A man stabbed his 6-year-old daughter to death in front of two U.S. park rangers because he didn’t want them to take her away from him, federal authorities said Tuesday.
“She’s happier now,” Seth Pickering, 36, told rangers after they handcuffed him. “It’s what she wanted.”
According to an affidavit from FBI special agent James Anderson made public Tuesday, Pickering went to a home in Asheville on Friday afternoon for a visit with his daughter Lila. Because of a custody dispute between the parents, she was under the protection of the Buncombe County Department of Health and Human Services, and Pickering was allowed to make supervised visits.
But as the child’s custodian pleaded with him to stop, Pickering took the child out of the house and drove off, the affidavit said.
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Within the hour, two rangers patrolling the Blue Ridge Parkway near mile marker 393 saw Pickering’s car parked alongside the road. They saw Pickering and his daughter descend a sharp slope, and Pickering started a campfire in the brush.
Unaware of the girl’s disappearance from DHHS custody, they went down to talk to Pickering because it was a no-camping, no-fire area.
Ranger Cody Marsh called out to Pickering, then saw him lunge at the girl, who fell to the ground with a butcher knife in her heart, the affidavit said.
Marsh handcuffed Pickering as the second ranger, Brian Ruh, began administering emergency treatment to the girl, who could not be resuscitated.
After Pickering was read his Miranda rights, investigators asked whether he would answer questions. Pickering agreed.
Pickering said he was setting up a campsite for him and his daughter when the rangers came, according to the affidavit.
“Ten minutes before he got there, my daughter made me promise that they would never take her away from me again,” according to a recorded statement. “I reacted the only way I knew that she could go to sleep without having to cry, ‘Daddy, I want to come home.’ ”
Buncombe deputies searched Pickering’s house on Emily Rose Lane in Leicester, outside Asheville, and found two knives missing from the kitchen knife block. Those left behind matched the one used to stab the girl.
Pickering’s estranged wife, Ashley Pickering, told the Asheville Citizen-Times that although she and her husband had been in an abusive relationship, she never expected him to harm the first-grader.
“He was the most loving father, and Lila worshiped the ground he walked on,” said Pickering, who lives in Spring Hill, Fla.
“She loved her daddy so much. She would jump in his lap and smile and laugh and be so happy when he was holding her.”
Because the killing occurred on federal property, the U.S. Attorney’s Office and FBI are handling the case.