A 10-year-old girl who went missing Sunday after visiting family nearby has been found dead in western Wisconsin, and police are looking for whoever is responsible for killing her.
The body of Iliana "Lily" Peters was found in the woods at 9:15 a.m. Monday near her aunt's home in Chippewa Falls close to the walking trail at the end of Grove Street and the Leinenkugel's brewery parking lot, police said.
"At this point, we are considering this a homicide investigation," Chippewa Falls Police Chief Matt Kelm said at a news conference early Monday afternoon attended by WQOW-TV and other media in the Eau Claire area. "We do not have anyone in custody at this time, and we are continuing to follow up on multiple leads."
Kelm pledged that his agency and others "will be working diligently and tirelessly on this case."
The chief went on to caution residents "to maintain a state of diligence, as there may be a danger to the public."
While gathering his emotions, Kelm added, "We would like to extend our deepest sympathies to the family and friends of Lily Peters during this tragic time."
Lily's body was found in roughly the same area where police earlier said that a bike they believe belonged to Lily had been found.
In a second news conference late Monday afternoon, Kelm declined to say what evidence at the scene led investigators to conclude Lily's death was a homicide, but said the conclusion was quickly made "once we located the deceased."
He would not reveal what time Lily left her aunt's home or any other details about the timeline from the girl's last known whereabouts to when her body was discovered.
A fourth-grader at Parkview Elementary School, Lily was last seen by relatives while visiting her aunt's home in Chippewa Falls in the 400 block of N. Grove Street, according to police. The girl lives about four blocks from her aunt's house.
Her father notified police about 9 p.m. Sunday that his daughter was missing.
K-9 teams from the Chippewa County Sheriff's Office and Chippewa Falls Police Department searched the woods, and a Sheriff's Office drone was deployed as part of the search. Search teams also went door-to-door through the night.
Kelm said law enforcement has established a tip line, and anyone with information about this case is urged to call 1-800-263-5906.
"We are working tirelessly to uncover the truth," the police chief said during his second news briefing in the city of about 13,000, which is about 100 miles east of the Twin Cities.
"The people of our community are honest, hardworking and kindhearted," Kelm said. "It is almost impossible to believe that something this horrific could happen in our city, and an event like this threatens our sense of security. However, I believe we will come together as a community to overcome this fear."
Linda Schultz and her husband, Edward Glad, of Chippewa Falls stopped to honor Lily on Monday night. "We didn't know her. We were driving past and I said to him, 'Do you want to do something?' " Schultz said. "It's so hard to fathom that this could happen in our quiet little town."
"It's just so heartbreaking," Glad said.
In declining to discuss Lily's cause of death, the chief said, "We're only a day into the investigation. This is a major incident, and we want to make sure we do it correctly, properly."
However, the chief went on to assure residents and visitors that "Chippewa Falls is a safe community. This is a very rare occurrence."
Jeff Holmes, superintendent of the Chippewa Falls Area Unified School District, sent a letter to district families after Kelm's first news briefing early Monday afternoon with the recommendation that children who walk to or from school "be picked up and dropped off by trusted family members or friends until further notice. … Our buildings are on high alert; however, law enforcement has not indicated the need to consider lockdown settings at this time."
Holmes added that the district has "requested greater law enforcement presence at all of our facilities and their neighborhoods, which appears to be forthcoming."
The superintendent also advised families that "we feel that it is important for you to know about what we may share at this time. We do not plan to formally announce what happened, as we are not privy to those details.
"We also believe that parents should be the ones to share and engage in discussion with their children about this tragic event to the greatest extent possible. However, we know that some of our students may be affected and some of our students may have conversations amongst themselves and with staff members. … Cardinal Care counseling services can be accessed by any student. … Thank you for your kindness and compassion for the student and the family during this tragic time."
Star Tribune photographer Jeff Wheeler contributed to this report.