Kaylee Sawyer’s legacy: ‘Oh, the Places You’ll Go’

Family of murdered Bend woman starts children's reading foundation in her honor

An undated photo of Kaylee Sawyer, February 2017 (Courtesy of Sawyer family to KOIN)
An undated photo of Kaylee Sawyer, February 2017 (Courtesy of Sawyer family to KOIN)

BEND, Ore. (KOIN) — Kaylee Sawyer would have turned 24 years old Thursday. On their first birthday without her, Kaylee’s family is sharing her love of books and reading with young children.

In their first interview since Kaylee was murdered, her family shares their grief, their memories and what they want Kaylee’s legacy to be.

A close-up of one of the notebooks kept by Kaylee Sawyer's grandmother of the 2000 books they read together, February 2017 (KOIN)
A close-up of one of the notebooks kept by Kaylee Sawyer’s grandmother of the 2000 books they read together, February 2017 (KOIN)

Her grandmother, Sharon Walden,said over the years they read more than 2000 books together and logged the titles in notebooks. She treasures the time she spent reading with her “Central Oregon girl.”

No one ever imagined Kaylee’s own story would be cut tragically short.

Investigators believe Edwin Lara murdered Kaylee after she left her Bend apartment on a late night walk last July. Lara, at the time a security officer at Central Oregon Community College, fled to California. On his way, he allegedly kidnapped another young woman from Salem, then in California allegedly shot a man and carjacked a family.

Kaylee’s family awaits his trial in Oregon, set to begin October 10, 2017.

“We’re all grieving and I understand grieving is love with no place to go,” Sharon told KOIN 6 News in late February. “We don’t have our Kaylee to hug and love and be here.”

An undated photo of Kaylee Sawyer, February 2017 (Courtesy of Sawyer family to KOIN)
An undated photo of Kaylee Sawyer, February 2017 (Courtesy of Sawyer family to KOIN)

The family wants Kaylee to be remembered for the joy and good she brought to life, from her positive energy to her love for her brothers and family, to her budding career in dentistry, to the pride she felt in heritage as both Italian and Native American.

“She was my first grandchild. She was very special,” said her grandfather, Jim Walden. “Kaylee was a warrior, but like I said at her memorial, she didn’t carry a bow-and-arrow or a tomahawk. She carried a smile and she carried love. And that’s the kind of warrior she was.”

Jim said Kaylee was, as far as he knows, “one of the only green-eyed, blonde-haired members, enrolled members of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe of South Dakota.”

He told KOIN 6 News they held a Sioux ceremony “after she passed” and gave her a Lakota name that means “laughing little girl, because she always was and will always be remembered that way.”

Not long after Kaylee’s death, her mom Juli posted on the Remembering Kaylee Sawyer Facebook page how much Kaylee loved “Oh, the Places You’ll Go” by Dr. Seuss:

“Do me a favor. Never miss a chance to read that book to a little person in your life. Kaylee would love that.”

“That was one of her favorite books that her mother had given her as a small child,” Sharon said. “It was so appropriate for every stage of her life — her graduations and just moving on. Oh, the places you’ll go.

Copies of the Dr. Seuss classic can be ordered through this Amazon link and will automatically be donated to KK’s Readers.

It inspired the family to start a foundation called KK’s Readers.

“When Kaylee was a little girl she couldn’t say ‘Kaylee’ all the way,” Sharon said. “She would call herself ‘KK Fawyer’ for ‘Kaylee Sawyer.'”

On March 2 — the birth date of both Kaylee Sawyer and Dr. Seuss — more than 500 donated copies of “Oh, the Places You’ll Go” will be given to children in Head Start programs throughout the Bend area.

“Kaylee has always been proud that she and Dr. Seuss share birthdays. Kaylee’s outlook on life has always been positive and to never give up on your dreams,’ her mother, Juli Walden Van Cleave said. “We want Kaylee’s name associated with good.”

Donated copies of "Oh, the Places You'll Go" by Dr. Seuss will be given to the Head Start program in Bend through KK's Readers, a foundation to honor Kaylee Sawyer, February 2017 (KOIN)
Donated copies of “Oh, the Places You’ll Go” by Dr. Seuss will be given to the Head Start program in Bend through KK’s Readers, a foundation to honor Kaylee Sawyer, February 2017 (KOIN)

The family has begun collecting books for next year and hopes one day to expand the program.

“There were many people in the community and people around the United States that sent books that heard about Kaylee’s story,” Sharon said. “We’re so touched that they wanted to send books.”

“Maybe some of these young children don’t have a library at their home,” she said. “Imagine this would be their first book to take home.”

Sharon admitted the family will never be the same. “But we’re a strong family and we are a family that stays together. So for Kaylee we are going to be strong. And that’s why even with the bracelets we wear — it says, ‘Stay Kaylee Strong.'”

So on her birthday, Kaylee’s family will celebrate her legacy by giving out books and inspiring children to read.

So…
be your name Buxbaum or Bixby or Bray
or Mordecai Ali Van Allen O’Shea,
You’re off the Great Places!
Today is your day!
Your mountain is waiting.
So…get on your way!

A copy of "Oh, the Places You'll Go," by Dr. Seuss at the home of Kaylee Sawyer's grandparents in Bend, February 2017 (KOIN)
A copy of “Oh, the Places You’ll Go,” by Dr. Seuss at the home of Kaylee Sawyer’s grandparents in Bend, February 2017 (KOIN)