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Vaughn neighbors try to put tragedy in past

Medidecended Oswego cul-de-sac thVaughn home was June 15 2007. | Rich Hein~Sun-Times Media

Media decended to the Oswego cul-de-sac that the Vaughn home was in on June 15, 2007. | Rich Hein~Sun-Times Media

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Updated: August 14, 2012 4:48PM

Except for the quality of the lawns struggling in the intense summer drought, little appears to have changed in this quiet Oswego cul de sac these past five years.

But a gentle rain brought welcome relief to the weather-beaten grass on Monday, the first day of jury selection in the trial of Christopher Vaughn, who lived here until June 14, 2007 — the day police say he killed his wife and three children in Will County on the way to a water park.

The murders were so sensational — with gunshot wounds to his thigh and wrist, Vaughn claimed his wife Kimberly was the killer — that the proverbial media hordes descended on this normally peaceful street in Southbury subdivision, bringing unexpected and unwelcome publicity to many neighbors there.

For some, that resentment has not changed.

“Hasta la vista,” one man told me, the glare on his face showing nothing but contempt as he slammed the door in my face Monday.

While others were equally curt, though not as rude, it was apparent the neighborhood wants to put this tragedy firmly in the past.

The Vaughn house itself — back in 2007, yellow police tape and makeshift memorials provided a stark contrast to the hanging flowers and ribbon-tiered pillars — has new owners, a young couple who, according to neighbors, knew nothing of the story until purchasing the home more than three years after the murders.

“We never talk about it,” said one polite homeowner, who asked to remain anonymous and insisted she wasn’t even aware the trial had begun.

Others admitted they have followed the case and were well-aware of jury selection this week and opening arguments slated to begin next Monday in a Will County courtroom.

Greg Riess moved into the cul de sac with his family after the murders and therefore did not know the Vaughns. But he certainly has heard plenty about the tragedy since then.

“Nobody dwells on it,” he said.

“It’s a great neighborhood.”

It’s obvious that family life is very much a priority here. Even on this overcast rainy day, bikes were parked in some of the driveways. And a couple of boys didn’t seem to mind dealing with a wet slippery football as they played a little sidewalk catch in the early afternoon. The young athletes looked to be about 11 or 12, the same ages as Abigayle and Cassandra Vaughn when they were shot multiple times in the backseat of the family’s SUV.

Both girls would be firmly entrenched in high school now, with Abigayle beginning her senior year. And little brother Blake would now be a teen.

Five years after these three bright, beautiful children once played on the sidewalks, this neighborhood has settled back into its everyday routine. And the father accused of killing them will finally go to trial where, in Courtroom 406, his attorneys will try to convince a jury that it was their mother, instead, who pulled the trigger.

It’s a defense the judge called “very rare.”

But there’s been nothing even close to normal about this story from the beginning. A family most frequently described as loving and happy is gone — in the most horrific and shocking way imaginable. And despite the evidence that’s gradually been released over the years about their accused killer, we still struggle with too many questions.

Perhaps this trial will provide those answers.

Perhaps then, we can all finally move on.

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