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Though she had thought about killing herself and her three children for more than a month, it was the word “burden” that made her snap.
Court documents reveal that in the hours before Kimberly Shepperson attacked her 11-year-old son with an ax and attempted to burn down her Mechanicsville home with herself and her children inside, she had argued with her ex-husband Matthew Booth in an ongoing custody struggle.
Shepperson admitted to Hanover investigators she ripped up court documents throwing them in Booth’s face during a Feb. 20 dispute.
Setting Shepperson off was wording that the couple would share the “burden” of taking their 11-year-old son to New York for cancer treatments.
“That’s what made me flip out,” Shepperson is quoted as saying during an interview with Hanover investigators. “Seeing it in black and white. That burden thing pissed me off.”
The two were scheduled to appear in court the next day. Instead, Shepperson would find herself in custody while her 11-year-old son recovered at VCU Medical Center, the victim of a brutal attack.
The circumstances surrounding this crime – an attempted murder-suicide during a custody battle – sound eerily similar to the double murder-suicide that shook the Mechanicsville community in January 2012. And it’s not a coincidence. In court documents, Shepperson admits modeling the crime after that of Robert King, who killed his twin, 3-year-old daughters and himself in the face of losing custody of his children. She also admitted to being friends with King and knowing the family well.
“I was pretty much trying to pull a Rob King,” Shepperson told investigators.
Monday, Shepperson pleaded guilty to each of the four felony charges before her – two counts of attempted capital murder and one count each of arson and malicious assault.
Wearing prison-issue orange, Shepperson intermittently wiped tears from her eyes throughout the proceeding as assistant prosecutor Robert Wood presented the commonwealth’s evidence against her. This included photographs of the Bultaco Trail residence as well as blood-stained clothing, photographs of the injured 11-year-old boy, a disabled smoke alarm and the ax used in the attack.
Wood also went over the events of the night in question.
According to court documents, the night of the incident, Shepperson had given her oldest son three 15 milligram tamazepam sleeping pills in addition to night-time medicine he usually takes. Before retrieving the ax from outside, Shepperson sat next to her sleeping son.
“I went inside took his head out from under the blanket, I covered him up. He was facing the wall [and] he had his back to me. Then I went and I sat on the bed and thought about it and I thought about it and I thought about it and then I finally went out and got the ax and came back. Why I picked him I don’t know,” Shepperson said in an interview with Hanover investigators.
Shepperson told investigators she couldn’t recall how many times she struck her son during the attack, that she “was just swinging.”
She stopped the attack after “she figured it wasn’t working” and then laid next to her son in his bed, holding him and apologizing for what she did while he cried in pain.
In her statement, Shepperson said on the night of the incident, she had been “thinking of the easiest painless way for all four of us to no longer be on this earth, be together forever.”
Shepperson told investigators she had thought about buying a gun and shooting all three of her children and then turning the weapon on herself.
“I’ve been trying to talk myself out of not doing it and I knew if I had a gun in the house it would have been ‘Bam! Bam! Bam! Bam!” Shepperson said.
Instead, she lit a fire.
Authorities arrived on scene after Shepperson herself dialed 911. Portions of the recording played in court reflect a frantic and distraught Shepperson huddled in a bathroom with her two youngest children as her ranch-style home filled with smoke.
Eventually, she and her children – an infant and a 7-year-old, whom she could never bring herself to harm during the incident, though she weighed her options – would escape the home through the bathroom window while her 11-year-old son lay wounded in his bedroom, surrounded by smoke and flames.
Shepperson originally claimed she was asleep at the time of the fire, that she woke up and saw flames.
“Fire was everywhere,” she told 911 dispatch.
Later, she told investigators she set two separate fires after the ax attack, one in her son’s room using newspaper and her son’s yellow shirt and another in the closest of her room using diapers. After lighting the second fire, Shepperson herself on sleeping medication, hid the ax under her bed and lay down next to her oldest daughter.
She dialed emergency response only after her 7-year-old awoke her after awaking to heavy smoke and flames.
Originally, the fire wasn’t “something she had even thought about.”
“That was kind of last minute,” she said.
According to Wood, Dep. Jason S. Bonifacio was the first emergency responder to arrive on scene. After gaining entry through a rear sliding glass door, Bonifacio made his way through the home calling out for potential victims. In the hallway of the home, Bonifacio encountered a chair beneath a disabled smoke alarm. Shepperson told investigators she had removed the alarm because it would randomly go off in the middle of the night.
According to Wood, Bonifacio went through the house room by room and heard a groan come from Shepperson’s 11-year-old son’s room. Eventually, Bonifacio was able to crawl on his hands and knees to remove the injured boy. Only after washing away the soot, did the child’s real injuries – severe lacerations to his face and arm – come to light.
Wood said the child was rushed to VCU Medical Center and put in an induced coma. Doctors later confirmed that a number of his wounds were “defensive.”
When first interviewed at the hospital, Shepperson did not admit playing any roll in the attack or fire. Investigators noted that when describing how she and her youngest two children took turns breathing near an open bathroom window during the fire, Shepperson “grinned and smiled,” noting “her emotions appeared inappropriate for the subject matter.”
Later that evening, Shepperson approached Hanover investigators agitated that they wanted to interview her son when he awoke without her present. After being told Hanover authorities were providing security for her son because of the evidence of an assault, and that it was clear that the fire was not accidental, Shepperson confessed to the attempted murder-suicide of her family.
Investigators noted that she “apologized for not telling the truth earlier and said, ‘I don’t want to lose them, and I don’t want to go to jail and I don’t want to go to the hospital with the really, really crazy, crazy, people.”
Shepperson’s fate will be determined Jan. 23, 2014 when she returns to Circuit Court for sentencing. She faces multiple life sentences.
During her interview, Shepperson told investigators she was diagnosed with borderline bipolar disorder and had been taking medication as prescribed. However, she also said her doctor had reduced her prescription of mood stabilizers and valium, an anti-anxiety medicine.
Testimony pertaining to Shepperson’s mental state at the time of the incident is anticipated when she returns to court.