Aug 9, 2015 10:13 AM
Gov. Shumlin: Vermont mom is 'alleged perpetrator' in 4 deaths
The Associated Press
BARRE, Vt. — A woman who lost custody of her 9-year-old daughter killed three relatives in a Vermont home and then headed to a nearby state office to gun down the social worker involved in the custody case, authorities alleged.
Gov. Peter Shumlin assured state workers and families at a news conference Saturday after the arrest of 40-year-old Jody Herring that any threat to others was over and that the care of Vermont's "most vulnerable children" remains a priority.
"We know that the incidents were horrific and absolutely heartbreaking," the governor said after returning from vacation in Nova Scotia upon hearing of the deaths. "We also know and firmly believe that this was an isolated attack based upon the person we have in custody, who is the alleged perpetrator of these crimes."
Social worker Lara Sobel was shot twice and killed Friday outside an office of the state Department for Children and Families in Barre as she was leaving work, authorities say. Herring was tackled outside the building and arrested on a first-degree homicide charge.
The next morning, a 911 call brought officers to a Berlin home, where they found three women dead. Police said at least two of the women appeared to have been shot.
Herring is to be arraigned Monday afternoon on the homicide charge. It wasn't clear if she had a lawyer who could comment on her behalf.
Attorney General Bill Sorrell said much investigative work remains to be done before he can say what, if any, additional charges will be filed against Herring.
Shumlin tentatively identified Saturday's victims as Rhonda Herring and Regina Herring, the suspect's cousins; and Julianne Falzarano, an aunt. The cousins were in their 40s, and the aunt in her 70s; the three were killed before Sobel's life was taken, Shumlin said.
"I think all Vermonters are as shocked, dismayed, horrified and grief-stricken as all of us are," Shumlin said. "I cannot remember, in my lifetime, four people being murdered by the same alleged perpetrator."
Lt. Gov. Phil Scott said he knew several members of the extended Herring family.
"It's my understanding after speaking with some of her (Jody Herring's) relatives that her father was one of 16 brothers and sisters. It's a large, extended family throughout central Vermont," Scott said.
Sobel's co-workers and members of the Vermont State Employees Association planned to hold a vigil Sunday. They will gather at Old Labor Hall in Barre and march to Barre Place, where Sobel was shot to death Friday.
Sobel's family released a statement thanking the community for its kindness during their ordeal and asking others to respect their privacy. The family said it hopes that the tragedy "can create awareness of the dedicated professionals who devote so much of their energy to ensuring the welfare of children."
Officials said after Sobel's shooting that Herring's daughter remained in state custody.
Ken Schatz, the commissioner for the Department for Children and Families, called Sobel's shooting "a heartbreaking tragedy." He called Sobel "an experienced social worker. She had been providing public service for children and families for more than 14 years."
Officials said that in the wake of the deaths, counseling and other support would be made available to state workers.
Vermont's child protection agency, like those in many other states, frequently comes under criticism from parents for being too quick to remove children from homes in cases of alleged abuse and neglect; and from the public when children are left in the home and end up dying at the hands of family members.
A special legislative committee was set up to investigate the department system after the deaths last year of two toddlers who had been involved with DCF. Following the investigation, Vermont passed a law designed to improve communications between the department, law enforcement and the courts.