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Officials: Mom who lost custody kills kids’ services worker

BARRE, Vt. (AP) – A woman who was upset about losing custody of her daughter used a hunting rifle to fatally shoot a child-welfare agency worker who had handled her case, authorities said.

The shooting happened Friday outside a state office building that houses the Department for Children and Families, Gov. Peter Shumlin’s office said. The mother, Jody Herring, was detained by people in and around the building after the shooting, police said.

Barre City Mayor Thom Lauzon said the worker’s shooting death was a tragedy not just for his city, which has about 10,000 residents, but for the state.

“My heart goes out to the victim and the victim’s family,” he said.

The Department for Children and Families worker, Lara Sobel, had been involved in a case that saw Herring’s 9-year-old daughter taken into state custody, officials said. Sobel had just left a DCF office on Friday afternoon when she was shot twice, authorities said. She died at the scene.

Herring was in police custody on Friday night and couldn’t be reached for comment. A home telephone number listed for her had been disconnected. She will be arraigned on Monday, police said.

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.

Shumlin said DCF employees deal with challenging family situations and do their work “out of their dedication to the children and families of this great state.”

“To lose one of our own in the course of that duty,” he said, “is shocking and heartbreaking.”

Department for Children and Families staff members were directed to go out this weekend only on emergency calls and accompanied by law enforcement.

The DCF worker’s shooting happened on the last day of work for state police director Col. Tom L’Esperance, the Burlington Free Press reported. A retirement dinner for him was taking place in South Burlington, about 40 miles away, when reports of the shooting were broadcast, and troopers left to go to the scene, the newspaper said.