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Public Notices

April 16, 2014

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Peter Lillelid Is 'A Happy Little Boy' 3 Years After Murders Of His Family

Originally published:
Last modified: 2009-04-01 12:10:13
 


Peter Lillelid, who was 2 years old when he was shot and left for dead three years ago beside a northern Greene County roadway, turned five last month.

The attack, in which Peter's parents, Vidar and Delfina Lillelid, and their 6-year-old daughter, Tabitha, were murdered, left Peter with spinal cord damage and blinded him in one eye.

The Lillelids were kidnapped from an Interstate 81 rest area three years ago on the afternoon of Sunday, April 6, 1997, as they were returning to their Knoxville-area home from a Jehovah's Witnesses convention in Johnson City.

Later that night, they were found shot on isolated Payne Hollow Lane, located off Van Hill Road a short drive north of Baileyton.

The family van was missing, and an old Chevrolet sedan registered to a Kentucky woman was found at the shooting scene.

Six young Kentuckians were arrested a few days later in Arizona while driving the Lillelid family van.

They pleaded guilty in Greene County Criminal Court two years ago to murdering Vidar, a Norwegian immigrant, and his wife, Delfina, and their daughter, Tabitha, and to wounding Peter.

All six now are serving life-without-parole sentences in various state prisons.

Despite his wounds, Peter survived; but a legal custody battle ensued between his paternal aunt, who lives in Sweden, and members of his mother's family, who live in the U.S after emigrating from Honduras.

The court decided in favor of his paternal aunt, Randi Heier, sister of Vidar Lillelid, and the 2-year-old went to Sweden in July 1997 to live with her and her family.

Protecting Boy's Privacy

On Thursday, the third anniversary of the shootings, a Greeneville Sun reporter telephoned Randi Heier at her home and learned that the family now is trying to maintain a low profile and shelter Peter from news media coverage.

"We don't want to say anything about it anymore," Heier said by telephone from her home in a suburb of Stockholm, the Swedish capital. "He (Peter) needs to go on with his life, and we want him to grow up as a normal child."

Heier said, however, that she had told Peter about what happened to his family in the United States. "He knows everything about what happened," she said. "But it's not fun for him to read about it in the media."

Heier declined to answer other questions about Peter.

Jehovah's Witnesses friends of the Lillelid family did, however, provide some new information about Peter.

'A Happy Little Boy'

Mattie Turner, a member of the West Knoxville Jehovah's Witness Kingdom Hall formerly attended by the Lillelid family, said Thursday afternoon that Peter and the Heiers had made a low-profile visit to the Knoxville area last fall.

"They didn't announce that they were coming," Turner said. "There was nothing in the newspaper about it here (Knoxville)."

Last fall, Turner said, Peter was "a happy little boy" who was able to "go everywhere" using a special walker.

Turner also noted that she understood Randi Heier had taken Peter to New York last fall to visit his maternal grandmother and other maternal relatives.

"They (the Heiers) have been teaching him Spanish so he can speak with his grandmother by telephone," Turner said.

'Bigger And Stronger'

Troy and Judy Love, who also are members of the West Knoxville Kingdom Hall of Jehovah's Witnesses and were friends of Vidar and Delfina Lillelid, also spoke with a Greeneville Sun reporter Thursday about Peter.

Troy Love said he saw Peter last November during the boy's visit to Knoxville.

"He's much bigger and stronger now," Love said. "He didn't seem to remember me at first, but I gave him a 'horsy ride' like I used to do, and I could tell that he remembered me."

Peter, according to Troy Love, was speaking only Swedish when he visited Knoxville. "I think they (the Heiers) think English will confuse him," Love said.

Troy Love also noted that he understood Peter had been attending the Swedish equivalent of preschool last year.

Judy Love said the Lillelids and their children often had been guests in the Love home before the April 6, 1997, tragedy.

"We were best friends with them," she said. "Vidar liked for the children to come here to play because we had dogs and ducks and other animals."

She also noted that the Loves hosted a baby shower for Delfina before Peter's birth. "It was different because Vidar wanted the men to come too," she said.

Judy noted that the Loves also stay in telephone contact with Lydia Zelaya, Peter's maternal grandmother. "She called me to let me know Peter was coming last fall," Judy Love said.

Although Zelaya speaks English haltingly, Judy Love said, the two women have been able to communicate about Peter.

The Loves said they hope Peter will visit Knoxville again, possibly as soon as later this year.

Mrs. Love said that while the Heiers and Peter were in the U.S. last fall, they spent a week in the Knoxville area and another week in New York.

"While they were here, they traveled to the Smokies and Chattanooga," she noted.

Appeals Denied

Earlier this year, the Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals denied appeals of the life-without-parole sentences now being served by the six young Kentuckians who pleaded guilty in 1998 to the Lillelid murders.

Sentences of three consecutive terms each of life without parole imposed on Jason Blake Bryant, Natasha Wallen Cornett, Karen Howell, Edward Dean Mullins and Joseph Lance Risner were upheld.

The appeals court changed Crystal Sturgill's sentence to three concurrent terms of life without parole.

Since no one can serve more than one term of life without parole, however, the change in Sturgill's sentence has little practical effect.

The six are serving their sentences at various state prisons.
 
For more information and stories, see The Greeneville Sun.

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