A 6-year-old girl died after she was stabbed in the heart in Asheville, North Carolina, allegedly by her own father, according to the FBI.
Seth Willis Pickering, 36, has been charged with first-degree murder in connection with Lila Pickering’s death, an FBI agent confirmed.
Officials with the FBI shared that the Buncombe County Sheriff’s Office had received a report that the victim was missing. While deputies were taking the report and preparing to issue an Amber Alert, they were notified by the National Parks Service of the homicide at Blue Ridge Parkway.
National Parks officials had located a suspicious vehicle at Blue Ridge Parkway, according to the FBI. Rangers then discovered Lila and her father, the FBI said.
The slain little girl’s grandmother said Seth Pickering is mentally unstable and was in a mental ward leading up to the incident. She told television station WHNS that the family believes he was released from the ward too early.
“It is still a mystery how Lila got into his custody after school on Friday. The family doesn’t understand that either. They were notified at 2 a.m. that Lila was ‘deceased’ over the phone,” said her grandmother.
WHNS spoke with the victim’s mother, Ashley Pickering, who said she left Seth Pickering in May of 2015 because he was abusing her. Frightened, Lila’s mother said she fled to Florida to be with her family.
Lila’s mother said that while her husband abused her, he’d never harmed their daughter in the past.
Months after fleeing her abusive relationship with Seth Pickering, Lila’s mother said she discovered her daughter had been placed into the hands of Child Protective Services, but that she was never notified.
Ashley Pickering says she was in Florida trying to get custody of Lila, and her mother and sister had attempted to file for emergency custody of her child.
Lila was staying with a foster family, and that on Friday, after Lila was picked up from school, she was abducted from the home some time around 5:45 p.m., according to her mother.
Lila Pickering’s grandmother said that she and Lila’s mother had planned to pick up the 6-year-old in a week to take her back to Florida.
She remembered Lila fondly.
“Her smile lit up a room,” Lila’s grandmother said. “It didn’t matter what your mood was, she could make you smile.”
Pickering was booked into the Buncombe County Sheriff’s Office about 10 p.m. Friday.
Lila was a student at Johnston Elementary in Buncombe County. The Buncombe County School District issued a statement about the incident:
“While many questions have yet to be answered, our thoughts and prayers are with everyone affected by the heartbreaking loss of this wonderful little girl, Lila Pickering” BCS Superintendent Dr. Tony Baldwin said in the statement. “We will have crisis support teams on hand Monday morning at Johnston Elementary School to help students, teachers, and staff come to grips with this senseless tragedy. They will remain for as long as they are needed.”
Lila’s grandmother says she doesn’t want other families to go through what her own family is dealing with right now.
“It’s too late for Lila but hopefully through this some law can change or something can change where kids are going to be safe,” she said.
Lila’s mother says she wants to see laws change nationwide so that no one has to hear, “It’s out of our jurisdiction.”
She said she plans to come to Asheville to sign her daughter’s death certificate.
Seth Pickering went before a judge on Monday and his charges were read to him. Pickering requested a public defender and the judge said it would have to be one who is a specialist in capital punishment cases.
He is being held in the Buncombe County Detention Center without bond.
A GoFundMe account has been set up to cover Lila’s funeral costs.