By Thobias Salinger: A North Carolina man stabbed his 6-year-old daughter in the heart in front of two park rangers so no one could take her from him again, the feds said.
National Park rangers along the Blue Ridge Parkway said they approached Seth Pickering, 36, after noticing him and his daughter Lila walking down a steep hill where there were no trails, campsites or picnic areas, federal prosecutors said Tuesday.
The rangers said Pickering fatally stabbed Lila on Friday night moments after the two officers reached the pair near mile 393 of the 469-mile parkway in the Appalachian Highlands.
“Now they will never be able to take her away from me,” Pickering told them, according to an affidavit filed by an FBI special agent. “She’s happier now…it’s what she wanted.”
The father fighting his estranged wife over custody had pretended nothing was wrong at first. The rangers didn’t know at the time that authorities had been notified Pickering took Lila away from her custodian’s home without permission during a supervised visit less than two hours earlier.
“How’s it going tonight?” one ranger asked, expecting to discuss the illegal fire Pickering had built with underbrush, the affidavit showed.
“It’s going fine, nothing going on,” Pickering answered. Just then, he turned away and lunged toward Lila, according to prosecutors. The rangers heard a “thud-like” sound and a high-pitched scream from Lila, who then fell to the ground, the affidavit said.
DID YOU JUST STAB HER?” the ranger said in a question recorded in all capital letters in the court document. Lila lay dead with a knife protruding from her chest.
Federal prosecutors in nearby Asheville, 130 miles west of Charlotte, took over the case from local authorities since Lila was killed in a National Park, WSPA-TV reported. Pickering had explained similar reasons for the crime in interviews with sheriff’s deputies, the affidavit said.
He told the Buncombe County deputies he realized he would never be allowed near her again when he saw the rangers coming towards them, according to the document.
Lila “made me promise that they would never take her away from me again,” Pickering said, the affidavit showed. “I reacted the only way I knew that she could go to sleep without having to cry, ‘Daddy, I want to come home.’”
Pickering had filed for and received a restraining order against his estranged wife after alleging she threatened both him and Lila, according to court records obtained by the Asheville Citizen-Times.
His wife never threatened them but knew her daughter idolized her doting father, Ashley Pickering told the newspaper.
Lida’s school, Johnston Elementary School in Asheville, posted photos Wednesday of the little girl smiling, painting and smelling a flower. Her classmates have placed flowers at her desk and made cards for her in between sessions with a crisis team, the Citizen-Times reported.
“We have absolutely lost a family member here,” Johnston Principal Charlotte Hipps said. “We lost a child, and we are grieving the best we can.“