Finishing up her first year at Macomb Community College and enjoying her first job as a courtesy clerk at Kroger, Kara I. Wilhelm had plans to become an occupational therapist.
Wilhelm, 19, was found dead in her bed May 28 by her mother, Alexandra "Sandy" Wilhelm. by Grosse Pointe Woods police and the Wayne County Medical Examiner's Office.
The alumna graduated last year and was always anxious "to help the underdog," her mother said, noting much of it probably had to do with growing up with and helping care for her slightly older brother Kurt Wilhelm, 20, who is autistic. Sandy said that it was always the three of them—together.
As she got older, Kara frequently took Kurt to the playground at . She was quick to defend her brother to others, Sandy said. Most recently someone challenged her about bringing Kurt to the playground but she stood her ground, telling the challenger it was after 6 p.m. and that they were entitled to be there.
"She was my right hand," Sandy said. "She helped me so much with him."
Her love of helping others was evident even in high school, when she was in the Diversity Club—an organization that focuses on tolerance of people as whoever they are. Her friends were not "the big (men) on campus," but those with more diverse backgrounds and sometimes with their own problems, her mother said.
Dozens of comments have already been left on Kara's guest book, many noting the help she brought to them, even in the short amount of time some had known her.
Kara was just completing her first year of college. She planned to earn her associate's degree from Macomb and then transfer to another school to earn her bachelor's in occupational therapy. Ultimately, she wanted to be an art therapist working with children, her mother said.
Art, photography and sculpture were among her favorite hobbies. Some of it her mother describes as macabre, but says she loved developing her artistic skills, selecting different objects as the subject of her photography. At North she was in the Art Honor Society, which is a group similar to the National Honor Society but for students who demonstrate an excellence in art.
She was petite and often wore basketball shorts and hoodies. "She was never a girlie girl," her mother said, laughing and crying.
Animals were another love of Kara's, including her pet ferret, Kaylee. She recently completed a persuasive speech on owning ferrets as pets for a class, using Kaylee as her model for photographs presented during the speech, her mother said. Kaylee was free in their Grosse Pointe Woods home and slept with Kara.
She enjoyed the money she began earning at her first job, where she preferred gathering the carts to bagging groceries. Her first weekend on the job was that of the significant snowstorm that led to Grosse Pointe Schools calling for its first snow day in years.
"She spent it as soon as she made it," Sandy said of her daughter's paychecks, laughing and crying as she talked about Kara. Her daughter treated herself to Starbucks and liked buying the most recent video games. She also spent a lot of time on the Internet, talking to people from around the world, her mother said.
Kara is survived by her parents and three siblings—Kurt, an older brother Peter, and older sister Stephanie. She is also survived by a niece and a nephew and many extended family members. The next several days are going to be tough, her mother said, noting they anticipate many friends at the funeral home.
"She was my best friend," Sandy said, her voice trailing off.
A candlelight vigil is also planned for 9 p.m. Monday, June 6 at Grosse Pointe North High School. The vigil is being organized by a current North student as well as one of Kara's friends, her mother said.
Kara's death was unexpected, and Sandy said she knows there has been a lot of talk about it. No one knows what happened, including her family, but she wants the next few days to be about Kara, not her death.
"I found her," Sandy said. "She looked very peaceful. There were no violent marks on her."
The first visitation is scheduled Thursday from 5-9 p.m. at Wasik Funeral Home in Warren. Another is set for Friday from 1-9 p.m. Kara's funeral is at 11 a.m. Saturday. The family is asking that memorial donations be made to the Autism Society of America or to the Michigan Humane Society.