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Baby's grandmother says father was controlling, abusive before killing

By Lisa Riley Roche | Posted - Apr 6th, 2013 @ 5:46pm

AMERICAN FORK — The grandmother of the 5-month-old baby shot to death in an apparent murder-suicide attempt involving his father said Saturday the boy was "a sweetheart, all smiles and giggles."

"He was just the most pleasant baby. Just a complete dream," Tawnya Judd told KSL about her grandson, Ryker. "The best baby. Good manners. He only did what normal babies do, cry when he was hungry or needed a diaper change."

She said Ryker was "a beautiful little boy, (with) the beautifulest blue eyes and happy." 

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, laid 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.


Judd said she was last with Ryker on Tuesday, the same day her stepdaughter, Amanda, told her she had broken up with Petersen. "She finally kicked him out," Judd said, describing Petersen as abusive to her stepdaughter and two older grandsons.

"She said, 'Mom, you'll be proud of me. I finally told him I'm never going back,'" Judd said her stepdaughter told her. 

Judd said the breakup may have driven Petersen to what she called "insanity." 

"Once a controlling person loses control how do they get back control? They take the thing that matters most," Judd said. "I can't even begin to think what might have possessed him to do this. That's what it feels like to me, to hurt her."

Judd said her stepdaughter was not ready to talk publicly about the tragedy. "She's doing pretty good. We've been talking about funeral services," Judd said, as well as how to tell Ryker's brothers, ages 5 and 7.

Statement from Amanda Merrill Pilling's siblings:

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 heart broken 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.

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.

The father of the older boys died a couple of years ago, Judd said, declining to discuss his death further other than to say the older boys were in therapy. 

Judd said Petersen liked to "roughhouse a little too hard" with the older sons, lifting them above his head and dropping them on a couch and throwing them high enough in the air that they hit the ceiling.

"I've seen it with both," Judd said. But she said she did not know if Ryker was mistreated. "I really never seen him interact with his son. I know he held him a lot and he cared for him. He definitely was better to him."

She said after she confronted Petersen about his behavior with the older boys, he kept her stepdaughter from seeing her. The behavior, she said, started during her stepdaughter's pregnancy with Ryker.

Judd, who lives near the home where the shooting occurred, said she feared the worst as soon as she heard the news there had been an incident in the neighborhood involving a baby.

"First, denial," she said when asked her reaction. "But I knew it was true. I knew just from the description and the address. I knew it was him."

Judd said her stepdaughter is "a good mom. She's a wonderful mom. She's a very doting, wonderful mom." Her stepdaughter, she said, supported Petersen through much of their relationship.

While unwilling to discuss details of her stepdaughter's life, Judd said the young woman was working in day care and had worked in a retirement home. "She's the loving kind, the give-the-shirt-off her-back kind of person," Judd said.

A homemaker with nine children herself, Judd said she never liked Petersen.

"I didn't like him from the very beginning," she said. "But we're moms, OK? Nobody is ever going to be good enough for our kids."

Lisa Riley Roche

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