Mom Accused of Killing Aunt, Cousins, Child's Social Worker

A Vermont woman allegedly murdered her aunt, two cousins and a social worker after losing custody of her daughter, authorities believe.

Officials say 40-year-old Jody Herring fatally shot Vermont Department of Children and Families worker Lara Sobel outside an office building that housed the child-welfare agency in Barre Friday. Herring was detained by people in and around the building after the shooting, police said.

Saturday, in nearby Berlin, the bodies of Herring's aunt, 73-year-old Julie Falzarano, and her two cousins, 48-year-old Rhonda Herring and 43-year-old Regina Herring, were found in a home.

Shumlin said Jody Herring is thought to have gone to the home on Airport Road first, fatally shooting her three family members, before heading to Barre to kill Sobel.

The public is not believed to be in any danger Gov. Shumlin said.

"There's no reason at all to believe that anyone's safety is threatened right now," he said.

As Sobel was involved in the custody battle over Herring's 9-year-old daughter, the incident is believed to have been isolated and not a threat to other state workers.

"I think that all Vermonters are as shocked, dismayed, horrified and grief-stricken as all of us are," said Shumlin. "I cannot remember in my lifetime four people being murdered in Vermont by the same alleged perpetrator."

In Sobel's honor, Vermont's flags will be lowered to half staff from sunrise Monday through sunset Wednesday. 

"She dedicated her life to Vermont's most vulnerable children and to strengthening their chance of success," Shumlin's spokesperson wrote in a statement.

The DCF has dealt with recent criticisms over its handling of cases, which prompted a new law.

A special legislative committee was set up to investigate the state child welfare system after the deaths last year of two toddlers who had been involved with DCF, 2-year-old Dezirae Sheldon, of Poultney, and 15-month-old Peighton Geraw, of Winooski. Murder charges are pending against Dezirae's stepfather and Peighton's mother, who have pleaded not guilty.

The new child safety law shifts the state's priority in protecting children, focusing on their well-being instead of on an imperative to reunite them with their families.

The Massachusetts Department of Children and Families, similarly embattled after high-profile cases in the last year, issued a statement of solidarity.

"Safety of our staff is of the utmost importance and our hearts go out to colleagues and family members in Vermont who are coping with this unspeakable tragedy," wrote spokesperson Andrea Grossman.

Herring is expected to be arraigned Monday.

Content from the Associated Press was used in this report.

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