Family and friends come together at vigil remembering Gilbert 9-year-old hit by car

Ilai, 9, and his dad were waiting to cross at the intersection near Coronado Street and Ray Road when two cars collided; one went off the street and hit them.
Published: Nov. 14, 2023 at 9:56 PM MST
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GILBERT, AZ (3TV/CBS 5) — Family and friends gathered on Tuesday night to mourn the loss of a boy in Chandler who was killed while on a walk with his father. A car ran up onto the sidewalk, hitting them both.

At its peak, close to a couple of hundred people showed up outside the Petersen family home, remembering Ilai, gone far too soon. Faith was so important for the Petersens, and Tuesday’s vigil was full of Bible verses, singing, and lit candles remembering 9-year-old Ilai, who was killed in the accident. “He was an old soul, loved nature, loved spiders,” neighbor and family friend Jill Knight said. “He had all kinds of interesting facts about snakes and sharks and spiders. He was my son’s best friend. He spent every day at my house. His laughter, I’ll miss that for sure.”

Ilai and his dad, Aaron Petersen, were coming from a fall festival this past Saturday morning and were headed to Starbucks. As they waited to cross at the intersection of Coronado Street and Ray Road in Chandler, two cars collided, with one going off the street and hitting both of them. Aaron is still recovering, and family friends say he’ll be OK. But Ilai did not survive.

A boy is dead and his father is in critical condition at the hospital after they were both hit by a car following a crash in Chandler.

Christine Jones, who is speaking for the family as they grieve, says Tuesday night was about the family healing and honoring Ilai, whose mission, even at a young age, was to give back to whoever was in need. “I think he might be a little embarrassed,” Jones said about what Ilai would think of Tuesday’s vigil. “He was a thoughtful, introverted, and smart conversationalist. So he might wonder, ‘why is all of this attention being paid to me?’ But I think really, he would be very pleased to know that people are supporting his parents.”

Jones says that on the day of the crash, Ilai was helping score a youth basketball game for younger players. He also previously traveled to Ukraine and Poland to help refugees. A GoFundMe has been set up to help the Petersen family with funeral and medical expenses moving forward. Jones says Chandler Police are continuing to investigate the crash that happened over the weekend.

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