GREENE COUNTY, Tenn. (WJHL) – Twenty-five years after the Lillelid family was kidnapped and killed just off of Interstate 81 in Greene County, community members are planning to gather in their memory.
The case garnered national attention due to the young age of the suspects, two of which were minors, and investigator allegations that the group had occult links.
But for James Stewart and those planning to gather Wednesday, the day is reserved for the family that left an impact on everyone they met.
“Their religion was very, very important to them,” said Stewart, event organizer and podcaster who has been researching the case. “And unfortunately it’s why they had that van, and the van is what made them a target.”
The Lillelids, consisting of Vidar, Delfina, Tabitha and Peter were on their way back home from a Jehovah’s Witness convention when they stopped at a rest stop along I-81 South, getting out of their van. When they were confronted by the group and asked to hand over the keys and get back in, they didn’t know it’d be the last ride they took in the vehicle that meant so much to others in their church community.
“Unfortunately that van made them a target that day,” Stewart said. “And a senseless act of pure brutality happened.”
In researching the case, Stewart said he learned that Vidar and Delfina were closely involved with their church, often using the vehicle to shuttle the less fortunate back and forth to services.
“The family, from what I could find though, was just a loving, caring — I’ve not heard one bad word ever mentioned about the family by anybody that I’ve ever spoken to,” Stewart said. “They all talk about how caring and selfless the family was.”
Life wasn’t always easy for the family, but from what Stewart could find, he believes there was joy in their home before the incident.
“They seemed to be really loving parents, really devoted to their kids,” Stewart said. “Delfina was a stay-at-home mother, she homeschooled Tabitha and was just a full-time mother. Vidar worked very hard as a bellman at a local hotel in Knoxville.”
Vidar, the patriarch of the family, was told to drive to the end of Payne Hollow Lane after the group forced the family back into the car. They were told to get out and then shot. Only Peter survived.
Twenty-five years after the murder, the community is invited to come to the site and remember the family that touched so many lives. Starting at 11 a.m. on Payne Hollow Lane, the Lillelids will be remembered for their warmth and care for others.
For those that attend, Stewart said to bring a rock to leave at the site as a marker of remembrance. Rather than flowers that fade and die, Stewart said stones serve to commemorate the family for centuries.