Lily Peters’ hometown in Wisconsin is honoring her memory with kind deeds as it grapples with the 10-year-old girl's death.
In the days since a teenage suspect was arrested in connection with Lily's death and charged with first-degree intentional homicide, first-degree sexual assault and first-degree sexual assault with a child under age 13, the town of Chippewa Falls has been pulling together with compassion and support.
Greg Hoffman, the mayor of Chippewa Falls, which is located 90 miles east of Minneapolis-Saint Paul and has a population of roughly 14,000 people, told TODAY Parents that the outpouring of love for Lily has been staggering.
“I’m getting emails and phone calls from people in different states asking, ‘What can we do?’ and sending their prayers,” Hoffman said.
Residents of Chippewa Falls designated Friday “Justice for Lily” day and decked out the town in purple in her honor.
The news of Lily's disappearance and death sent the community reeling. Lily’s father reported her missing on Sunday evening when she didn’t return home after visiting her aunt, who lives minutes away from the Peters family. Hours later, Lily’s bicycle was found in the woods near a walking trail and the parking lot of a local brewery.
Her body was discovered in a nearby wooded area on Monday. At a press conference on Tuesday, Chippewa Falls Police Chief Matthew Kelm said that teenage suspect “was known to the victim.” The suspect is being held on a $1 million cash bond.
The results of a preliminary autopsy released Thursday showed that Lily died by strangulation and blunt force trauma.
This week, Chippewa County District Attorney Wade Newell sympathized with local parents who are concerned for their children’s safety after the “terrifying” crime.
“Until they caught [the suspect], there was [a lot of] fear and concern,” Mayor Hoffman said. “Chippewa Falls is where people feel comfortable walking around at night. Things like this don’t usually happen here. … We’re like a family.”
Local businesses have been donating their time and supplies in Lily’s memory. Joel Jacobson, the owner of Jacobson’s ACE Hardware in Chippewa Falls, is distributing free purple light bulbs to neighbors to hang on their porches. Lily was wearing a purple long-sleeved shirt the night she disappeared.
“We contacted our warehouse and sourced more than 400 bulbs which were passed out in less than 20 minutes,” Jacobson told TODAY Parents. “We just received 600 more bulbs and there’s a line at our door to get them. … When you drive around town at night, the homes are all lit up.”
Jacobson added that people tied purple ribbons on street light poles and residents’ mailboxes while the mother of a former employee made purple wreaths to hang in his store. While on Friday, the Chippewa Falls Area Unified School District, where Peters attended Parkview Elementary, held “Justice for Lily” day inviting students and teachers to wear the color.
Elsewhere in town, a souvenir shop called The Chippewa Store printed buttons, yard signs and car decals marked "Justice for Lily" and launched an online fundraiser for related apparel.
The gestures come naturally, Jacobson said: “This is what you do — there’s no discussion or fanfare. It’s the right thing to do.”
Chuck Hull, Chippewa Falls City Council president, agreed. “An event like this is something we have not experienced in Chippewa Falls in recent memory, and will be remembered for a long time,” Hull told TODAY Parents. “The community will come together after the grieving, and in time come up with an appropriate memorial to honor Lily.”
One suggestion being discussed is the idea of renaming East Birch Street, where Lily Peters formerly lived, as “Lily Street.” Hoffman said the community initiative has gotten traction over the past two days.
“The idea still needs approval from the City Council and the Public Works Department,” he said. “But I have no issue with it.”