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Details emerge in killing of 10-year-old girl as a teen is arrested and her town mourns

According to the Chippewa Falls police, the suspect knew Iliana “Lily” Peters.
Iliana “Lily” Peters, age 10.
Iliana “Lily” Peters, age 10.Chippewa Falls Police Department
/ Source: TODAY

A community in Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin is mourning the death of 10-year-old Iliana “Lily” Peters by decorating their town with purple ribbons, as new details of the case emerge.

On Wednesday, Chippewa County District Attorney Wade Newell said in a press conference that the juvenile suspect arrested Tuesday in connection to her death was charged with first-degree intentional homicide, first-degree sexual assault and first-degree sexual assault with a child under age 13 resulting in great bodily harm. He is being held on a $1 million bail.

Newell acknowledged the heightened parental fear since Peters' disappearance. "I know that the community was very concerned to begin with because without knowledge as to who an offender is, that is a very concerning matter ... I have a 17 year-old daughter myself," he said, adding, "That's a very terrifying thing for parents to have to deal with, is to worry about, 'Can my child be the next victim of a crime?'"

While the criminal complaint is sealed, Newell said in court that the defendant told police that he left his home with the intention to rape and kill, punched the victim, knocked her down, hit her with a stick and strangled her.

The crimes, which are currently being handled in adult court, carry punishments of life imprisonment (count one), a prison term up to 60 years (count two) and imprisonment up to life (count three).

On Tuesday, the day after Peters' body was discovered in a wooded area, Chippewa Falls Police Chief Matthew Kelm clarified in a press conference, "The suspect was not a stranger, the suspect was known to the victim."

Kelm added, “While nothing will bring Lily Peters back or change what happened, we are very grateful to be able to deliver this news” thanks in part to the 200 tips supplied to the police department. "Driving through town and through our communities, we can see the purple ribbons and honestly, I would expect nothing less," said Kelm. Lily was last seen by family members wearing a purple shirt on the night she disappeared.

Chippewa Falls is located about 90 miles east of Minneapolis-St. Paul, Minnesota, and has a population of about 14,000 people.

Authorities discovered Lily’s body on Monday morning after her father had reported her missing the previous evening when she didn’t return home from her aunt’s residence, located just minutes away by foot. On Sunday night, Lily’s bicycle was found in the woods by a walking trail near the parking lot of a local brewery and on Monday her body was discovered near the wooded trail. 

On Tuesday, Kelm said a forensic autopsy is underway and that no other information about the juvenile suspect is available.

Lily was a fourth-grader at Parkview Elementary School in Chippewa Falls, which on Wednesday, shared a press release with TODAY Parents describing the “extremely tragic event” and outlining safety protocols and mental health resources for students.

The Chippewa Falls Area School District also designated Friday “Justice for Lily” day, suggesting that staff and students wear purple to honor her memory, per a district Facebook post.