years, since he was brought unresponsive to Rush Oak Park Hospital by acquaintances in the early morning of July 20, 2003.
Walsh’s death was ultimately ruled an accidental drug overdose, but Richards said she still thinks there’s more to the story. She is afraid her son’s death was not accidental and that violence may have contributed to it.
Sept. 26 is National Day of Remembrance for Murder Victims. Richards attended the memorial service for families of murder victims at the UIC Forum, Sept. 20, and lit a candle for her son.
“There are so many unanswered questions,” Richards said. “Like, did my son suffer? What actually happened to him?”
Oak Park and Forest Park police worked together to investigate the incident. But Richards is convinced the accidental death ruling was incomplete. She has spent over a decade submitting FOIAs (Freedom of Information requests) and collecting records from Oak Park and Forest Park police and the Cook County Medical Examiner. She shared these records with the Review.
Meanwhile she has learned to live as a bereaved parent.
“It’s a club nobody really wants to belong to,” Richards said. “Nobody wants to talk about your child. They don’t bring up his name because they don’t know what to say to you.”
Richards wants to remember her NASCAR-loving son who wore plaid shirts and a baseball cap, and who loved sock monkeys and dump trucks as a child. Walsh lived in Westchester and drove a cement truck at the Mohr Cement Factory, owned by his grandparents.
But she also wants justice for Tom, she said.
“The cops and the mayor think I’m crazy,” she said. “My friends say, ‘It’s been so long; what would Tom want you to do?’ I tell them, if the roles were reversed he’d do the same for me.”
According to police reports shared with the Review, Tom Walsh, 32, was found unresponsive by his companions in the early morning in a house in the 7200 block of Jackson. Walsh was remodeling the house owned by his grandmother.
Richards said she had just cashed her son’s check that morning at the family business, the H.J. Mohr and Sons ready-mix concrete factory in Oak Park. She filed a police report on Sept. 23, 2003 that $1,200 was missing, along with two guns. She found her son’s paystub crumpled in an envelope in the closet of the house and two empty weapons storage boxes.
On the morning of Tom’s death, Richards and daughter Tracy Walsh rushed to the hospital too late to say goodbye.
Richards recalled when she asked police about wounds on her son’s face, she was told “he just fell.”
“To see your son carried out in a body bag, that’s something you don’t forget,” Richards said. “It’s like Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome. You are changed for life and you’re no longer who you were.”
“My brother lost his life,” Tracy Walsh said. “It’s destroyed our lives and our family. He was like a father figure to my children.”
Bereavement groups have helped by giving Richards a safe place to remember her son.
“When you’re with other people whose child died, you don’t have to wear your mask. You’re going through the same thing they are; they understand.”
Richards has helped other parents with healing through the Compassionate Friends group in Villa Park and a Bereaved Parents of the USA branch in Western Springs. She buys toys at Christmas time for needy children — sock monkeys and dump trucks in honor of her son.
She also visits the mausoleum where Tom is buried next to her father. Henry “Bud” Mohr.
“I talk to Tom and to my dad,” Richards said. “I also ask Mother Mary to watch over him because she’s a bereaved mother too.”