UPDATE: This story has been edited to reflect recent developments.
On the evening of April 25, a post about the murder of 10-year-old Lily Peters in the generally sleepy town of Chippewa Falls went viral in a popular true-crime subreddit. What was otherwise an innocuous update on a case that made headlines across the country soon transformed into what may have been a key piece in the arrest of a juvenile male for Peters’ murder.
The body of Lily Peters was found just off a walking trail near Leinenkugel’s brewery at around 9 A.M. on April 25, a short distance away from her abandoned bicycle. Chippewa Falls Police quickly cordoned off the area with crime scene tape as emergency response vehicles swarmed the area, followed shortly thereafter by members of the media.
On Tuesday morning, police announced an increased presence at area schools as the search for Peters’ killer continued apace. Community members, terrified that a child predator was still at large, traded rumors about sex offenders as police urged parents not to let children walk to school alone.
The vast majority of speculation centered on child sex offenders living in Chippewa Falls, with members of the public urging authorities to investigate them in relation to Peters’ murder.
Yet despite all of the enthusiastic condemnation of those listed on the sex offender registry, not only was the real culprit not on the registry, he was––perhaps even more disturbingly––a juvenile.
Commenting on a KARE 11 news article shared to the r/TrueCrime subreddit, an anonymous Reddit user, posting under the name “HomesliceNation4,” claimed to have vital information about Peters’ murder.
The comment, posted at around 10 P.M. CDT on April 25, alleged that Peters was seen on the walking trail on the evening of April 24. HomesliceNation4 claimed that they were also in the park playing the popular mobile game Pokémon Go when they “saw that girl in a pink/purple hoodie on her bike with another kid on my way out.”
“I have a suspicion that it could be another kid that did it,” added HomesliceNation4.
Soon, HomesliceNation4 was bombarded by a flurry of requests from other Reddit users to contact police.
“If you believe you saw her, also with another person, you NEED to let LE know right away!,” urged one user.
“Please call the tip line if you haven’t already!,” commented another.
Despite numerous relentless pleas from other Reddit users to inform the police of what they saw, HomesliceNation4 seemed to drop off the grid, ignoring requests to confirm they called in the tip.
Not wanting to withhold vital information from investigators, a number of concerned Reddit users took it upon themselves to reach out to Chippewa Falls police, calling the tip line and emailing screenshots of the post to investigators.
Less than 20 minutes after sending in the tip, a detective with the Chippewa Falls Police Department called the Reddit user to let them know that they would be following up.
Shortly before the scheduled press conference at 6:30 P.M. CDT on April 26, the house of Peters’ aunt at 422 N. Grove Street was surrounded by police cars and roped off with crime scene tape. Officers could be seen carrying out boxes of evidence, and the street was blocked off to prevent members of the media from getting too close to what was now a crime scene.
During the press conference, police announced they made an arrest in the case––a juvenile who was known to the victim. While initially declining to identify the age and gender of the suspect, the police chief referred to the suspect using male pronouns when asked where they were being held.
Initially, users on Reddit and other true crime forums like Websleuths speculated that the information provided by HomesliceNation4 had cracked the case and brought the killer to justice. Although the truth is undoubtedly more complex––likely involving a combination of circumstantial and physical evidence leading police to the culprit––the murder of Lily Peters exemplifies the importance of the virtual world in solving real-life crimes.
Unless the juvenile suspect in Peters’ murder is charged as an adult––a scenario which is not out of the question––we may never know who is behind the HomesliceNation4 account and whether or not their helpful comment inadvertently led to the suspect’s arrest.
At the very least, this case highlights the key role web-savvy citizens can play in bringing criminals to justice.