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6 arrested in slayings near Tennessee rest area

Parents, daughter die; son clings to life

April 8, 1997
Web posted at: 11:45 p.m. EDT (0345 GMT)

GREENEVILLE, Tennessee (CNN) -- Six people suspected of carjacking and shooting a family near a Tennessee rest area were arrested in Arizona Tuesday afternoon while trying to take the family's stolen van across the border into Mexico.

The suspects, all from the Paintsville, Kentucky, area, ranged in age from 14 to 20.

Vidar Lillelid, 34, and his wife, Delphia, 28, were found dead in a ditch Sunday night along a gravel road three miles from the rest stop on Interstate 81, near Ballyton.

Their two children, Tabitha, 6, and Peter, 3, who had been cradled in their parents' laps, were taken to a hospital where Tabitha died Monday. Peter was reported in critical condition Tuesday.

The parents were shot in the head and chest, and each child was shot in the head, said Greene County Sheriff Terry Jones.

Suspects nabbed by U.S. Customs agents

U.S. Customs agents seized the suspects after spotting the van, which was wanted by Tennessee authorities. Arrested were Edward Dean Mullins, 19; Crystal Renea Sturgill, 18; Joseph Lance Risner, 20; Natasha Wallen Cornett, 18; Jason Blake Bryant, 14; and Karen Renea Howell, 17.

Police found a blue Chevrolet Citation in the same ditch in which the Lillelids were found. Though the license plate had been removed, authorities were able to trace the car to Risner's mother, who said she loaned the car to her son over the weekend.

The Lillelids were returning to their home in Powell from a conference for Jehovah's Witnesses in Johnson City. After taking the family from the rest area to the gravel road and shooting them, police say the suspects stole the van and some of the Lillelids' personal effects.

Jones said no weapons were found in the van when the suspects were arrested. He did not know if any of the family's possessions were found.

Ironically, the Lillelids had recently moved from Miami to the Knoxville area seeking a safer life.

"They decided things were a little on the rough side in Miami, and they wanted to move to get away from the violence, among other reasons," said John McLaughlin, an elder at the West Congregation of Jehovah's Witnesses in Knoxville, which the Lillelids attended.

Reuters contributed to this report.


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