BARRE, Vt. (AP) — The woman charged with killing a social worker because she was upset about losing custody of her 9-year-old daughter was "calm and laughing" as police arrived on the scene minutes after the shooting, according to court records released Monday.
Jody Herring, 40, pleaded not guilty in Vermont Superior Court on Monday and was ordered held without bail. She was arrested Friday following the death of Lara Sobel, who police say was shot twice in the upper extremities — including once when she was already on the ground — as she exited the Barre building that houses the regional office of the state Department for Children and Families.
Police also believe that before shooting the 48-year-old Sobel, Herring shot and killed her own two cousins and an aunt in the neighboring town of Berlin. Charges have not been filed in connection with the deaths of Regina Herring, 43, and Rhonda Herring, 48, the suspect's cousins; and Julie Falzarano, 73, an aunt.
In an affidavit, police said Washington County State's Attorney Scott Williams, who was inside the building that houses DCF, heard the shots and when he got to the scene, he saw Herring standing near Sobel's body holding a .270-caliber hunting rifle. Williams was able to get the gun from her and he and bystanders subdued her.
When police arrived, Herring was "very calm and laughing," the affidavit said. Later on, she was still talking about the shooting "like it was no big deal," officers said.
However, during an interview Friday night, Herring became agitated, saying that police had never helped her when her boyfriend beat her and complaining about the injustices she suffered at the hands of DCF.
The court records also show that Herring left two phone messages for her brother, Dwayne Herring, about two hours before Sobel was killed. In the first, she urges him to call her immediately. Four minutes later, she left a message saying: "Watch the news and you'll wish you got ahold of me earlier."
Tiffany Herring, 23, who identified herself as the daughter of one of the victims, told the Burlington Free Press her mother received a threatening phone call from Jody Herring on Friday morning.
She said: "You guys need to stop calling DCF unless you guys are going to have it coming to you," Tiffany Herring told the newspaper.
Herring was charged Monday with killing only Sobel, although investigators believe she killed her relatives as well.
Gov. Peter Shumlin's office issued a statement saying he had spoken with the family of those relatives and at their request was asking for privacy.
Attorney General William Sorrell said after Monday's court appearance it could be some time before additional charges are filed against Herring.
Court records show Herring had a criminal record dating to 1996. She was charged with 11 misdemeanors and convicted of 10. She was charged with two felonies — but never convicted — 10 failures to appear and four probation violations.
After her arrest, police recovered a partially empty plastic sleeve of rifle bullets from her home in South Barre. They found 34 empty shell casings and a box containing 14 rounds of live ammunition — both for the caliber rifle used in the Sobel killing.
They also found a June receipt from Wal-Mart for the purchase of the ammunition.
Herring's attorney, David Sleigh, said after the arraignment that the legal process for his client is just beginning and there is "more than meets the eye."
Angelo McClain, CEO of the National Association of Social Workers and former commissioner of the DCF in Massachusetts — where a social worker was slain in 1996 — said there is a level of danger for social workers.
"Social workers sign on for this," McClain said. "We know that's part of the risk, that you could be assaulted potentially, though you don't think you're going to be murdered."
Associated Press writer Dave Gram in Montpelier contributed to this report.
This story has been corrected to show that police say suspect Lara Sobel was shot in the upper extremities, not her head, and that Sobel's aunt's first name is Julie, not Julianne.