A vibrant green coat hangs limply from a hook and a pair of red shoes are a striking contrast as they gather dust on a rack beneath it: Walking through the front door of Abigail “Abby” Williams' home is a snapshot of a happier time.
Abby, wearing her volleyball uniform, beams widely in a photo on the wall that would welcome family and friends into the Williams’ home. A grand dollhouse sits nearby with cherished photos of a younger Abby hanging above it. This still moment holds memories in the form of photography, one of the 13-year-old’s favorite hobbies.
The last time Abby would be seen alive was on February 13 on a hike at the Monon High Bridge to enjoy that hobby with one of her best friends, Liberty “Libby” German.
Calibri;mso-bidi-theme-font:minor-latin">The photos from that day tell two different stories; one of two teenage girls enjoying each other’s company while walking along the trail, snapping photos full of smiles as they cross the abandoned railroad tracks.
Calibri;mso-bidi-theme-font:minor-latin">The other is a story investigators are still trying to piece together; A photo of a nearly unidentifiable man walking along the bridge with his hands in his pockets taken possibly in the moments before the girls’ deaths. That photo is of the chief suspect in the girls’ murders.
The details surrounding what happened that day are still a mystery, but when the girls didn’t show up at their scheduled pick-up time that afternoon, friends, family and members of the community spent the evening searching for them.
They had hoped the two girls had wandered off the tracks and gotten lost, or maybe they had met up with another friend and lost track of time. But reality struck hard when their bodies were discovered the next morning, less than a mile from where they were last seen alive.
Almost three months later, their families are still sifting through photographs the girls took, trying to hold on to their memories.
These are the moments Abby’s mother, Anna, still plays in her head every day, of a young girl who was loved by so many.
“It’s the stories in the pictures, it’s the funny stuff. The stuff we have done throughout the years,” said Anna.
Liberty's grandparents, Mike and Becky Patty, admit it isn't easy.
“There are days you are on auto pilot,” said Becky. “The first month was auto pilot. I don’t remember – if you ask me about a conversation, I probably don’t remember.”
The Pattys said their faith gives them strength to get through each day.
“Libby really believed. I can’t lose faith,” Becky said. “If I lose my faith, I lose her.”
They turn to Libby’s art - her paintings and photography – as a source of comfort. Both girls loved to take photos, but Liberty had a passion for it.
As they sort through the thousands of photos Libby had taken of friends and family and the beauty of nature, the Pattys say they’ll cherish them all. Each photo is a portrait of the world as seen through the eyes of a 14-year-old girl.
“The only problem is that now there’ll be no more of them,” said Becky. “So we have to keep those. They mean a lot more than they did.”
For Abby’s family, the sentiment is the same. Each day is a struggle to cope with loss and to keep those memories alive.
Calibri;mso-bidi-theme-font:minor-latin">Anna Williams wiped away tears as she described the person her daughter was.
Calibri;mso-bidi-theme-font:minor-latin">“She smiled all the time,” she said. “She loved everybody. She cared so much about other people.”
Calibri;mso-bidi-theme-font:minor-latin">Abby loved to make crafts and paint. She was recently knitting baby hats with her aunt to give to the local hospitals at Christmas.
Calibri;mso-bidi-theme-font:minor-latin">Abby’s grandparents, “Papa” and “Memaw” as she called them, say her things are exactly where they were the day their lives changed forever.
Calibri;mso-bidi-theme-font:minor-latin">“Her bedroom is just the way she left it,” said Abby’s “Memaw” Diane. “She may have walked out the door, but she is here with us. We just can’t erase her from our lives and we don’t want to.”
The girls’ murders have affected more than just their families.
Calibri;mso-bidi-theme-font:minor-latin">A dark cloud hangs over the small town of Delphi, a place where no one thought twice about letting two teenage girls go for a hike and take photographs. But since that warm February day, a feeling of dread has followed those who live there, knowing the girls’ killer is still out there.
“You look at the world different now,” said Becky. “You look at people. You pull up to a stop light and you are looking at the people and they are doing the same thing. Our community is going through this with us.”
It’s those little things, bits of Abby Williams, which bring both smiles and tears throughout the day.
“We were fortunate to have 13 really good years,” said Abby’s “Papa”, Eric. “Some grandparents live across the continent. Maybe they see their grandkids two or three times a year. We had the pleasure to see her at morning and see her at night. Go to her ball games, band concerts. So we were really blessed."
Calibri;mso-bidi-theme-font:minor-latin">It’s become a part of their lives - something both families say they think about from the moment they wake up until the time they go to bed at night.
Calibri;mso-bidi-theme-font:minor-latin">With every new sunrise, the families wonder if the new day will bring word of an arrest. They believe someone out there knows what happened, and they hope that someone will come forward with the information they need to find the person or persons responsible.
Calibri;mso-bidi-theme-font:minor-latin">“Every day we wake up and we pray that today is the day,” said Anna. “We pray every day that we’ll have peace someday. We know someone out there might help us find that.”
Calibri;mso-bidi-theme-font:minor-latin">It’s that desire to find peace that gives them strength and purpose in their pursuit to find the girls’ killer and bring them to justice.
Calibri;mso-bidi-theme-font:minor-latin">“Justice is that deep breath we get to take when my friends’ children are sleeping in their own beds again,” said Anna. “When people don’t worry about their children playing outside.”
Although they aim for justice, they know it won’t make them feel whole.
Calibri;mso-bidi-theme-font:minor-latin">“There’s never going to be true justice for us, because you can’t bring the girls back,” said Becky. “It’s our job to fight to keep it out there – to do whatever it takes to find this person or persons that did this to them. This is our job now.”
Calibri;mso-bidi-theme-font:minor-latin">It was Libby who managed to take a cell phone video of the only man investigators have called a suspect in the crime. Investigators heralded the 14-year-old a hero for having the presence of mind to turn on her cell phone camera and record what was happening.
Calibri;mso-bidi-theme-font:minor-latin">A photo of a man walking along the bridge and an audio clip of a man’s voice saying “down the hill” were released by investigators early in the investigation.
Police are still searching for that man.
“I think somebody out there knows,” Mike said. “Either they haven’t heard the message yet or seen the video or heard the audio, but even if they have somebody out there knows.”
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The tight-knit community of Delphi has surrounded the girls’ families with love and support.
Calibri;mso-bidi-theme-font:minor-latin">Posters of the suspect still plaster storefront windows all over town and fundraisers are still being planned, three months later, to help raise money for the families and to fund the sports complex that will be built in Libby and Abby’s memory.
It’s something both families can look forward to – something more than a photograph, a way to make sure Libby and Abby are never forgotten.
Calibri;mso-bidi-theme-font:minor-latin">“They aren’t there to do their legacy themselves,” said Becky. “So this is what we want to do for them - to give back to the community - because they’ve been awesome to us - and to remember the girls.”
Calibri;mso-bidi-theme-font:minor-latin"> “This evil may have struck us right here in the heart of Indiana and right in our home, but there is a lot of good people out there doing a lot of good things,” said Mike. “Their support has really helped us through this. It really has.”