By Elizabeth Hewitt and Erin Mansfield, VTDigger.org
An employee of the Department for Children and Families was shot twice and killed in Barre on Friday afternoon, Aug. 7, allegedly by a mother who had recently lost custody of her 9-year-old child in July, police say. Three relatives of the accused were also found dead in a Berlin farmhouse on Saturday morning, police reported.
Jody Herring, 40, was arrested Friday night in the shooting death of Lara Sobel, 48, a social worker for the Department for Children and Families. Then on Saturday, just after 8 a.m. the bodies of three women, Herring’s cousins, Rhonda, 49, and and Regina, 48, and her aunt, Julie Ann Falzarano, 73 — were found dead in a farmhouse on Airport Road in Berlin.
Police believe all four women were killed by Jody Herring.
Several witnesses saw Herring shoot Sobel twice with a high powered hunting rifle in a parking lot outside City Place, the new Agency of Education building in Barre, as she was leaving work shortly before 5 p.m.
Herring was allegedly seeking revenge after losing custody of her youngest daughter, who is now in the father’s care in Massachusetts. Sobel was involved in the case, which ultimately led to the removal of the 9-year-old from her mother’s custody.
Police said Herring will be charged Monday with first degree murder for Sobel’s death. She is being held without bail.
At a press conference Saturday night, Gov. Peter Shumlin had few details as the matter is under investigation. The governor was flanked by law enforcement officials, Barre Mayor Thom Lauzon, Vermont Attorney General Bill Sorrell, Ken Schatz, the commissioner of DCF, and Hal Cohen, the secretary of the Agency of Human Services.
The alleged quadruple homicide is the first in Vermont since 2001 when Douglas Provost was accused of shooting four people in Belvidere, according to the Associated Press.
The governor cut his vacation to Nova Scotia a week short in order to address the crisis. Shumlin said the events on Friday were “horrific” and “heart-wrenching” and promised more details “as soon as we can.”
While the investigation is ongoing, officials have released only sparse details, but police say there is no danger to the public at large. The Herring’s 9-year-old daughter remains in the custody of the father.
“Lara was an extraordinary human being who dedicated her life to children,” Shumlin said. “We have so many people in Vermont like Lara who dedicated their life to children, to the most vulnerable children.”
Hal Cohen, secretary of the Agency of Human Services, Ken Schatz, commissioner of the Department for Children and Families, and Shumlin all said they would make resources available to state employees. Cohen said he works with “some of the most dedicated, caring” people he’s ever met, and described them as “truly heroes.”
“Lara was one of those heroes, and we will miss her,” he said.
“We have your back,” Shumlin said. “We care deeply. Thank you for the services that you give to Vermont that makes the state a better place.”
Sobel is survived by her parents, her spouse, Tim, and two daughters. The family has requested privacy.
“At this time, the family of Tim and Lara is understandably in deep sorrow,” the family said in a statement read by Barre Police Chief Tim Bombardier. “They wish to thank everyone in the community for their kindness throughout this ordeal.
“Hopefully this terrible tragedy can create awareness and support for these dedicated professionals who devote so much energy to ensuring the welfare of our children.”
Shumlin ordered that the Vermont state flag fly at half staff from sunrise Monday to sunset Wednesday in Sobel’s honor.