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Community gathers at vigil for murdered infant

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Posted at 10:19 PM, Apr 07, 2013
and last updated 2013-04-08 00:19:44-04

AMERICAN FORK, Utah -- A community came together Sunday night in American Fork to remember a 5-month-old baby who police said was murdered by his own father.

According to authorities, Joshua Petersen, 21, shot and killed his son Ryker and then tried to turn the gun on himself.

Friends of Ryker’s mother, Amanda Merrill Pilling, organized a candlelight vigil outside her home in Ryker’s honor.

“He’s just a sweet, young, innocent boy whose life was taken early,” said Milo Merrill, one of Ryker’s uncles.  Pilling, who is the youngest of 14, has been staying with family since the murder, Merrill said.

According to other members of Pilling’s family at the vigil, Petersen and Pilling were no longer together, but they were on good terms.  When Pilling left Ryker with Petersen last week, they said he seemed happy to see his son.

Merrill said: “The answers don’t matter now. What’s done is done, and we have to accept the terms that have been dealt us. And we’ll just have to live with it.”

A crowd gathered outside Pilling’s apartment, which was adorned with pictures, toys and other memories of the infant.

“I think it’s a situation like this, that’s all a mother needs is just the love and to know that people are here for them,” said Kristeena Petersen, a longtime friend of Pilling who helped organize the vigil.

Those attending were asked to bring toys for Pilling’s two other children, in hopes that they would serve as a distraction in the coming days and weeks.

Neighbor Emily Thompson said: “I was sick, heart sick for her and her boys. She’s the nicest, sweetest person. No one has to go through this.”

Pilling’s family said they are humbled by the outpouring of support they’ve received in the last few days, but they also wanted the public to acknowledge that they are not the only ones suffering.

“We just ask that the support be there for the Petersen family, as well,” Merrill said. “We know they’re hurting, as well. A tragedy like this, I don’t think anybody can understand it, and so we rely on our faith, and we rely on hope that we can get through this, and we know we will.”

Petersen is in custody at the Utah County Jail without bail, pending an appearance before a judge. He was booked on suspicion of aggravated murder, a first-degree felony.

Merrill said the knowledge of what might have been is hard to deal with.

“We miss out on what he’d grow up to be, and the future is what we really miss out on. So, that’s the difficult part,” Merrill said.