ASHEVILLE, N.C. — Federal documents released on Tuesday shed light on the tragic death of a Buncombe County 6-year-old girl.
On Sep. 9, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, National Parks Service, and the Buncombe County Sheriff’s Office shut down the Blue Ridge Parkway during the course of a homicide investigation.
FBI agents confirmed Lila Pickering, 6, was stabbed in the heart and killed along the parkway. Her father, Seth Willis Pickering, was identified by the FBI as a murder suspect shortly after her death.
On Tuesday, the Department of Justice released a document detailing the federal complaint against Pickering.
According to the document, Pickering was only allowed to have supervised visits with Lila, who had been placed in temporary custody by the Buncombe County Department of Health and Human Services.
Around 5:20 p.m. on the day of her death, Pickering reportedly took Lila and left her custodian’s house without permission. According to court documents, her custodian said, “Seth, please don’t do this, they will put you in jail.”
The custodian told officials Pickering just shook his head, placed Lila in his vehicle and drove off.
As officers were initiating a missing person report and BOLO for Lila, National Parks Service rangers observed Pickering’s gold Dodge Avenger along the side of the Blue Ridge Parkway near mile marker 393. The vehicle was spotted just before 6 p.m.
According to the federal court documents, rangers spotted Pickering and Lila walking down a steep embankment on the shoulder of the roadway. Pickering was reportedly carrying a large cooler and bags on his back. Rangers watched as he cut underbrush and built a small fire.
The rangers, not yet aware of Lila being reported missing, approached Pickering to investigate the illegal campfire.
When they got within 25 feet of the man and his daughter, Pickering shouted, “Police!” and lunged at Lila without warning, documents state.
One of the rangers reported hearing a thud-like noise and a high-pitched noise from Lila who fell to the ground with a knife protruding from her chest, according to the report.
The medical examiner later determined Lila suffered a stab wound to the heart. EMS personnel tried to resuscitate her but she died at the scene.
When Pickering was secured in handcuffs, rangers said he told them he killed Lila so, “Now they will never be able to take her away from me… She’s happier now… it’s what she wanted.”
When interviewed by detectives, documents indicate Pickering told them before rangers arrived, Lila made him promise “that they would never take her away from me again.”
According to the court records, Pickering told detectives he stabbed her because “I reacted the only way I knew that she could go to sleep without having to cry daddy I want to come home… I knew as soon as they showed up they would take her away from me and never let me see her again.”
The next day, a search warrant was executed at Pickering’s home on Emily Rose Lane in Leicester where investigators reported finding a knife block with a missing knife. The knife recovered from the scene reportedly matched the set.
Pickering is charged with first-degree murder. He appeared in bond court on Monday where he was denied bond. He could face the death penalty or life in prison, but prosecutors have said it is too early in the process to determine what sentence they will be pursuing.
According to Lila’s grandmother, Pickering was mentally unstable and had been in a psychiatric ward before the stabbing. She said the family believes Pickering was released too early.
Lila’s mother reportedly fled to another state in May 2015 to escape an abusive relationship with the murder suspect. She said in the past, Pickering never harmed their daughter.