Hundreds gather to remember slain Vermont social worker
BARRE, Vt. (AP) — About 300 people packed into Barre’s Old Labor Hall Sunday to pay tribute to a Vermont social worker who was gunned down by a woman who police say was upset at losing custody of her 9-year-old daughter.
Some cried openly while others stifled tears. Some spoke warmly of Lara Sobel, the veteran social worker whose death on Friday outside the office where she worked has shaken many state employees, but others said they didn’t know her or work for the state, but attended the vigil to show their support.
“Lara was a beautiful, beautiful individual and she really, really cared about the kids, all the kids,” Joseph Faryniarz, the cousin of Sobel’s husband, said during the vigil that included a march ending at the spot where Sobel was shot and killed as she left work. “This is a tragedy and the family is doing the best that it can.”
Police said Jody Herring shot Sobel, 48, twice on Friday with a hunting rifle, killing her outside an office of the state Department for Children and Families in Barre as Sobel, a 14-year DCF veteran, was leaving work.
Herring, 40, was tackled by bystanders. She was then arrested and charged with first-degree murder.
On Saturday, police were called to a home in the neighboring town of Berlin where they found the bodies of two of Herring’s cousins and an aunt. Authorities believe Herring killed her relatives before going to Barre and shooting Sobel, but no charges have yet been filed in those deaths.
Herring is due in court Monday to answer a first degree murder charge in the death of Sobel.
On Sunday police positively identified the other victims as Regina Herring, 43, and Rhonda Herring, 48, the suspect’s cousins; and Julianne Falzarano, 73, an aunt.
The Burlington Free Press reported that Tiffany Herring, 23, who identified herself as the daughter of one of the victims, said her mother 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 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 or what may have triggered her to act 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 the girl remained in state custody.
On Sunday, the governor’s office distributed a statement to state employees saying all offices would be open on Monday, but state officials were reviewing security at state buildings.
Paul Coates, a lifelong Montpelier resident, said before the vigil that he knew Sobel, the other shooting victims and the woman accused in the shooting.
“It’s just tragic, it’s just sad. I am sick about it, it just didn’t need to happen,” Coates said.
Cindy Walcott, DCF deputy commissioner, said that over the weekend, she has been thinking there would be no way to go forward, but she found support from the people she and the other social workers have helped overcome obstacles.
“In my darkest moments I actually have focused on the children and families that we serve and I think about the dark moments that they’ve had in their lives and how so many of those have triumphed over those (situations) and learned from them and moved forward,” Walcott said.
Associated Press writer Dave Gram contributed to this story from Barre, Lisa Rathke contributed from Berlin and Montpelier and Lynne Tuohy from Concord, New Hampshire.