A popular former student at Riverside-Brookfield High School was killed, along with her father and grandmother, in an early morning house fire in River Grove on Jan. 5.
Michelle Owrey, 24 and her father John Owrey, 61, were found dead on the second floor of a house in the 2300 block of Grove Street in River Grove. Owrey’s grandmother, 91-year-old Marilyn Owrey Hennig, was found dead on the first floor.
A 56-year-old man, thought to be Owrey’s uncle, was the only resident of the home to escape and he was reported by the River Grove Fire Department to be in stable condition at Loyola Medical Center suffering from smoke inhalation.
In a press release issued on Jan. 5, River Grove Fire Chief Sean Flynn said the cause of the fire had not been determined, but that “the rapidly spreading fire fueled by high winds and water issues made it challenging” for firefighters who initially arrived at the scene.
The first reports of the fire came in at 7:24 a.m. After calling for additional manpower and equipment at 7:45 a.m., said Flynn, the fire was brought under control and extinguished at 9:01 a.m.
An online fundraiser has been established at gofundme.com/f/owrey-funeral-expenses for a surviving family member in order to pay funeral expenses. As of Jan. 10, the effort had raised more than $20,000 from more than 300 donors.
Michelle Owrey was a special education student at RBHS. She graduated in 2016 but remained in the school’s transition program until 2019.
Owrey was a popular and active student at RBHS. She involved in the Best Buddies Program, Special Olympics and Young Life.
“She was one of the most beloved people in Best Buddies,” said former RBHS social worker Mari Mortensen, who was a sponsor of the RBHS chapter of Best Buddies until retiring in 2018.
Owrey had a big personality and a great sense of humor.
“Everybody knew Michelle,” Mortensen said. “She was really fearless in going for everything she felt she could despite some of her intellectual challenges. But, that said, she had a sense of humor that was absolutely the most sophisticated, hilarious person that I’ve ever seen.”
Mortensen remembers how thrilled Owrey was to be named a director of Best Buddies, a leadership role in the club.
“It was like she was handed a gold medal,” Mortensen recalled. “We announced it at the celebration dinner and she was cheerleading and the whole bit.”
Mary Jahnke, a retired RBHS paraprofessional and currently a substitute teacher at the school, met Owrey when she was a freshman. Jahnke, who also coached Special Olympics, recalled Owrey as a very positive and fun-loving presence who always thought of others.
“She was just a positive influence on everybody that participated,” Jahnke said. “She was just an inspiration to everybody else. That child never got angry, never got upset. She had the greatest smile and laugh and she was just an amazing personality.
“She loved to make people laugh and she saw the good side in everything.”
Michelle Owrey’s father, John, was IT director of a nonprofit called Neighborhood Development Services, according to his LinkedIn page, and for many years was an adjunct professor teaching computer technology classes at Triton College, Illinois Institute of Technology and Oakton Community College.