US prosecutors file charge in death of 6-year-old found on Parkway

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Seth Pickering, photo via Buncombe County Sheriff's Office.

Federal prosecutors have filed a complaint against a North Carolina man accused of killing his 6-year-old daughter whose body was found on the Blue Ridge Parkway.

U.S. Attorney Jill Westmoreland Rose said in a statement that a complaint charging 36-year-old Seth Willis Pickering of Asheville with murder in the death of his daughter, Lila Pickering, was filed Tuesday.

A medical examiner says the girl died from a stab wound to her chest Friday.

Court documents show that Seth Pickering and his estranged wife had been in the midst of a split and custody battle.

RELATED: Man accused of killing 6-year-old daughter appears in NC court

The affidavit filed with the criminal complaint alleges late Friday afternoon Seth took Lila from the residence of the custodian where the victim had been placed temporarily by the Buncombe Co. Dept. of Health and Human Services (DHHS). Seth was only authorized to have supervised visitation with his daughter.

According to the custodian as Seth was leaving with Lila they said, "Seth, please don't do this, they will put you in jail." The custodian said Seth just shook his head and got into the vehicle and drove off.

The Buncombe Co. Sheriff's Office responded to a call by the victim's custodian regarding a missing juvenile and were in the process of gathering information to initiate a report and issue an alert to law enforcement agencies, according to the complaint.

The affidavit states two U.S. Park Rangers on routine patrol observed Seth's vehicle parked along the Blue Ridge Parkway. The rangers also saw a man and child walking down a steep embankment (later identified as Seth and Lila) with a large cooler and backpack or plastic bags on his back. The rangers had no information at the time regarding Lila being taken away from the DHHS.

According to the Affidavit:

The rangers parked their vehicle and began watching Seth and Lila from the roadway. Soon the rangers approached the area where Seth and his daughter were to observe the illegal campsite, illegal campfire and other suspected violations.  

While approaching one of the rangers heard Seth say to Lila, "Don't worry honey, we will when the cops leave."

When the rangers were within 20-25 feet of Seth and Lila they made eye contact with Seth and said, "Police," and identified who they were.

Seth addressed them and then without warning, the rangers said Seth turned away from them and made a lunging movement toward Lila who was standing a few feet behind him. One of the rangers heard a "thud-like" noise and a brief high-pitched wince or grunt sound coming from Lila, who then fell to the ground.

Seth turned back towards the rangers and raised his hands in the air. One of the rangers shouted, "Did you just stab her?" He could not recall if Seth answered. 

The rangers drew their service weapons and observed Lila lying on the ground with a knife coming out of her chest. One of the rangers secured and handcuffed Seth.

The other ranger tried to save Lila but was unsuccessful. Emergency medical services arrived on scene but they were not able to save her and she died at the scene.

One of the rangers asked Pickering why Seth killed his daughter and he said, "Now they will never be able to take her away from me." He also said something to the effect of, "She's happier's what she wanted."

Pickering is to appear in U.S. District Court once he is transferred from state custody. State authorities also have charged him with first-degree murder.

Seth is being held in the Buncombe County jail. It was not clear if he has an attorney.

The judge set the next court date for Oct. 3.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.