ASHEVILLE, North Carolina — A section of the Blue Ridge Parkway was shut down as the Federal Bureau of Investigation conducted an investigation into a homicide on Friday night.
The FBI said 36-year-old Seth Willis Pickering was charged with first-degree murder in connection with the case. The victim is his six-year-old daughter, Lila Pickering, an FBI agent confirmed. Lila suffered a stab wound to the heart, according to the FBI.
Officials with the FBI shared that the Buncombe County Sheriff’s Office had gotten a report that the victim was missing, and that 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.
The FBI reported that National Parks officials had located a suspicious vehicle at Blue Ridge Parkway.
It was then that rangers discovered Lila and her father, the FBI said.
The grandmother of the 6-year-old victim said Seth Pickering was mentally unstable and was in a mental ward leading up to the incident. She shared that the family believed 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.
FOX Carolina spoke with Lila’s mother, Ashley Pickering, who said she left Seth Pickering in May 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. She said she was never notified.
Ashley Pickering said 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’s mother said 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.
Lila Pickering’s grandmother said that she and Lila’s mother had planned to pick up the six-year-old in a week to take her back to Florida.
“Her smile lit up a room,” Lila’s grandmother said. “She was one – it didn’t matter what your mood was, she could make you smile.”
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” said BCS Superintendent Dr. Tony Baldwin. “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.”
Pickering is being held in the Buncombe County Detention Center without bond.