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Girlfriend in shooting charged with arson, concealment of homicidal death

Rachel Helm (left) and Anna Schroeder are shown here in a Facebook photo. Helm made an initial appearance  late Tuesday morning in Whiteside County Court in Sterling, where  her formal charges were read for the first time. She’s charged with  arson and concealing a homicidal death in connection with the July 6 murder of Anna’s mother.
Rachel Helm (left) and Anna Schroeder are shown here in a Facebook photo. Helm made an initial appearance late Tuesday morning in Whiteside County Court in Sterling, where her formal charges were read for the first time. She’s charged with arson and concealing a homicidal death in connection with the July 6 murder of Anna’s mother.

Editor’s note: Although it is not illegal to do so, in general, it is the policy of Sauk Valley Media not to report the names of juvenile defendants. In this case, however, SVM is publishing their names because of the severity of the crimes.

STERLING – The 15-year-old girlfriend of a teen accused of shooting her mom in the head is charged with arson and concealing a homicidal death.

Anna Schroeder, 15, who lived with her mom, Peggy S. Schroeder, 53, at 805 W. Park St. in Morrison, is charged with two counts of first-degree murder, concealment of homicidal death, and arson. If convicted of murder as a minor, she could serve time until she is 21.

Investigators say Schroeder shot her mom the afternoon of July 6, then she and Rachel Helm spent a day cleaning up before setting the house on fire July 8 to conceal the crime.

Prosecutors say Helm, of Rock Falls, actually set the fire. She made an initial appearance late Tuesday morning in Whiteside County Court in Sterling, the first time her formal charges were read.

Anna appeared at a pretrial conference shortly before; her initial appearance was July 11.

Arson is punishable by 3 to 7 years; concealment of homicidal death carries 2 to 5 years.

Whether either teen will be charged as an adult is yet to be determined.

The girls are being held at Mary Davis Detention Home in Galesburg. Judge Trish Joyce granted Whiteside County State’s Attorney Terry Costello’s motion to have staff there keep the two girls separated at all times.

Anna is represented by Sterling attorney Jim Mertes, who told Joyce he is unable to conduct a productive pretrial conference because he has yet to receive evidence and other information, called discovery, from Costello.

Costello received reports from the Illinois State Police last week, the state’s attorney said.

Helm is represented by Sterling attorney Michael Lancaster.

Both girls have hearings Aug. 29.

According to testimony July 11 from sheriff’s Detective David Molina, who interviewed both girls:

Anna was waiting at home with her mom’s .38 revolver when Peggy, who worked at the Wahl Clipper Service Center, 3001 N. Locust St. in Sterling, came home around 5:30 p.m. Anna met her in the living room, told her to put a towel over her face and shot her in the forehead.

She texted Rachel about what she did, then sent her a picture of her mom’s body when Rachel didn’t believe her. Rachel’s mother gave her a ride to the Schroeders’ home that night, and the girls tried to clean the blood out of the carpet before going to sleep in Anna’s room. The next day, they moved Peggy’s body to her bedroom, laid her on the floor and covered her with a bed sheet, and kept working on the carpet.

They also walked to Subway, where they spent an hour eating and where Anna learned that her father, Daryl Schroeder of Walnut, was coming to Morrison. She vomited in Subway’s bathroom.

The girls then walked to a nearby store to buy more cleaning supplies. They decided to run away, and that night they dyed their hair. The next morning, Rachel set fire to the bed sheet covering Peggy and to sheets in Anna’s room, then they walked to Grove Hill Cemetery and hid Anna’s phone and the gun, which later were recovered.

Anna went to her father’s home, although it’s not clear from testimony how she got there, and Rachel went back to her family in Rock Falls.

Around 1:30 p.m., Peggy’s neighbors reported smelling burning plastic. An off-duty Erie firefighter who was in the area broke down the door as Daryl Schroeder was driving up to the home. He called 911.

That day, Rachel confessed to her mother, who drove her to the Sheriff’s Department around 8 p.m. Rachel told Molina what happened and where Anna, who she said might be suicidal, could be found.

At 8:37 p.m., Anna posted a message to her mom on Peggy’s Facebook page:

“I don’t even know if you can see me right now but if you can I just want you to know you were my best friend. There were so many things I wanted to say and do with you. I wasn’t always the best daughter and I’m so sorry. I love you so much mom I just want you to know and I’ll never forget you.”

The message was followed by two heart icons.

Anna was picked up at her dad’s house and taken to the Bureau County Sheriff’s Department for questioning. She broke down, asked for her father and confessed everything – including having researched children who murdered their parents, Molina testified.

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