AMERICAN FORK — The family of the 5-month-old baby shot and killed in American Fork Friday issued a statement of thanks to the community and support for the child's mother, Amanda Merrill Pilling, and the family of the man accused of killing the child, the child's father:
"We would like to make a statement on behalf of our sister, Amanda Merrill Pilling and the tragic death of her 5-month-old son, Ryker Petersen. Amanda is heartbroken over this loss, her sweet baby Ryker was a treasure and she misses him immensely and is overcome with grief.
"Our hearts and prayers go out to all of you who are suffering from the loss of baby Ryker, including the father’s family. We can not imagine how hard this must be for you, we know that you love Ryker and we send our love and support to you."
The baby's father, Joshua David Petersen, 21, of American Fork, was arrested and booked into the Utah County Jail for investigation of aggravated murder after the shooting Friday at about 1 p.m.
Petersen, investigators said, placed his son on a couch and went into another room to load a single .22 round into a rifle before returning to shoot the baby. They said Petersen was about to shoot himself when a family member stopped him.
The death has rocked the American Fork community. Nearly 100 family members, friends and neighbors gathered Sunday night for a candlelight vigil to remember Ryker and the joy he brought to his mother. Well-wishers lit candles, left stuffed animals at the door for two of Ryker's older siblings and made donations to the family.
“We just feel that Amanda needs to have as much support as possible and not just family and friends, but the community as well," said the lead organizer and a family friend, Kristeena Petersen. "And to show respect to Ryker.”
She said Pilling was distraught, and that it would take a lot of prayer to rally behind her.
"There's a lot of emotions. She's like any other mother would be; I think devastated would be the right word for it. ... (But) she has thousands of community members who are going to support her. Thousands are praying for her," Petersen said.
Pilling's brother Milo Merrill said the vigil and other acts of unity would be critical in helping those affected to grieve and heal.
"It's been a very peaceful atmosphere," Merrill said. "The outpouring has been amazing. It's things like this that help you remember that you're not alone."
Petersen said it was vital, considering the circumstances, that the vigil focus on the life of Ryker rather than the tragic way it ended.
"This is really just about getting everyone together. This is about love and remembering a baby tragically lost, not to point fingers," she said.
Family members expressed a similar sentiment in their statement Sunday, urging community members to grieve without judgment:
"It is so easy to jump to conclusions and judgments when a tragedy like this occurs. We believe that we should leave the judgment and conclusions to our Heavenly Father. We will not let this sadness consume us. Amanda knows that her son, Ryker is with her parents who have also passed away.
"We are so humbled by the kindness and generosity of so many who have expressed love and concern for Amanda and our family at this time. Please give Amanda and our family privacy during this difficult time."