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3 arrested after woman is found dead in Kearns home

By KSL.com | Posted - Mar. 28, 2011 at 9:32 p.m.


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KEARNS — A woman who investigators believe was bound in a crucifix formation inside a small closet was found dead Friday.

Three people, including the woman's primary caregiver and her former primary caregivers, were arrested for investigation of murder and abuse.

What police found

Christina Harms, 22, was found dead inside a house at 4978 S. 5415 West just after 3 p.m. Friday. Initially, emergency crews were called to the house on a possible overdose.


We believe at this point in time that the abuse and neglect was the cause of her death.

–Lt. Justin Hoyal, UPD


#hoyal_quote

But as police and medical personnel looked at the victim, they immediately noticed ligature marks on her ankles consistent with plastic zip ties, said Unified Police Lt. Justin Hoyal. They also found bruising on her thigh and head, a pepper seed in one of her eye lids, and her hands were completely covered with bandaging material which would have prevented her from getting the pepper seed out, he said.

Harms was unable to care for herself, though Hoyal did not immediately know Monday the circumstances surrounding her condition.

After obtaining a search warrant for the residence, detectives found a small closet in the living room that had an alarm attached to the door. They also found a metal bar inside the closet allegedly used for binding Harms.

An autopsy conducted by the Utah state medical examiner revealed "significant injuries to the victim's body," according to Salt Lake County Jail report, which were "consistent with evidence" found at the scene.

"We believe at this point in time that the abuse and neglect was the cause of her death," Hoyal said.

Cassandra Shepard, 27, of South Dakota, was arrested for investigation of aggravated murder and obstruction of justice charges. Shepard was Harms' legally documented guardian, Hoyal said.

Dale Robert Beckering and Sherri Lynn Beckering were charged with domestic violence abuse of a vulnerable adult.

Community reacts to murder

Neighbors were disgusted and rattled.

Neighbor Robert Gaydon said, "It's a surprise. When you meet ‘em and they are so friendly, you don' think anything's going on."

Another neighbor, Mindy Harding, said, "Two houses down? You would think that something like that you would know about. But I guess we don't know our neighbors all that well."

Salt Lake County Sheriff Jim Winder says his offices investigates far too many cases like this one.

Valley Mental Health 24-hour crisis line
If you live in Salt Lake County, Tooele County, or Summit County and need mental health crisis intervention call 24 hours a day:
  • Phone: (801) 261-1442
  • Hearing impaired English TDD/TTY: (888) 346-3162
  • Hearing impaired Español TDD/TTY: (801) 743-1731
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline Network in Utah: (800) 273-TALK (8255)

"If you stand by and allow people to be victimized in this community, you're as guilty as anybody," Winder said. "People have a moral obligation to take care of their fellow human beings."

It's not yet known what led to the abuse, but the executive director of The Family Support Center says caregivers often get overwhelmed.

"Things just pile up, one on top of another," said Bonnie Peters. "It get to the point where we don't know where to turn."

Before frustration turns to abuse, Peters says caregivers need to reach out for help. "When we get into trouble is when we think that we are the only ones that can deal with this problem, that nobody can help. That's when we have the tendency to go over the edge," she said.

It was unclear Monday how Shepard became Harms' guardian or why. Investigators were also having difficulty locating any of Harms' biological family members.

Dale and Sherri Beckering were Harms' primary caretakers from February 2010 through September of 2010, Hoyal said. Sherrie Beckering, 50, is Shepard's mother.

Both the victim and Shepard have children. Harms had a 2-year-old. Shepard has a 5-year-old and a 9-year-old. All are in state custody.

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Story written with contributions from Jed Boal, Andrew Adams and the ksl.com news team.

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