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Officials Investigating Four Central Vermont Murders

AP/Wilson Ring
People place flowers Sunday at the site of the shooting of social worker Lara Sobel.

Several hundred people attended a vigil in Barre Sunday to honor a Department for Children and Families social worker killed on Friday, apparently as the result of a child custody dispute.

Authorities believe three other apparent murders in Central Vermont are all connected to Jody Herring, the suspect in the Barre killing.

The social worker, 48-year-old Lara Sobel, was shot and killed outside state offices in Barre on Friday afternoon.

Saturday morning, police found three bodies at a home in neighboring Berlin.

Vermont State Police Col. Matthew Birmingham said Berlin police went to a house on Airport Road shortly after 8 a.m., where a 911 caller had found the three deceased women. State police say at least two of the women had gunshot wounds.

All were relatives of Herring and authorities believe the three were killed by Herring on Friday, before Sobel's death.

The victims were identified as 43 year old Regina Herring, 48 year old Rhonda Herring and Julie Falzarano, 73.

Few additional details were made available over the weekend.

“As far as the status of the investigation, to some extent we are in the infancy of it," said Public Safety Commissioner Keith Flynn late Saturday. "We want to make sure that we look properly and closely at all facts and we will do that over the next few days.”

Attorney General Bill Sorrell said his office will prosecute the case because Washington County State’s Attorney Scott Williams witnessed Sobel’s murder and could not ethically take part.

Authorities say there were many witnesses to the Barre shooting.

Speaking Saturday night, Gov. Peter Shumlin said there had been no prior indication that Sobel was in any danger.

Shumlin emphasized that there is no continuing threat to the public stemming from the killings.

"We know that these incidents were horrific and absolutely heartbreaking. We also know and firmly believe that this was an isolated attack." - Gov. Peter Shumlin

“We know that these incidents were horrific and absolutely heartbreaking. We also know and firmly believe that this was an isolated attack. There were not other people involved that we know of. No one else is directly threatened in any way,” he said.

As they return to work in Barre, DCF employees will be met by staff from Washington County Mental Health Services.

Department For Children and Families Commission Ken Schatz says he expects all staff will be returning to work on Monday, adding, "We’re going to be respectful of staff needs in terms of giving them time and space to address this tragedy.”

Schatz says its likely social workers will resume working in the field on Monday, with help when needed.

“What we’ll be doing is looking at where we need assistance from law enforcement with respect to field calls,” he said.

Schatz became commissioner last year, when the department was under heavy scrutiny for to the deaths of two children in families it was working with.

Credit Steve Zind / VPR
Gov. Peter Shumlin and other officials brief the media on the deaths of four people in Central Vermont. Authorities say Jody Herring shot and killed state social worker Lara Sobel in Barre; Sobel had handled a case in which Herring's 9-year-old daughter had been removed from her home. On Saturday, the bodies of three of Herring's relatives were found at the family home in neighboring Berlin.

In the wake of those incidents, a report concluded that one of the problems was an approach to reunifying families that didn’t adequately weigh the risks to the child.

Schatz says there’s no evidence that less emphasis on reunification is creating greater tension between parents in DCF’s system and social workers.

Over the weekend Schatz and other state officials repeatedly emphasized the difficulty of the jobs done by DCF social workers and expressed appreciation for the work they do.

Agency of Human Services Secretary Hal Cohen says that’s not always the public perception.  

“I’ve been very concerned about the negative narrative about state workers and DCF workers in particular. I think every day these folks are heroes in our community,” Cohen says.

Herring is scheduled to be arraigned Monday afternoon on charges related to Sobel’s death. It is unclear if additional charges will be filed at that time related to the Berlin murders.

In a brief statement, Sobel's family thanked the community for its support.

The statement concluded, "Hopefully this terrible tragedy can create awareness and support for those dedicated professionals who devote so much of their energy to insuring the welfare of our children."

Updated at 7:35 on 8/10/15

Steve has been with VPR since 1994, first serving as host of VPR’s public affairs program and then as a reporter, based in Central Vermont. Many VPR listeners recognize Steve for his special reports from Iran, providing a glimpse of this country that is usually hidden from the rest of the world. Prior to working with VPR, Steve served as program director for WNCS for 17 years, and also worked as news director for WCVR in Randolph. A graduate of Northern Arizona University, Steve also worked for stations in Phoenix and Tucson before moving to Vermont in 1972. Steve has been honored multiple times with national and regional Edward R. Murrow Awards for his VPR reporting, including a 2011 win for best documentary for his report, Afghanistan's Other War.
Taylor was VPR's digital reporter from 2013 until 2017. After growing up in Vermont, he graduated with at BA in Journalism from Northeastern University in 2013.
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