CHILDREN – as young as six – stop in front of their school at a purple memorial to the slain Lily Peters filled with balloons, flowers and stuffed animals.
Some knew the beloved 10-year-old well; some only saw her around town, but they went to school with her. They saw her riding a bike. They all belonged to the small town in Wisconsin.
“Lily never let a child feel unnoticed,” Chippewa Falls resident Brittany Rose told The Sun on Friday.
News vans and reporters have been zipping through the community and police have been in full force since the body of Iliana “Lily” Peters was found in a wooded area on Monday morning.
But Rose’s six-year-old son, who is a preschooler at the same elementary school Lily attended, “didn’t say anything about the police or the media, only about Lily’s memorial.”
She said Lily would always wave at her little boy and say she was “a kid to our community.”
Chippewa Falls is small; with a population of about 15,000 and less than 12 square miles. In comparison, Manhattan is nearly 23 square miles and has a population of about 1.7 million.
Although Rose didn’t know Lily or her family personally, she said: “As a mother of one child in the city, it hits me really hard to know that one of our children has been stolen.
“I know it affected all the kids at school when they saw her memorial outside of school. Everyone got sad and it definitely reflects the kids there.”
On the way to school earlier this week, the memorial caught her son’s eye, Rose said.
“He said, ‘Mom, we need flowers to put there.’ After school I would greet him with whatever he wanted and he would take it and put it down gently.
“He showed all emotions. He’s only six. It really made me cry because whether the parents knew Lily or not, it affects us all.”
Rose’s son is one of hundreds who have paid their respects to Lily at the memorial.
MOM: “YOU WON’T SEE (LILY) ANY MORE”
After news of Lily’s death spread, Rose had to tell her six-year-old son that he will not see her again.
“I sat him down Monday night to explain to him the best I could,” Rose said.
“I showed him a picture of her first and asked if he knew her and he said, ‘Yeah, that’s the girl that always waves to me in the hallway.’ Then I said, ‘Aww, maybe you don’t see her anymore.’”
Her boy’s innocent reaction was, “Did she move?”
“I said, ‘Something really bad happened to her.’ His mind was racing and I think it helps if you show your child emotion, so I started crying.
“I said, ‘She was found dead.’ He immediately put his head in my lap and started crying.
“He asked if the bad guys were in jail and that was the hardest part at that moment when he told him, ‘No, they haven’t found the bad guy yet,’ and brought up the danger of strangers.”
At that point, police were telling the public that there might be a danger to the public, fueling speculation that a predator was on the hunt.
“From a missing child, to a murder, to trying to understand that a beautiful 10-year-old was murdered without knowing who did it, it made me really nervous,” Rose said.
“Not knowing who did it and the hardship of losing a child to our community. You’re grieving, but you’re literally scanning everyone around you, wondering if it could be them.”
“THEN FINDING OUT IT WAS A CHILD” SUSPECT
The horrific crime devastated the city, said Police Chief Matthew Kelm.
“The murder of a 10-year-old girl, as you might have imagined, shook this town to the core,” he told FOX host Martha MacCallum on Thursday.
But the assembled community sent the department over 200 tips, including screenshots of a chilling Reddit post that claimed to see Lily with “another child” before she went missing.
“I have a suspicion it may have been another child,” the Reddit user said at a time when police were warning the community to be vigilant, fueling speculation that a predator was on the prowl.
SUSPECTS SUPPOSEDLY LILY’S COUSIN
Hours later, a 14-year-old eighth-grader was arrested and charged with manslaughter, first-degree sexual assault and sexually assaulting a child under 13 with aggravated assault.
The suspect was dubbed CPB in court because of his age and is reportedly Lily’s cousin, although this detail has not been confirmed by police or prosecutors.
“To find out it was a kid herself and her own family member, someone she knew,” Rose said. “The emotions really make you want to learn how to identify a dangerous person, whether they’re family or not.”
LILY’S LAST MOMENTS
Lily’s horrific final moments were revealed in court Wednesday by Chippewa County District Attorney Wade Newell as he detailed the charges against the 14-year-old suspect.
She was allegedly punched in the stomach, beaten with a cane, choked to death and then sexually assaulted, Newell said.
“He told law enforcement that his intention was to rape and kill the victim,” the prosecutor said in court.
Speculations about the suspect, his family, his motive and theories that fill information gaps hang like a threatening dark cloud over the city and occupy social media.
All of this will be settled in court and more information will be made public.
Meanwhile, the city wants to pay tribute to the smiling 10-year-old whose life ended too soon.
Among other things, the community created “Peace for Lily” shirts, stickers, yard signs, window signs, bumper stickers and painted the town purple in her honor.
Local businesses like hair salons put purple hair extensions in for those who want it.
Jacobson Hardware is giving out free purple lightbulbs, and the Leinenkugel Brewery – which is next to the wooded area where Lily’s body was found – is lit purple.
Purple ribbons are tied around telephone poles, streetlights, and trees that line city streets.
“The whole city is purple. You can’t even drive a block without seeing support for Lily,” Rose said.
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https://www.the-sun.com/news/5230261/lily-peters-chippewa-falls-tribute/ Inside Lily Peter’s devastated Chippewa Falls community gathered to offer 200 tips to help catch the 10-year-old’s ‘killer’