She had her sunglasses and swimsuit ready for spring break. But 16-year-old Katelyn Liehr won’t be with her Stillwater family when they fly to Florida next week.
Her mother, Kristin Liehr, had canceled the trip when Katelyn died Feb. 26 of an accidental overdose. But in the days after her death, the teen relayed messages to her family to carry on.
A friend brought over a bag of Dove chocolates, the ones with fortunes tucked inside, and Kristin opened one that read: “Book the Flight.” Katelyn’s brother Colton, 21, picked up a chocolate a few hours later and read “Book the Flight” too.
“OK, you’re talking to me, Kate,” Kristin Liehr said. “After she told us to go, we’re going.”
Katelyn had struggled with severe depression and battled opioid addiction, but her mother said she was able to find relief in the past year. She went through stretches of sobriety but would then relapse.
That’s what Kristin Liehr believes happened the night of Feb. 23, when she found Katelyn unresponsive in her bedroom. Though medics restarted her heart before taking her to Children’s Hospital in St. Paul, Katelyn never regained the ability to breathe. Three days later, she was declared brain dead.
But Kristin said three people are alive today because of her daughter: Katelyn’s heart went to a 13-year-old boy, her kidney and liver to a 17-year-old girl, and her other kidney to a 63-year-old woman. After family members decided to donate Katelyn’s organs and contacted LifeSource, hospital staffers lined the hallways to thank them.
“Her heart is beating ... right now,” Kristin said. “It’s an amazing miracle. Her death wasn’t in complete vain because we were able to save three people’s lives. Any prayers I ask for now, I ask for the organ recipients so everything continues to heal and give them long lives.”
Katelyn’s mother gave her the nickname “my crazy angel” at the age of 2: “She was caring, but fearless and crazy.” She climbed trees, fished and grew up at the rink watching Colton play hockey, Kristin Liehr said, and first laced up her own skates at age 5.
Katelyn played with the Stillwater Area Hockey Association for years and most recently for the Minnesota Hockey Recreation League, which demanded less time so she could address issues of mental health and chemical addiction. Her coach worked with her to come back and play after a few months away at treatment last season.
“It was a blessing for her to continue to play throughout her whole life,” her mother said. “That was her No. 1 love, if anyone asked her: hockey.” On Twitter, the Rec League sent “thoughts and prayers” to Katelyn’s family, friends and teammates.
At a visitation the evening before Katelyn’s funeral on Thursday, Kristin said her teammates showed up in jerseys and told her that they had collected money for a scholarship next year in Katelyn’s memory.
Fridley-based nonprofit Wishes & More donated $1,000 toward the family’s goal of building a shelter or memorial in honor of Katelyn at the Stillwater Dog Park. Allison McGinnis, the park’s founder and director, said Katelyn visited frequently with her dogs and was kind and well-liked. McGinnis said her death “was really a shock.”
Authorities are investigating Katelyn’s death to determine what exactly killed her, Kristin said, and who provided the drugs. Stillwater police Sgt. Steve Hansen confirmed the ongoing investigation.
Besides her mother and brother Colton, Katelyn is survived by her father, Greg, and brother Trevor.
The family will toss strands of Katelyn’s hair into the ocean as well as into Crane Lake, a favorite fishing spot, and the dog park. Her dogs, Kristin said, saved her more than once.