ASHEVILLE – Two rangers with the U.S. Park Service, after investigating an out-of-place car on the Blue Ridge Parkway, watched as Seth Willis Pickering fatally stabbed his 6-year-old daughter.
A federal murder charge against the Leicester man was filed by the Federal Bureau of Investigation Tuesday afternoon, revealing new – and tragic – details in the Friday death of Lila Pickering.
The rangers noticed a Dodge Avenger pulled off near mile marker 393, a heavily-traveled section of the Parkway just east of Brevard Road just before 6 p.m., according to the complaint by FBI Special Agent James A. Anderson.
Rangers Brian Ruh and Cody Marsh watched as Pickering and Lila walked down a steep embankment and saw the father cut underbrush and start a small fire.
Unbeknownst to the rangers, Lila had just been reported missing by Lila’s temporary custodian, who had been appointed by the Buncombe County Department of Health and Human Services about a month earlier.
The Buncombe County Sheriff’s Department responded to that call, and was preparing to issue an Amber Alert.
Down the embankment, they heard Pickering loudly say, “Don’t worry honey, we will when the cops leave,” prompting the rangers to approach the pair at about 6:50 p.m.
They expected to investigate an illegal campsite and camp fire.
“Without warning,” according to the complaint, “Ranger Marsh observed Pickering turn away from the rangers and make a lunging movement toward Lila who was standing a few feet behind him. Ranger Marsh heard an audible “thud-like” noise and a brief high-pitched wince or grunt sound coming from Lila, who then fell to the ground.”
Pickering turned back to the ranger, his hands raised while Marsh shouted, “Did you just stab her?”
They saw the child with a knife in her chest, one that had pierced her heart and a lung, according to a medical examiner.
One ranger handcuffed Pickering, the other tried to aid the child without success.
“Now they will never be able to take her away from me,” Pickering told the rangers, according to the complaint, adding a statement like, “She’s happier now…it’s what she wanted.”
Later, at the Buncombe County jail, Pickering told Buncombe County Det. Walt Thrower that Lila did not want to be taken away from him.
“Ten minutes before he got there, my daughter made me promise that they would never take her away from me again. I reacted the only way I knew that she could go to sleep without having to cry, ‘Daddy, I want to come home,’” Pickering told the detective. “I knew as soon as they showed up, they would take her away from me and never let me see her again.”