Shumlin: 'This Is An Unspeakably Horrid Moment For Vermont'

Gov. Peter Shumlin joined VPR by phone on Monday to debrief the chain of events beginning on Friday afternoon that left four people dead in Central Vermont.

Hundreds gathered at a vigil in Barre last night to remember a slain Vermont social worker. Lara Sobel, 48, was shot to death Friday as she left work at an office of the Department for Children and Families.

Jody Herring, 40, has been arrested on a murder charge. Police say was upset over losing custody of her daughter, a case which Sobel was involved in. Authorities believe Herring is also responsible for the deaths of her two cousins and an aunt, who were found dead Saturday in a Berlin home. Herring is due in court Monday.

Mary Carol Maganzini: This clearly has shaken up all of Vermont, and in particular the workers at the DCF. I understand they're scheduled to return to work today. How is the state providing extra support for these workers?

Gov. Shumlin: Well, we're obviously providing some additional security. We're also going to be reaching out; I'll be meeting with employees who experienced this horrific event on Friday. We're doing everything we can to wrap our arms around them. You know, this is just an unspeakably horrid moment for Vermont.

Mary Carol Maganzini: DCF Commissioner Ken Schatz mentioned that the department will be looking at where staff may need assistance from law enforcement in making field calls. Do you anticipate that social workers making house calls may be more inclined to request police backup?

Gov. Shumlin: We’re obviously going to review all security, but we have to remember that this was an isolated act, in our view, carried out by a single person who is now in the state's custody. So we don't believe that state employees or Vermonters are in greater harm than they were before this incident happened.

In other words, it was an isolated incident, and we have to remember that. It's a horrid incident. It's absolutely unspeakably horrid. But in terms of safety, this was an isolated act. And we're going to be reviewing safety, we're going to be doing everything we can to help employees with the psychological challenges that they are going to be facing. But together we've got to get through this.

Mary Carol Maganzini: Jodie Herring, the alleged shooter is due in court today. Police believe she is responsible for the deaths of the other three relatives that were killed in a home in Berlin. Will she also be charged in those deaths today?

Gov. Shumlin: I'm not going to comment on that because we're still obviously undergoing investigation. She would definitely be charged in the first case, the death of Lara, and we will be working on the other three cases in the coming days.

Mary Carol Maganzini: Do you anticipate this tragedy is going to change the way the state works to protect its Department for Children and Families employees who are out working in the field?

Gov. Shumlin: Well, obviously we have to review all security issues around a crisis and a challenge like this, but I think it's really important for us all, as Vermonters, to think for a moment about the work that these folks do.

When I had the privilege of meeting with Lara’s dad Saturday night, just 24 hours after the incident, he said two things that Vermonters should know. One, when Lara gets up in the morning and went to work, she did that because she loved Vermont kids and she wanted to take kids who were in horrific situations, where the choices are often very difficult, and make their lives better, give them a chance.

And secondly he said, I hope that some good will come of this in the respect that it will change attitudes towards these hardworking state employees who do risk their lives and take risks to make sure their kids have a better future.

And you know, when you look around the blogs and some of the things that we read about DCF,  I have been concerned about the language that's being used, about the attitudes toward the department. I think we should all, in Lara’s memory, take a moment to say, listen we've got to fight back against this kind of hateful speech and attitude towards people that are really doing hero’s work every single day for Vermont's children.

Mary Carol Maganzini: Do you have any news of the investigation?

Gov. Shumlin: I can't talk about the investigation. Obviously we've got to be very careful about what we divulge when, so we don't in any way stand in the way of  justice. We have pledged to answer Vermonters questions as soon as we can and as completely as we possibly can. And we will in the coming days. But we're still doing the work that we have to do to make sure that we get this right.

Mary Carol Maganzini: I understand you attended last night’s vigil for Lara Sobel. What can you tell us about that?

Gov. Shumlin: Just the extraordinary support that I think all Vermonters feel towards Lara, and the girls, the family. And I just think the overwhelming sense of puzzling craziness about an incident like this hitting the state where people take care of each other, reach out to each other, and where we don't experience violence of this kind. So [it] really was a moment for everyone to come together, and I know there will be more of it in the coming days, to try and at least make some sense of an absolutely senseless horrid moment for the state. So we've all got to stick together and support each other, and that's really what it's about.

Mary Carol Maganzini: Gov. Peter Shumlin, thank you for joining us this morning.

Gov. Shumlin: Thanks for having me.

Mary Carol Maganzini: And Gov. Shumlin has ordered that the Vermont state flag fly at half-staff from sunrise Monday to sunset Wednesday in Sobel’s honor.