Rep. Sean Casten mourned the loss of his 17-year-old daughter on Wednesday and said the teen died peacefully in her sleep.
The Illinois Democrat released a heartbreaking statement that said his oldest daughter, Gwen Casten, went to bed Sunday night and never woke up.
“There are no words to describe the hole in your heart when a child dies,” the congress member said in a statement from himself, his wife and his second daughter.
His office announced Gwen’s passing in a short statement Monday, but provided no further information at the time.
In new details, Rep. Casten recounted the night before the teen unexpectedly died.
He said Gwen, his wife Kara and younger daughter Audrey had dinner together as a family that night and then Gwen went out with friends for a few hours. After she returned home, she said goodnight to her parents, texted a friend to make sure she got home OK and went to bed. She never woke up.
Casten said the only thing he and his family knows 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,” he said. “We want purpose. We want to believe in a brighter tomorrow. But the only thing we can control is our present.”
Gwen planned to start college at the University of Vermont in the fall to study environmental science, Casten said.
The 17-year-old was passionate about music and, like her father, activism.
She played trumpet in her high school Downers Grove North’s jazz band, wind ensemble and pit orchestra in the spring production of Mary Poppins.
Gwen also created an “Empowerment Club” at her school after being inspired by the student activists following the Parkland shooting, Casten said. The club became one of the largest at the high school and took on issues like gun violence prevention, environmental protection and LGBTQ allyship.
Through her work with the club, the teen helped register students of age to vote and organized Black Lives Matter rallies.
She also appeared in a campaign video in support of her father, who is running for a third term in Congress.
“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,” Casten said of his late daughter.
Just 10 days before her death, the congress member proudly recognized his daughter’s work organizing a “Stop the Bleed” training at her school in a broadcast interview.
Casten and his family thanked everyone who reached out with condolences and support.
“To all asking what they can do, we ask only that you live your lives as Gwen lived hers,” he said. “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.”