BARRE, Vt. (AP) — The woman charged in the slaying of a Vermont social worker is also "the alleged perpetrator" of the deaths of three relatives whose bodies were found Saturday, Gov. Peter Shumlin said.
The three women found dead at a Berlin home Saturday morning were an aunt and two cousins of 40-year-old Jody Herring, the governor said at a news conference Saturday night after returning from vacation in Nova Scotia upon hearing of the deaths. Herring was arrested on a murder charge in the death of Lara Sobel.
Sobel was gunned down after work Friday outside a state office building in Barre. She handled a case for the state Department for Children and Families in which Herring lost custody of her 9-year-old daughter, authorities said.
Herring was in custody, pending an arraignment Monday. It wasn't clear if she had a lawyer who could comment on her behalf.
"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."
Shumlin tentatively identified the three victims found Saturday as Rhonda Herring and Regina Herring, the suspect's cousins; and Julianne Falzarano, an aunt. Autopsies will be conducted. The cousins were in their 40s, and the aunt in her 70s, he said.
Shumlin said the three were killed before Sobel's life was taken. Police received a 911 call to the Berlin home Saturday, he said.
The governor said the investigation into the deaths of Herring's relatives was ongoing and he declined to release any additional information. Police said at least two of the women appeared to have been shot.
Authorities said Friday night that Sobel had just left a DCF office on Friday afternoon when she was shot twice. The child remains in state custody, officials said.
Sobel's family released a statement on Saturday thanking the community for its kindness during their ordeal and asked others to respect their privacy.
The family said that 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."
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.
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."
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 new law designed to improve communications between the department, law enforcement and the courts.
Rathke contributed to this story from Berlin and Montpelier.