Mom who killed social worker murdered 3 relatives first

The woman killed two cousins and an aunt before heading to the state department

By Dave Gram and Lisa Rathke
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.

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.

Jodie Herring was arrested on a murder charge in the death of Lara Sobel. (Photo courtesy Barre City Police)
Jodie Herring was arrested on a murder charge in the death of Lara Sobel. (Photo courtesy Barre City Police)

The next morning, a 911 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.

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 the caliber or additional details about it. He also would not comment on whether Jody Herring had obtained the gun legitimately.

The chief wouldn't comment on what may have triggered Herring to act on Friday — weeks after losing custody of her daughter.

"That's one of those things that's open to interpretation, so I'm going to stay away from it," Bombardier told The Associated Press.

He 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, Gov. Peter 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 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."

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 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.

"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.

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.

Copyright 2015 The Associated Press

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