Fatal Shooting of Social Worker Highlights Dangers of the Job

by | August 13, 2015

By Erin Smith

A Vermont social worker gunned down by an angry mother after she lost custody of her daughter is a reminder of the dangers local caseworkers face every day, said the union president for DCF staffers.

"It really shakes you to the core. It reminds us how dangerous this job can be," said Peter MacKinnon, president of SEIU Local 509, which represents social workers at the Massachusetts Department of Children and Families.

"You hope you're making the right decision and protecting the child, but human emotion can run high when you're dealing with families," MacKinnon said. "This highlights the real danger of a lot of the work."

Jody Herring, 40, is facing a first-degree homicide charge after fatally shooting Vermont social worker Lara Sobel outside a Barre child welfare office as she was leaving work Friday, according to police.

MacKinnon, who was a DCF social worker for six years before spending the past decade as a supervisor, said he's been threatened and assaulted on the job and knows of other colleagues who have faced similar threats.

"We're all pretty shaken up right now," said Mac-Kinnon. "My life has been threatened, and there was one particular client I can remember that if he would have the means, he probably would have carried it out."

MacKinnon applauded the progress of the Baker administration on DCF worker safety, citing a move about two months ago to issue social workers cellphones so they could reach superiors or authorities if there were problems in the field.

"I'd love to see more direct training of staff," MacKinnon said. "We've hired so many people in the past year-and-a-half. That's a good thing, but a lot of them are still really green. We need really good safety training."

Police said Herring, who had lost custody of her 9-year-old daughter, killed three relatives in a Berlin, Vt., home with a hunting rifle before heading to the workplace of Sobel, the 48-year-old social worker involved in the custody case.

The other three victims have been identified as Regina Herring and Rhonda Herring, Jody Herring's cousins who were in their 40s, and Julianne Falzarano, an aunt in her 70s.

Herring is expected to be arraigned this afternoon on the homicide charge.

Herald wire services contributed to this report.

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