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The Lillelid murders: remembering a crime that still haunts East Tennessee

Few stories grip a community the way this one did, ten years ago.It was a crime that left three members of a family dead, and one forever scarred.

Few stories grip a community the way this one did, ten years ago. It was a crime that left three members of a family dead, and one forever scarred. Parents Vidar and Delfina Lillelid and their two children, six-year-old Tabitha and two-year-old Peter were a picture perfect young family from Knoxville.On April 6, 1997, their paths crossed with six wayward teens from a small Kentucky town: Natasha Cornett, Edward Mullins, Joseph Risner, Karen Howell, Crystal Sturgill and Jason Bryant.The Lillelids were heading back to Knoxville from a church conference in the Tri-cities. They stopped off at a Greene County rest area, where the teens eyed the family's van and carjjacked them at gunpoint. They ended up on an old dirt road in Baileyton, not far from the interstate. The Lillelids were ordered out of the car. Shots rang out.Vidar was shot six times, Delifina eight times, and each child at least once. The teens then drove off in the family's van, leaving the family for dead.Frank Waddell remembers arriving at the scene of the terrible crime. It had gone out over police dispatch as something routine, perhaps an abandoned car.But what he found was anything but routine."It's something I want to forget but you'll never forget," says Waddell. "When I was backing up with my alley light on, I looked over and seen the Lillelids lying right there on the ground. Peter was lying in a ditch. I picked him up and gave him to Jeff and I went to Tabitha. Where she was shot, I knew it was over."The parents and daughter Tabotha died. Peter survived. The killers were on the loose and a nationwide manhunt was on.Ttwo days later, the Lillelids' van was stopped at the Arizona-Mexico border. A Customs computer that had been down all day suddenly came back on when the van, with the killers in side, tried to cross back into the U.S.John Huffine with the Greene County Sheriff's Department was the lead investigator. He remembers days later when the accused teens were brought back to East Tennessee. "Those six kids became the image of evil for this community. They were called baby killers, and rightfully so."The teens intially pleaded not guilty, but six months later they struck a deal. They all entered guilty pleas in return for life in prison. Over the years, several of the teens have spoken out about what they claim were their roles. Natasha Cornett has said she should have done more to stop the murders. Jason Bryant says the murders haunt him.But for those who saw what the young people did that night, no apology or remorse is enough.If I had my way," says Frank Waddell. "I would have hanged them that night. The court system gave them what they deserve."