Police: Vermont mom killed 3 relatives, then social worker
BARRE, Vermont (AP) — 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.
Police said 40-year-old Jody Herring shot social worker Lara Sobel, 48, twice on Friday, killing her outside an office of the state Department for Children and Families in Barre as Sobel was leaving work. Herring was tackled outside the building and arrested on a first-degree homicide charge.
The next morning, an emergency call brought officers to a Berlin home, where they found three relatives of Herring dead. Police said at least two of the women appeared to have been shot.
The Burlington Free Press reported that Tiffany Herring, 23, who identified herself as the daughter of victim Rhonda Herring, said her mother had received a threatening phone call from Jody Herring Friday morning.
“My mother got a call in the morning, maybe 7:30 or 8 o’clock, saying it was Jody Herring saying, ’You guys need to stop calling DCF unless you guys are going to have it coming to you,” Tiffany Herring told the newspaper.
She said she discovered the women’s bodies.
“Both doors were wide open, and I walked into the living room, and that’s where I saw my mom dead,” she said.
Gov. Peter Shumlin tentatively identified Saturday’s victims as Regina Herring and Rhonda 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.
Barre Police Chief Tim Bombardier said Sunday he doesn’t expect any more bodies will be found in relation to the case.
Bombardier said the weapon used to kill Sobel was a hunting rifle, but he would not reveal additional details about it. He also would not comment on whether Jody Herring had obtained the gun legally.
The chief wouldn’t comment on what may have triggered Herring to act on Friday — weeks after losing custody of her daughter.
Bombardier also would not discuss the 9-year-old’s father or his whereabouts. Officials said after Sobel’s shooting that Herring’s daughter remained in state custody.
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.
At a news conference Saturday night, Shumlin assured state workers and families that Herring’s arrest ended any threat to others 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 early from a vacation in Nova Scotia. “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.”
He ordered the Vermont flag to be lowered to half-staff Monday through Wednesday at all state, federal and public buildings in honor of Sobel.
“I think all Vermonters are as shocked, dismayed, horrified and grief-stricken as all of us are,” Shumlin said.
The two shootings amount to the deadliest attack in Vermont since a quadruple murder in Belvidere in 2001.
Sobel’s co-workers and members of the Vermont State Employees Association planned to hold a vigil Sunday. They will march to Barre Place, where Sobel was shot to death.
Ken Schatz, the commissioner for the Department for Children and Families, called Sobel “an experienced social worker” who had provided services to children and families for more than 14 years.
Rathke contributed to this story from Berlin and Montpelier. Associated Press writer Lynne Tuohy contributed from Montpelier.